Acne, according the to University of Maryland Medical Center, is the most common skin disease in America. It affects over 17 million people. The causes of acne are complex and include hormonal influences, personal hygiene habits and, slightly more controversially, dietary habits. In the 60s and 70s, some studies showed that diet (in particular, consumption of chocolate) was not linked to acne and this has remained a widely held belief to this day. However, more recently, experts have been overturning that belief, stating that the original research was highly flawed and that diet can have a major influence over acne outbreaks.
Every person has unique reactions to food and lifestyle factors and some can eat whatever they want and never get a single pimple. However, if you do suffer with acne, then making some simple changes in your diet may well make a positive contribution to lessening the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
The rationale behind the new thinking is that high glycemic foods, which typify Western diets these days, such as fries, sugary breakfast cereals, refined carbohydrates (white bread for example) and sugary drinks and snacks increase blood sugar rapidly and the increased levels of insulin required to regulate that blood sugar also signal sebaceous glands to make sebum. It is important to have sebum, a mixture of wax and oils, because its purpose is to flush out dead cells and it has lubricating properties. However, if levels are too high pores become blocked and the result is an outbreak of pimples. The problem is compounded if there is a lack of fiber, zinc and vitamin B6 in your diet, which are all known to help control acne. Inflammation, caused by processed food and too much omega-6 fatty acids, is also thought to be a cause of skin damage and with too little omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory, this inflammation goes unchecked.
Therefore, to help control acne with diet, there are two main points; to maintain stable blood sugar levels and to reduce inflammation. Whilst there is no definitive list of foods which make acne worse or foods which help control acne, as different sufferers will find some foods that don’t help others will help them and vice versa, on the whole if you cut out the refined and processed foods and try and include the following in your diet, there is a good chance you will see some improvement.
Rich in fiber, wholegrains help stabilize blood sugar, preventing the insulin spikes that can cause the increased production of sebum. Also, foods high in fiber help the colon to clear toxins out of the body. Wheat is very prevalent in our diets but it is not the only wholegrain available. Brown rice, oats, barley, rye and even less well known grains such as quinoa and millet are all useful foods in the fight against acne. Other high fiber foods such as pulses will also help.
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna, halibut, anchovies and sardines, are a prime source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are the anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Don’t be put off by the mention of oil and fat. These omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body to function properly and must be consumed in the diet. The protein content of fish also helps with regulating blood sugar and the fish contain levels of zinc, found to be helpful with acne. Similar benefits can be gained from flaxseed and walnuts.
Foods high in vitamin A
Vitamin A is an antioxidant and helps with healthy vision, cell division, bone growth and, of particular relevance here, immune system function and protection against bacterial and viral infection. Antioxidants help by neutralizing free radicals, which are formed in abundance when the skin is inflamed through acne. It is thought that vitamin A gives similar benefits to the retinol drugs used in the fight against acne. Vitamin A can be found in meat, particularly beef and chicken liver, orange and green coloured fruits and vegetables (carrots, orange peppers, cantaloupe melon, apricots, mango, papaya, pumpkins and other orange squashes, spinach, broccoli, kale and peas). Additionally, these fruits and vegetables contain other antioxidants such as vitamin C, which also help keep skin healthy.
Foods as antibiotics
Garlic and ginger, for instance, have natural antibiotic properties and help boost the immune system.
Purple and red foods
Purple and red foods contain high levels of anthocyanins, more antioxidants, and these help maintain blood flow to the skin, ensuring there is good blood supply and therefore optimum delivery of nutrients to assist with clearing up the acne. Beets, purple carrots, black grapes, pomegranates, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are all good example of these types of food.