Acne – the role diet can play

Acne can be a real issue for many people, with around 80% of 11-30 year olds suffering, to some extent, with the condition. Although most common in teenage years, it continues to affect men and women into adulthood, typically triggered by a series of hormonal changes, food intolerances, poor gut health and inflammation in the body.  There is also a strong genetic element, meaning that if a parent suffered with it you are more likely to as well.

The body’s sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum.  During acne flareups excess sebum is produced which results in blocked pores and acne breakouts.  But before reaching for the latest over-the-counter or prescription medicine which will only provide a short-term solution, consider working from the inside to address the issue.

Common contributing factors

Gut health.  For me this is key.  Improving gut health can lead to significant improvements for people suffering with acne.  Constipation (a common digestive symptom) prevents the body from getting rid of toxins properly, which can result in skin flare-ups.  Making sure your diet includes plenty of fibre and drinking lots of water can help prevent constipation.  While a diet high in pre and probiotic foods (garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, bitter foods, live yoghurts, fermented foods) can help improve gut health.  Speak to a nutrition practitioner to learn more.

Hormonal imbalances – caused by hormonal surges (especially during pregnancy, puberty, menopause) and stress (increased cortisol) can interfere with sebum production and increase inflammation.

Food intolerances such as dairy and gluten.  Hormones that are found in dairy (eg growth hormones) are linked with an increase in outbreaks and severity of acne.  Many people find that reducing their dairy intake leads to a significant improvement.

Inflammation.  A common byproduct of eating a diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates but also worsened by lifestyle factors such as stress and lack of sleep.  During times of chronic stress our stress hormones are constantly activated, which increase some of the hormones we associate with acne, such as testosterone.

Sugar. When we eat sugar our body produces insulin to help keep blood sugar levels in check.  Too much insulin raises certain hormones and increases inflammation, both of which are associated with acne.

Alcohol. Increases the toxic load and impairs our body’s ability to detoxify.

Harsh skincare products and environmental toxins. Those containing fragrances, alcohol, parabens, sulphates, preservatives and other chemicals are all harsh on skin.  Choose products that are as natural as possible. Try to avoid products that are heavy and that may block pores.  It is also helpful if you can avoid wearing makeup every day to let you skin have a chance to breathe.

Although there is no one food that can be said to cause acne, eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates (white breads, pastas, cakes, pastries, chocolates and sweets) may contribute to and worsen symptoms.  The aim is to eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, and lots of colourful vegetables and fruit.  The more colour you get from plants the wider the range of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals you will be eating.

Essential nutrients for healthy skin

Zinc – is an essential mineral found in foods such as oysters, pecan and Brazil nuts, eggs, milk products, oats, pumpkin seeds, legumes, poultry, red meats, seafood, mushrooms and whole grains.  Not only is it important for our immune health, it also helps regulate the skin’s sebum production and helps regulate hormones.  Zinc is known for its ability to help with wound healing.

Vitamin A – helps stimulates the production of new skin cells.  Found in animal products, fish, beef, dairy, eggs, as well as orange-coloured fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C – is a powerful antioxidant, needed for our body to synthesise collagen.

Vitamin E – an antioxidant which helps protect the skin.

Healthy fats – are anti-inflammatory (oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds) and are important to help maintain the structure of skin.

Protein – our skin turns over every 6-10 weeks and a new cycle of growth and repair starts. Protein helps nourish this process.

Water – you need to be drinking at least 1.5 litres of water a day to keep skin hydrated and help eliminate toxins.

And what about chocolate?  Well the good news (if you like dark chocolate that is), is that dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium, which is another mineral that may help prevent acne.

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