Alternative Medicine|January/February 2020
Jodi Frestedt breezed through her teenage years without so much as a pimple. While most of her peers suffered their share of embarrassing breakouts, Frestedt never gave her skin a second thought as she posed for school pictures and primped for prom. But at age 26, her face erupted in a slew of blemishes, leaving her baffled and self-conscious.
Frestedt’s situation is far from unique. Although we’d all like to think our acne days are behind us, breakouts affect 54 percent of women and 40 percent of men older than 25, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. What’s more, the number of adult acne sufferers continues to rise. “I have seen an uptick in adult acne in my practice over the past 18 years,” says Valori Treloar, MD, dermatologist, and co-author of The Clear Skin Diet.
As more adults head to the dermatologist, experts ponder the causes of this unwelcome condition. While possible contributors include pollution, high-stress levels, and newly developed prescription medications, an emerging body of research points to another culprit: the Western diet.
But wait, haven’t doctors, nutritionists, and reporters been telling us for decades that the link between food and acne is merely a myth? That loading up on chocolate bars and fried foods will not result in a face full of zits?
The food-acne connection
Although a famous 1969 study of chocolate’s effect on skin supposedly debunked any connection between food and skin problems, dermatologists may have dismissed diet’s impact on acne too quickly. Recent studies show that high-glycemic foods such as refined grains and processed sugars— the mainstays of a typical Western diet—trigger breakouts.
High-glycemic fare such as French fries, breakfast cereal, white bread, and soda boost blood sugar too quickly— and the pancreas responds by making extra insulin to bring those sugar levels down. As an unintended consequence, the insulin also signals the sebaceous glands to manufacture and secrete sebum, an oil-like substance carried to our pores via hair follicles. In proper quantities, sebum is a good thing; it flushes out dead cells and keeps your skin lubricated. But too much causes the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes to over-propagate and jam up hair follicles. The result? Whiteheads and blackheads on your forehead, chin, and cheeks.
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