The familiar red and white pimples of acne are caused by pores that are blocked and often infected. Although acne is most common in adolescents (more than 80% of those between ages 12 and 21 are afflicted), it now appears with increasing frequency in adults.
As most people are aware, hormones play a significant role in acne. Normally, the body produces sebum, an oily lubricant, and secretes it through sebaceous glands to the skin. This lubricant is necessary to protect the skin from the elements and to keep it moist. During adolescence and other times of hormonal change, fluctuating hormones change this process and create several conditions that are likely to produce acne. For one, sebum production increases, and the oil, instead of passing harmlessly through the glands, hardens and clogs up the glandular canals. As a result, a red bump, a pimple appears on the skin.
Second, there is also increased production of keratin, a protective protein that covers the skin. Third, the same hormones cause an increase in the number of sebaceous glands, so there are more opportunities for acne to develop.
All of these factors can lead to clogged and infected pores, resulting in increased bacteria and yeast overgrowth on the skin. Overgrowth of these organisms causes skin inflammation. Superficial inflammation results in pustule formation and skin redness. Inflammation that occurs deeper in the skin can result in the formation of nodules and cysts and, possibly, scars.
One must also consider the role of food sensitivities, which can cause or worsen acne. These are discussed further in the Food to Avoid section. In addition, candida or yeast overgrowth can be an underlying cause of acne. This is most common after chronic antibiotic use, where “friendly bacteria” are destroyed, setting up the over growth of candida. Many people are on long-term antibiotic use for the treatment of acne, which sets up not only a further acne problem but potential digestive problems as well. Finally, nutritional deficiencies often need to be addressed to improve acne. Zinc, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients are crucial in preventing acne.
If you suffer from acne, be wary of the usual conventional treatments. Most prescription drugs for acne are either harsh topical lotions, which can cause dryness, redness, scaling, and sun sensitivity, or antibiotics, which disrupt the natural balance of intestinal flora and may give you yeast infections and diarrhoea. Instead, try a natural treatment plan for acne that emphasises dietary changes, detoxification, stress reduction, natural hormone balancing, and identification possible food allergies.
Causes of acne
Hormones can fluctuate at times other than adolescence, most notably during pregnancy, around the time of menses or menopause, and during periods of emotional stress. Oral contraceptives can also affect hormonal production. Acne can appear on babies as well. This is normal and goes away with time. It would be a mistake, however, to attribute acne solely to fluctuating hormones. The second biggest contributor to acne is poor nutrition. Fat, sugar, and processed foods accelerate skin inflammation and acne. They also contribute to constipation, and thus the body responds by trying to expel the poisons through a different avenue, via the skin.
Each of the following symptoms can appear on the face, the chest, or the back:
• Red spots, bumps or pustules, sometimes inflamed and painful
• Oily skin
• Poor diet
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Food sensitivities
• Hormonal fluctuation or imbalance
• Emotional stress
• Poor digestion/toxic body system
• Candida/yeast overgrowth
Recommended food: In general, acne sufferers should follow a simple diet of basic, unprocessed foods. Dark green or orange vegetables are especially helpful for their carotenoids, which help maintain and repair the skin. Eat them raw or lightly cooked to retain their nutrients and fibre.
A quarter cup of ground flaxseeds provides plenty of fibre for proper elimination, as well as helpful essential fatty acids. Take with at least 2.5dl of clean quality water daily. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds, are good sources of skin-healthy vitamin E and essential fatty acids.
Quality protein sources are beans, peas, lentils, eggs, and fresh cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. The latter are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Meat products should be hormone and antibiotic free and limited.
Drink a glass of clean quality water every 2 waking hours to flush toxins out of the body and to maintain good general health.
If you must use topical or oral antibiotics for acne, be sure to eat some live unsweetened yogurt (natural Greek yogurt) every day. Antibiotics destroy the “friendly” bacteria in your gut.
Look out for:
Vitamin E rich foods
Almonds, spinach, sweet potato, avocado, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, trout, olive oil.
Selenium rich foods
Brazil nuts, eggs, sunflower seeds, liver (from lamb for beef), tuna, herring, chicken breast, salmon, turkey, chia seeds, mushrooms
Zinc rich foods
Lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, raw cacao powder, cashews, kefir or natural Greek yogurt, mushrooms, spinach
Beta carotene rich foods
Carrot juice, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, sweet potato, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, winter squash, dandelion greens, cantaloupe, apricots, mango
Foods to avoid
Eliminate junk and processed food, such as refined grains, colas, and candy. These products are a large source of toxins in the average diet. Sugar encourages oil production and provides food for bacteria and yeast. Do not consume foods that contain added sugar. Avoid artificial sugar substitutes like saccharine or aspartame. Although any food can conceivably result in an allergic response, by far the most frequent triggers are dairy, wheat, sugar, chocolate, and corn. Try the elimination diet to determine whether a food allergy is causing your problem.
• Saturated and hydrogenated fats (trans fats) are particularly difficult to digest, and they worsen acne. Stay away from fried foods and solid fats, such as margarine, lard, and vegetable shortening.
• An acidic internal environment encourages acne, so avoid alcohol, sugar, chocolate, fried foods, and soda, and limit meat products.
• Coffee and other caffeinated products may aggravate skin conditions. If they cause problems for you, cut them out and drink herbal teas instead.
• People with carbohydrate sensitivity may notice improvement in their skin by reducing their refined
carbohydrate (low GI foods) intake. This is because elevated levels of the blood sugar – regulating hormone insulin increase skin inflammation.
To find your diet changes to reduce acne contact [email protected]
Judith Coulson is a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, Positive Psychology and Nutrition & Lifestyle Coach, working with individuals, executive teams, schools and companies based in Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore.