Acne: Can A Change In Diet Help?
Defending against flare ups with food and why a low GL diet may be the answer to a clearer complexion.
The number of people diagnosed with acne has climbed steadily in recent decades. In the UK, 8 out of 10 people aged 11 to 30 are affected by the disease. For some, it impacts confidence levels, the ability to make friends, relationships and mental health.
So, is there anything we can do for our skin? Can food be our friend when it comes to our complexion? The short answer is… possibly.
For many years, dermatologists denied a connection between the consumption of certain foods (such as chocolate) and acne. However, there is now plenty of research showing that certain dietary changes can reduce the severity of acne – both at the level of individual foods as well as overall dietary habits.
The curse of the ‘Western’ diet
Acne may be closely linked to a calorie rich, Western diet, which consists of foods high in refined carbs, fat, meat and dairy. At this stage, it is important to highlight that fat, meat and dairy are not the enemy. However, there is evidence to suggest that high consumption (i.e. relying on these foods at every meal) can over-activate a protein in our body (mTORC1) which increases hormone secretion and oil production from glands.
Does milk matter?
Milk is often targeted as being a cause of acne and there is a weak link between teenage acne and the consumption of skimmed milk, but not whole milk. However, it is just as important to consider the other foods eaten by skimmed milk drinkers and lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol and drug intake and exercise levels. Milk naturally contains growth hormones and anabolic steroids as it is meant to increase the growth of calves. This gives rise to the theory that milk increases hormone production in our bodies but the evidence is limited and still remains a controversial issue.
Foods that can help
A low glycemic load (GL) diet may help to decrease facial flare-ups by reducing inflammation. Sticking to a low GL diet is also beneficial for regulating insulin levels and hormones which can otherwise increase oily secretions in the facial glands. A clinical trial of 43 adults over 10 weeks showed that those on a low GL diet noted an improvement in their acne, compared to the control group who did not. Another study in Australia confirmed that a low GL diet reduced oil secretions and improved clinical symptoms of male acne patients (aged 15-25).
In simple terms, a low GL diet means avoiding white bread, white rice and refined sugar and eating more fibre rich fruits and vegetables, whole bran cereals, whole grain breads, beans and lentils. Whole and semi-skimmed milk are also considered low GL foods, along with cashews, peanuts and tomato juice. A low GL diet has added benefits of weight control, better digestion and a reduction in the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.