October 29, 2016
Just as relevant for adults experiencing Acne for the first time or as a ‘re-run’ later in life, there are many manageable contributing factors causing Acne. Unraveling the red, inflamed cascade of events that cause pimples is not as difficult as you would imagine.
From a personal perspective, I suffered a pimple prone face in high school which reappeared a couple times in adult hood as a disappointing ‘de ja vu’ experience. Once I knew what was occurring in my body, and eliminated those factors, I’ve never had a single spot again.
Now as I watch my 13 year old son change before my eyes, literally, I am able to support his skin health to keep him pimple free. I realised that most of the boys his age, due to dramatic and profound growth and hormone development, are experiencing the impact of acne. Whilst this is a far bigger topic than just one article can cover, rest assured there are a few simple things that will alleviate this common side effect.
Dairy and Glycemic Load
Consuming high amounts of dairy and sugar cause acne in the following ways. They trigger Hyperinsulinemia and increased insulin growth factor, which in turn cause an increased production of androgen hormones and sebum (associated with acne). They also decrease a substance which controls the growth of cells in the skin, called ‘insulin growth factor binding protein’. The result of which, stimulates increased cellular growth also leading to acne.
Of course we can’t avoid analysing diet when treating skin, as someone once told me, skin is a window into your intestines. Several aspects of poor gut health will contribute to ongoing acne. For example, in the stomach low hydrochloric acid level impairs the proper digestion of food which results in a build up of bacteria in the small intestine. Overgrowth of bacteria here produces toxic metabolites that steal your vitamins and injure cells in the bowel wall.
In the bowel, damage and compromised cells (enterocytes) make the gut wall permeable or ‘leaky’, enabling toxins (meant for excretion) to venture into the blood system.
You may have heard, chronic inflammation is the driver of all chronic conditions, diseases and poor ageing. One of the simplest strategies you can use for any condition is to remove the underlying inflammation to provide some relief to symptoms. You can see inflammation in action in acne characterised by red, swollen and even hot lesions. Generally imbalances in diet put the body in an inflammatory state. It’s essential to ensure you are consuming more omega 3s than you are omega 6 foods (see chart). And your diet includes lots of fresh antioxidant foods. Avoid trans and saturated fats, but consume those healthy omega 3 fats and essential fatty acids. Plenty of water, stress management and quality sleep go a long way to prevent inflammation. As does the avoidance of foods to which you are allergic or intolerant. But the big factor to consider is gut health. As we discussed above, poor gut health and digestion will result in microbes, bacterial overgrowth and the leaking of endotoxins into the blood stream, all of which ramps up systemic inflammation.
Hormones and Liver Clearance
The hormone (androgen) surges teenagers experience in puberty alone do not need to cause acne. By avoiding the contributing factors we’ve discussed here, you will avoid plugging up of skin pores / blocking of hair follicles. This means the bacteria that causes acne stays on the skin surface (as part of normal skin flora). Supporting the production of Testosterone and health conversion of hormones in the body with zinc and nutrients through diet and supplementation is essential during growth and surge phases.
For more resistant and long lasting acne cases, it is important to evaluate endocrine function. Imbalances in Androgen, Progesterone, Estrogen, Steroid Hormones (Glucocorticoids) and Pituitary Hormones can cause acne that doesn’t respond to diet and gut therapies.
But in general, ensuring and enhancing liver function so that hormones are adequately cleared from the body via normal pathways once broken down for removal supports skin health. This is seen in those who have cyclic flares of acne with the onset of PMS.
What a Naturopath will look for:
- Rule out underlying conditions which could be causing Acne, such as hormonal, metabolic or immune irregularities (PCOS, Cushing, Diabetes, etc).
- Assess diet and support balance and an individual plan which suits just you, including nutrients for skin health and healing.
- Assess gut health and treat issues relating to gut, metabolism and digestion.
- Assess and support adequate liver clearance / detoxification, regulate hormone production, reduce inflammation.
- Assess and correct nutritional deficiencies.