We sat down with Dr. Alan Logan, co-author of The Clear Skin Diet to chat about the correlation between acne and poor nutrition. Read on to discover how what you eat can affect how you look.
A: Yes. Most patients with acne have consistently reported a link between diet and their skin. While older studies with major research flaws suggested there was no link between the two, recent, more scientifically rigorous studies have shown a connection that has been long suspected.
What changes to diet would you recommend?
A: Based on the emerging studies, a diet high in antioxidant and fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meats appears to be the diet of choice. The diet to avoid then is one high in processed foods, sweet, sugary foods and beverages, fatty meats, baked goods with processed flour and little fiber, white breads, white rice and pasta. The common thread here is that processed foods high in sugar can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, and this in turn may promote sebum production and the acne process.
In addition, those with acne may want to do a 2 or 3 month trial elimination of milk. Recently, another study from Harvard has been published, the third in a row which has linked greater milk consumption with the severity and experience of acne. It may be the naturally occurring hormones that are in milk, or it may be that milk has the potential to raise insulin levels.
At this point researchers are unsure why milk has been consistently linked with acne but it may be worthwhile to try an elimination. Since calcium is vital for bone health it is worth pointing out that yogurt has not been connected with acne in any of the Harvard studies – it may be due to the presence of the friendly bacteria and fermentation.
Experimental studies are also suggesting value from green tea, perhaps due to the ability of its antioxidants to limit the production of hormones that would otherwise promote the acne process. Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes and tomato juice may also benefit acne by influencing hormone production.
Image courtesy of ImaxTree.comWhy are more adult women suffering from adult acne?
A: Obviously, we can’t write off the increased rates of adult acne to genetics, so we have to look to environmental factors to explain why one out of every two women over the age of 26 is experiencing some degree of acne.
Diet is an obvious candidate, and certainly there have been major unhealthy shifts in our diet over the last half century. Stress may be another factor; research is showing that not only do women do more daily work than men, this added burden of more work in home beyond the 9 to 5 translates into higher levels of the stress hormones. Unfortunately when women experience stress and elevated stress hormones, they are more likely than men to have stepped up production of sebum, the oil that blocks the pores. It’s also true that when under stress, we are typically not reaching for kale and broccoli. Instead we are drawn to comfort foods high in sugar and the wrong types of fats.
What role do Omega 3 fish oils play in achieving great skin?
A: The omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those from fish, may be the cornerstone of healthy, radiant and clear skin. These omega-3 fatty acids, and one of them in particular called eicospentaenoic acid or EPA, have major anti-inflammatory properties. This is important because we now know that inflammation is at the root of most chronic skin conditions, especially acne.
Therefore cutting off this cycle of inflammation by fish oil can have great benefit. It is worth noting that in one large study in North Carolina, those teens who have the greatest intake of fish and seafood had the lowest rates of acne and the lowest amounts of acne lesions – from blackheads to full blown inflammatory acne.
Which source of omega 3 do you recommend? Flax? Fish oil? Walnuts?
A: Fish oil has the highest concentration of the anti-inflammatory EPA. Ground flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp and organic canola oil all contain the parent omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While ALA is very healthy and should be incorporated into the diet, it is important to note that in humans it must be converted, in the liver, into EPA. This conversion process is rather sluggish in humans, however, since fish is already rich in pre-formed EPA, the issue of conversion is a non-factor. For this reason fish oil may have the anti-inflammatory edge in acne.
Image courtesy of ImaxTree.com
I have heard eating dark chocolate is good for the skin. Is this correct?
A: It may be healthy for the skin because the cocoa within dark chocolate contains health-promoting antioxidants. However, what seems to get lost in translation of the research is that dark chocolate is dense in calories and saturated fat, and most of the research has been on high-antioxidant cocoa extracts rather than commercially available dark chocolate bars.
What is exciting is that the cocoa extract, low in calories and fat, is now coming to the North American market. Studies using the 329mg of cocoa extract have shown that in otherwise healthy women it can improve blood flow to the skin, improve hydration of the skin, decrease roughness and scaling and decrease those inflammatory chemicals that can wreak havoc in the skin.
Please explain what the difference is between being alkaline and acidic?
A: The typical Western diet is rich in processed grains, fatty meats, dairy – these foods are acidic in the human body, while fruits and vegetables are, in general, very alkaline in the human body. Over time a diet top-heavy in acid forming foods promotes production of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn may influence all chronic skin conditions, from acne to the visible signs of aging.
In addition, a consistent diet of acidic foods leaches minute amounts of calcium from the bones, leading in turn to osteoporosis and loss of facial bone structure which promotes sagging skin.
What is fish collagen and why is it good for skin?
A: Fish collagen from marine fish is structurally similar to our own collagen – the important proteins that make up the scaffolding of the skin. Through the aging process the production of collagen slows and its breakdown become more apparent. It had been theorized by Japanese researchers that oral fish collagen might help to maintain our own collagen and therefore slow down the visible signs of aging associated with weakening of collagen.
Oral fish collagen has been a mainstay beauty product in Japan for years, and recently, studies have shown that when used alone or in combination with antioxidants, it can improve the texture of the skin and reduce the fine lines and wrinkles associated with the aging process.