Acne - Nutritional Strategies
If you are not someone who directly suffers from acne, I am certain that you would know someone who does or has.
Acne is incredibly common and is something that can have an immense impact on mental health and self esteem.
Many sufferers aren't aware that there are nutritional strategies that can help ease and reduce acne.
Hormones, gut health and overall wellbeing play such an integral role in acne formation along with environmental, lifestyle and dietary factors.
I myself have suffered with, what I would describe as moderate cystic acne (see photo below) under my nose and on my chin area for a solid 12 months.
During this time I felt incredibly insecure about how I looked and how I was perceived as a student Nutritionist at the time. It was at times incredibly red, sore, dry and itchy. No cream or quick fix worked, believe me I tried them all.
I thought that people were judging me and assuming that I should have this situation under control and be able to fix it myself.
I was eventually, after a lot of trial and error able to resolve my cystic acne.
I do however, still get the occasional breakout when it is getting close to the end/beginning of my cycle but nothing remotely close to what you can see in the photo.
As a Nutritionist, I have learnt that like most conditions, there isn't a one-size-fits all approach to acne and that there must be a very bio-individual approach to treatment. However, like I mentioned above there are many nutritional strategies that can help ease and reduce acne symptoms.
When I think of acne, I immediately think of the gut, the health of hormones and environmental toxins. When we are bombarded by external toxins, our gut is under-functioning and when our hormones are out of whack this can create the perfect conditions for acne to manifest.
There is increasing supportive evidence to indicate that gut microbes, and the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract itself, are contributing factors in the acne process(1).
There are many different forms of acne and as such there is no one single approach to treatment. However, there are some generalised ways in which you can help to ease and prevent the exacerbation of symptoms.
Acne vulgaris is the most common type of acne. It is characterised by excess sebum production and follicular keratinisation leading to congestion and the formation of whiteheads/blackheads.
The main objections are to eliminate comedogenic foods, increase the consumption of foods that facilitate optimal skin function and incorporate nutrients with specific vulnerary and inflammatory therapeutic function.
Below are just some my generalised tips for anyone suffering with acne:
Identify and eliminate foods which contribute to or exacerbate acne. It sounds simple but pinpointing certain types of foods that may be contributing to or exacerbating acne symptoms can be tricky when consuming an array of different types of foods and often at once. However, this is an important step when addressing the root cause/s of acne symptoms.
Could your acne be the manifestation of how your under-functioning gut is responding to food irritants?
Grab your phone or an empty page in your notebook and start to jot down things you may or may not be noticing when it comes to mealtimes and your symptoms. Are the symptoms worse after a heavy carb day? Does your acne become more inflamed after consuming dairy? Hopefully by doing this, you can begin forming a correlation between certain foods and the symptoms you are experiencing. If and when you have been able to identify which foods are not so kind to your acne symptoms, it's time to avoid them for a little while and see if it helps. The next step would be to look at the health and function of you gut (I would recommend speaking to a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner who can further help with this).
Reduce consumption of inflammatory foods. Acne is essentially an inflammatory response in the body and we want to be avoiding the types of foods that exacerbate this inflammation. Highly inflammatory foods include refined carbohydrates (cakes, biscuits, pastries etc.), processed foods (in my opinion, nearly everything that comes pre-packaged, is stored at room temperature and has a shelf life longer than that of a butterfly), refined sugars and alcohol. By eliminating and avoiding these foods you can help to reduce inflammation in the body and thus possibly also the appearance of acne. By reducing and avoiding refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods, this will also in turn reduce insulin resistance and excess androgen production which is an essential component of any acne nutritional plan.
Increase consumption of oily fish, nuts and seeds which are incredibly rich in niacin, 3 PUFA, vitamin D, selenium and zinc - all of which are great for skin integrity.
Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables to boost antioxidant vitamin intake and fibre. The antioxidant content in these foods will help to mop up oxidative stress in the body and help fight free radicals. The fibre content will help bind to excess, unwanted/unused hormones and help to excrete them via your stool.
When it comes to nourishing the gut I recommend clients consume bone broth to help strengthen the integrity of the gut lining. This will help to prevent undigested food from leaking into the bloodstream and causing inflammation and wreaking havoc within the body. Try replacing your morning coffee with a cup of warm bone broth, add to your soups or to your slow cooker recipes.
Stay hydrated by drinking a least 2L of water per day as a minimum to help with the body's natural ability to detoxify.
Reduce your stress. Stress may lead to alterations in microbial flora in the gut which may increase the likelihood of intestinal permeability, this therefore sets the stage for systemic and local skin inflammation.
Some experimental studies on mice have shown that psychological stress can stagnate normal small intestinal transit time, promote bacterial overgrowth and compromise the intestinal barrier(2).
There are a number of specific nutritional medicine supplements that can help give the body a boost when it comes to tackling acne, however, due to the fact that a bio-individual approach needs to be taken in order to address the condition, it is advisable to speak with a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Practitioner to create a targeted treatment plan. Probiotics are also a component to acne treatment that as a Nutritionist I would consider along with the introduction of prebiotic foods (the food that feeds the good bacteria in the gut) - however, as I mentioned above, a bio-individual approach is needed.
If you would like to book an appointment with myself to discuss and create an acne treatment plan,
If you have any questions regarding this post, you can
1. Bowe, W., & Logan, A. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/
2. Wang, S., & Wu, W. (2005). Effects of psychological stress on small intestinal motility and bacteria and mucosa in mice. Retrieved from https://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/full/v11/i13/2016.htm