Those with acne may find that a low- or no-carbohydrate diet leads to clearer skin.
Eating highly processed foods such as refined breads and cereals, which are easily digested, leads to a chain reaction in the body. When breads and cereals are digested, it leads to an increased amount of sugar. In turn, this excess sugar allows the body to produce high levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Elevated insulin levels lead to an excess of male hormones, which cause pores in the skin to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria. Additionally, IGF-1 promotes the multiplication of skin cells known as keratinocytes, a process associated with acne.
Previous evidence has shown a link between insulin or IGF-1 and acne. It has been found that when IGF-1 is used to treat certain illnesses, male hormones increase, followed by acne. On the other hand, when women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes an excess of insulin, were treated with the insulin-reducing drug metformin, acne was improved. Moreover, many women with acne problems overproduce insulin and IGF-1, researchers say.
While there is anecdotal evidence to support this theory that a reduced-grain diet may curb acne, researchers are putting together a controlled study to test whether teenage boys’ acne will be affected by a low-grain diet. Researchers say that many dermatologists report improvements in their patents’ acne after putting them on low-carbohydrate diets. They also point out the rate of acne in contemporary societies, up to 60 percent of 12-year-olds and 95 percent of 18-year-olds, as compared with the rate in societies such as the Ache of the Amazon and the Kitava islanders in Papua New Guinea. In these traditionally based cultures, refined sugars and grains are virtually unknown -- and so is the incidence of acne.
The processes used to manufacture modern breads and cereals may alter the protein structures in the grains, leading to rapid digestion followed by excess releases of insulin. Researchers point out that, along with acne, eating refined starches may be associated with short-sightedness and diabetes as well.
Archives of Dermatology December 2002
It seems quite clear that there is a connection between insulin and acne. In polycystic ovary syndrome, which is diagnosed in women who are obese and have acne, it is clear that elevated insulin levels are a major factor. (Gynecol Endocrinol August 2002)
The association of elevated insulin growth factor (IGF-1) and acne has been well documented for some time (Journal Dermatology April 1995); so it seems wise to lower any foods that cause the body to make more insulin than it needs.
The worst offenders here are sugars and grains. I suspect that the gluten in wheat also causes worsening of symptoms in many that is completely independent of its effect on insulin. This is especially an issue in those that have rosacea.
As I struggled with acne for the first 40 years of my life, I wish I would have known this information when I was younger. However, since I have come to understand the influence of grains on health, acne has been a non-issue for me.
It is unfortunate that so many people struggle with this problem and devastate their health with antibiotics in an attempt to solve it. On top of this, acne can lead to secondary yeast infections.
Limiting grains is an integral step toward optimizing your health. The more we study the influence of grains, and their secondary consequences on insulin, the more we will find that their pervasive influences touch nearly every aspect of our health.
Does this mean everyone should avoid grains? Absolutely not. Whole grains do seem to benefit some, but these people are unquestionably a minority of the population. Most likely, only 10 percent to 20 percent of the population should even consider them.
The vast majority of us will have some short- or long-term health complication as a result of consuming them.