A study of 64 New Yorkers has looked at the link between the amount of carbs and sugar we eat and how much acne we have. Studies have shown that there is a low incidence of acne in non-developed countries, which points the finger pretty squarely onto one of the things that is quite different in western countries compared with non-developed countries: our crappy diet.
Half the study participants had no acne while the other half had moderate to severe acne. Anyone with mild or short-term acne was excluded from the study. A 5-day food diary was taken, with a questionnaire. Blood was taken and measurements recorded.
Those with moderate to severe acne ate significantly more carbohydrates and higher glycaemic load foods compared to the people without acne. Those with the acne had greater insulin and insulin growth factor-1 concentrations and lower sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) concentrations.
Those words are confusing: what do they mean?
The significance of those two measurements is that insulin and friends stimulate androgens to be released into the bloodstream. Androgens are male sex hormones like testosterone, which incidentally trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, in everyone, all the time. This causes more acne, because the more sebum you have, the more gets stuck in your pores, resulting in the tiny infections in your pores that is acne.
Sebum production is the key issue in acne and if you can control that, you can control your acne better. But how do you do that?
Sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods stimulate insulin production, meaning this cause and effect cascade is predictable and reasonably obvious. Skim milk is high in insulin-like growth factor, and is implicated in acne. Read more about how skim milk contributes to acne here.
Additionally, SHBG is a protein that ‘catches’ our sex hormones (hence the name – sex hormone binding globulin) – androgens included – and escorts them safely out of our blood so they stop exerting an effect on our tissue. In this case, that effect is to stimulate our sebum-producing cells. Diets high in sugar cause a decrease of SHBG, meaning more androgens (in this case) are able to freely float around the body, triggering off the sebaceous glands, causing more acne.
You eat sugar and carbs –>
Insulin is released –>
Insulin triggers androgens to be released –>
Insulin levels reduce SHBG –>
You have more androgens in your blood –>
Androgens stimulate your sebaceous glands –>
The healthier and more balanced your diet, the more sex hormone binding is going on, and the less acne you have, because the less androgens you have in your blood. The less androgens, the less acne. The less insulin, the less acne. The more SHBG, the less acne.
Acne is so much more than you thought.
We can help.