"Patients are deluded into thinking that their health can somehow be mysteriously harmed by something in their diet."
This is a quote from an article published in 1971 in American Family Physician.
That’s not all.
The major textbook of dermatology for acne published in 1975 claimed that parents and doctors used the threat of depriving teens of "tempting delights" like candy and junk food only as a way to "keep these imminent sinners in check," not because diet had any connection to acne.
In fact, most of us tend to believe that pimples are for kids! Not true. The average age of acne patients has now increased from 20 to 26 years old. Millions of adults are experiencing acne for the first time. And acne rates are rising — contradicting the belief that this condition is caused by genes.
Eight million people see the dermatologist every year for acne and millions more rely on infomercial products hawked by celebrities or over-the-counter products that total $100 million in sales every year.
And healthcare costs for prescription acne treatment exceed $1 billion a year. Clearly, this problem, like so many chronic diseases in the 21st century, is increasing. Why? Let me tell you about a book that I just finished reading.
It’s called The Clear Skin Diet. It’s written by renowned dermatologist Val Trelor, MD and Alan Logan, ND, a naturopath. This book gives us real answers to why pimples are popping up all over! For the first time, this book links many of the imbalances in the underlying keys to health (The 7 Keys of UltraWellness) to the real causes of acne — including your nutritional status, stress, toxicity, inflammation, and hormonal and gut imbalances.
If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know by now what I’m going to say next.
No matter what condition, disease, or health problem you face, the root causes can be traced back to the same underlying factors, because the body is one whole integrated system.
This includes your skin.
Healthy skin isn’t just dealing with the symptoms — like lathering on potions and lotions, popping and pricking pimples, or taking antibiotics or strong liver-damaging medication. There’s a better way.
Good Skin Comes from the Inside Out, Not the Outside In!
Before I explain these connections in more detail, and what you can do about it, I want to tell you my own experience with acne.
I never had it. That is, until I got sick with chronic fatigue syndrome. This is a disease of toxicity, gut damage, inflammation, hormonal imbalances and stress, among other things. I have told the story of my illness and recovery many times, but I don’t usually talk about the skin problems I had. The trigger that tipped me over the edge — on a load of mercury and stress — was a severe intestinal infection. Right away, my skin changed. My skin color turned gray and I developed dark circles under my eyes. I started getting pimples all over my face (a new adventure for me at age 36), and strange rashes around my eyes whenever I ate certain foods. I even developed itchy red patches on different parts of my body. The skin symptoms completely correlated with a worsening of my gut symptoms and the irritable bowel syndrome that I had developed.
So what did I do?
Well, I didn’t need creams, gels, or lotions such as benzoyl peroxide, retinoid acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid peels, or topical antibiotics (all of which might help symptoms a little bit).
I certainly didn’t need oral antibiotics (which can cause long-term gut complications, immune problems, and yeast overgrowth) or Accutane (which can cause liver damage and increase the risk of depression and suicide), or oral contraceptives (which I would have been offered had I been a woman).
These are the tools of modern dermatology — but they overlook the role of overall health in the health of your skin. I didn’t need any of these things. Instead, what I needed was to heal my leaky gut, correct my food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, detoxify from mercury, reduce inflammation, and rebalance my stress hormones.
That’s just what I did. And my pimples vanished, my eyes cleared up, and my rashes went away (along with my chronic diarrhea, disabling fatigue, brain fog, mouth sores, muscle pain, and more).
A miracle? Hardly! I have seen this happen in so many of my patients. Beauty and vibrant, clear, healthy skin come from the inside out, not from the outside in. The only partial exceptions to this are wrinkles and skin cancers, which come from sun damage. But even these, too, are worsened by internal inflammation and oxidative stress caused by things like smoking and poor diet.
Now let’s look a little at the problem of acne (many other skin problems also respond to this approach, which I will cover in later blogs).
Here are some things that I have learned over the years and that have been very well reviewed and summarized in The Clear Skin Diet.
A Poor Diet is Bad for Your Skin
- Skin health, and acne in particular, are tied strongly to diet.
- Acne is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys of UltraWellness).
- Traditional indigenous cultures have little acne, but as soon as they adopt a Western diet or SAD (standard American diet), they see increasing levels of acne.
- insulin levels, which promotes the production of testosterone in women, and inflammation in general, causing acne.
- Saturated and processed fats increase arachidonic acid levels and compete with omega-3 fats in the body, leading to more inflammation and acne.
- Milk and dairy consumption is closely linked with acne (and many other skin and health problems) in part because of the hormones (including growth hormone) in dairy and because of the saturated fats.
Nutritional Deficiencies Promote Acne
- Widespread nutritional deficiencies of zinc, omega-3 fats, and some anti-inflammatory omega-6 fats like evening-primrose oil promote acne, while supplementing with them can help boost immunity and reduce inflammation and acne.
- Antioxidant levels are low in acne patients — especially vitamins A and E, which are critical for skin health.
- People who eat more fruits and vegetables (containing more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds) have less acne.
- Certain foods have been linked to improvements in many of the underlying causes of acne and can help correct it, including fish oil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, nuts, dark purple and red foods such as berries, green foods like dark green leafy vegetables, and eggs.
Hormonal Imbalances Cause Skin Problems
- Hormonal imbalances trigger acne — and diet influences hormones like testosterone, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth hormone), and insulin, which promote acne.
- The biggest factor affecting your hormones is the glycemic load of your diet (how quickly the food increases your blood sugar and insulin levels)
- Eating omega-3 fats and fiber (to reduce testosterone in women), cutting out sugar (to reduce insulin), and using soy foods (to reduce toxic testosterone levels) help balance hormones. Exercise also helps improve insulin function.
Leaky Gut and Food Allergies Cause Acne
- Delayed food allergies are among the most common causes of acne. Foods like gluten, dairy, yeast, and eggs can be problems if you have a leaky gut.
- Taking probiotics (such as lactobacillus) can improve acne.
- Good bacteria from probiotics also take up residence on the skin, helping with acne.
Your Brain Can Cause Acne
- Stress does this by causing increased inflammation and oxidative stress, raising cortisol, and depleting zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which help control acne.
- Stress causes poor dietary choices.
- You can manage stress through meditation, yoga, saunas, massage, biofeedback, aromatherapy, and more.
So getting healthy skin and clearing up acne truly depend on the optimal function of many of the core systems of the body — your nutritional status, your immune system, your gut, your hormones and your mind-body health. I may seem like a broken record, but it’s true — Biology is biology.
I hope you’ve learned more today about how getting to the roots of illness via the 7 Keys to UltraWellness can help you uncover the source of your health problem, wherever you may find it — even in a pimple on your nose!!
Now I’d like to hear from you… Do you suffer from acne? Have you noticed if your skin looks better or worse when you eat certain foods? What steps have you taken to keep your skin healthy?
Please let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.