Monday, March 18, 2013

Can Diet Prevent Breakdowns from Breakouts?

How many times has this happened to you: you wake up the morning of picture day, a job interview or a blind date and look into the bathroom mirror to find a bright red shiny third eye in the middle of your forehead? Unfortunately, this third eye does not evoke spiritual enlightenment, but rather feelings of despair and frustration.

Acne is often portrayed as simply a cosmetic problem, but the reality is that it can negatively effect the quality of life for millions of American adults and adolescents. Studies conducted in the early 1900’s hypothesized that a high carbohydrate diet, complete with chocolate and milk sugars, was to blame for an increase in breakouts. However, researchers in the 1960’s refuted the association between diet and acne (doing so with flawed methodological studies), concluding that diet does not influence acne development. Nearly 40 years later, the relationship between diet and acne continues to be determined.  

Current research suggests that diet does influence acne development, specifically a high glycemic index (GI) diet and dairy consumption. (GI refers to the effect of carbohydrate on blood sugar levels.) Eating high GI foods and frequent dairy is linked to increased acne severity through similar pathways. Put simply, ingestion of a high GI food, like chocolate milk, increases the amount of insulin that is circulating in the blood. This hyperinsulinemia stimulates production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor, which is a well-established factor in the pathogenesis of acne. Therefore, studies suggest that low-GI diets decrease hyperinsulinemia, thus decreasing the incidence of acne. Another hypothesis is that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in fatty fish like salmon, reduce acne by decreasing inflammation and insulin concentrations.

Unfortunately, due to the many gaps in the research, registered dietitians and other health care professionals are unable to fully “prescribe” a diet that is meant to mitigate the effects of acne. A low-GI diet with low-fat dairy and high omega-3 fatty acid consumption is associated with many other health benefits such as better blood sugar and insulin control, weight management  heart disease and cancer prevention and sustained energy. The recommendation therefore, is to eat a balanced diet that has plenty of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats if not to clear up your complexion, but to support a healthy immune system and control chronic inflammation. 

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