In the early 1900's, dermatologists believed that diet could have a profound influence on skin conditions, especially acne. I remember my mom always said my grandmother told her if she wanted to have clear skin, she'd have to cut back on sugar. But my the mid-1970's the pendulum swung the other way, and since then modern dermatology has greatly neglected the influence that food choices have on the clarity of your skin.
As a child, I grew up on fast food, high sugar cereals and snacks, soft drinks and gallons of milk. And as a teen I battled severe acne, so much so, that I spent several years on low-dose antibiotics and took two rounds of isotretinoin (Retin-A) without knowing the long term consequences of each. My parents didn't understand the side effects of these medications, nor did they realize what I was eating was actually contributing to my condition. We should have known that grandma's crazy, yet simple solutions, usually were right.
What is acne anyways?
Acne gets its name from the bacteria P. Acnes that is often found in active lesions we know as pimples and zits. It is caused by skin cells proliferating at a rate much faster than they die, which causes a thickening at the cellular level. These thickened cells become inflamed and plugged, causing the ideal anaerobic environment forP. Acnes to live. In addition, inflammation causes the sebaceous glands to increase production of sebum, an oily substance which lubricates the skin. Sebum in turn feeds the bacteria, which then cause more inflammation and the cycle continues.
Western Medicine's Solutions to Acne
A trip to the dermatologist for acne, will usually lend you several limited solutions that seek pharmaceutical drugs to suppress symptoms, at the cost of unfavorable nutrient interactions. Ultimately, nutrients are what speaks to our genes, and without them side effects will almost always occur.
1. Topical and oral antibiotics are usually prescribed to suppress P. Acnes and lower inflammation. Long term use of oral antibiotics ultimately alters the beneficial microbes in the gut, which we now know effect our immunity. These little guys also produce vitamin K, vitamins B1, B2, B3, biotin, folic acid and vitamin C. In addition, without beneficial microflora we are also susceptible to yeast overgrowth.
2. Oral contraceptives are often given to women to reduce sebum production and alter hormones in hopes of helping the condition. They deplete vitamins B6, B12, and C, zinc and folic acid. All of these are needed for detoxification pathways to work efficiently in our bodies. Excess hormones and the impaired ability to detoxify them is a recipe for disaster.
3. Isotretinoin, is a very strong vitamin A medication, known for its ability to lower sebum, kill bacteria and stabilize cell proliferation. Anyone that has ever been on this drug will be able to tell you how it causes your lips to severely crack, and skin to be so dry it peels. What I didn't know while taking it, is that it can cause night-blindness, a side effect I still have almost 20 years later.
What are some alternative options?
A holistic approach poses the question, why does excessive skin proliferation and sebum production, bacterial overgrowth and inflammation all occur in the first place? What could we do to stop the cause instead of suppressing the symptoms?
We now know that diet and lifestyle have profound effects on health.....it all circles back to food choices and the impact they have on cellular expression and inflammation. Here's some tips for improving your skin:
1. Balance your fats. Today's standard American diet is full of trans-fats and vegetable oils in snacks and crackers. We no longer have a good balance of Omega 3's (the anti-inflammatory, good fatty acid) to Omega 6's (the pro-inflammatory, not so friendly fatty acid). Limiting intake of processed foods, vegetable oils, and fried foods while supplementing with a high quality fish oil is really important. My favorite is Pure Encapsulations ONE Omega. For anyone suffering from acne, I would highly recommend 1-3 grams of Omega 3's daily to combat inflammation. Adding in healthy olive and coconut oil, nuts, flax and chia can help increase anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
2. Balance your blood sugar. Going back to the standard American diet full of processed grains and sugary foods and drinks, our bodies are constantly battling insulin surges and sugar crashes. Insulin's job is to tell the body to store fat, and it also promotes inflammation in the body. High fructose found in soft drinks also indirectly causes inflammation and cellular damage. Promoting a diet of fruits and vegetables, whole unprocessed grains, and fiber will lower insulin levels.
3. Ditch the milk. Milk campaigns have done a great job at convincing the American public that not only is milk good for you, but it's a great source of calcium. Unfortunately, marketing tactics often mask the truth, which is milk is made for cows not humans. And the way it is pasteurized and homogenized renders its nutrients useless to our body. Milks role in acne is that its proteins effects insulin at the cellular level, as do other milk products like processed cheese. There are so many great alternatives on the market to milk, opt for one of those. Try a dairy free diet for 3-6 months and see if conditions improve.
4. Consider additional supplements that support healthy inflammatory responses in the body and provide key nutrients for optimum skin health. My favorites are Pure Encapsulations ONE multivitamin for teens and adults, N-acetyl cysteine at 500 mg per day for antioxidant support, and Biotics BioDoph-7 Plus probiotic for a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria.
5. Find healthier topical solutions. Essential oils are extremely effective topically to help control bacterial populations on the skin. My favorite products are Doterra's HD Clear foaming face wash and roll on oil. Contact me if you'd like to try some!
As I always like to reiterate, everyone is unique and your individual needs may be different than someone else. It's always beneficial to see the advice of someone qualified in nutrition to help identify the best food and nutrient plan for you!