I can’t count how often I’ve read a headline saying there’s no link between diet and acne. “Go on kids, eat all the sugar you like, it’s not giving you pimples” the message rang loud and clear.
But despite the lack of “evidence based medicine” naturopaths have steadfastly stuck to empirical observation and found that reducing refined food and increasing wholefoods, vegetables and fish can cause a radical improvement in clients of all ages with acne.
Naturopaths are not alone in this observation. Anthropologists have found that acne is rare in indigenous populations eating their natural diet, yet the same group is acne-prone eating conventional Western food.
Now it appears science has finally caught up with us and the conventional dermatology and nutrition books need to be revised. Finally the evidence is in that diet can cause acne. Though as always, there are drugs lurking in the background to “fix it”.
Research undertaken by Robyn Smith and Neil Mann at RMIT, has found a connection between a high glycaemic load diet (i.e. lots of simple carbohydrates that raise blood sugar) and acne. So the typical teen diet does cause pimples after all.
The researchers were surprised to find that skinny teens with acne were prone to insulin resistance, something when found in adults is associated with being overweight and type 2 diabetes. But in adolescents the cascade of chemical reactions included triggering a specific growth hormone that blocks the follicles, as well increased androgens and sebum production due to the rise in insulin.
A transcript of an ABC radio Health Report interview with Mann explains this in plain language. But his point is clear, a diet high in refined foods is now medically proven to be a cause of acne.
The take home message
A healthy diet full of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein is the best and cheapest way to have healthy skin. Sugar, flour and processed foods really can give you pimples.
Medical science is wonderful but inherently limited by the research parameters. You need to believe a connection exists to justify the funding to explore a hypothesis. Empirical (observational) research has a lot to offer the world of medicine. Most naturopaths would agree that the majority of health conditions are affected by what we eat and drink, from pain levels to insomnia and indeed acne.