How to Treat Acne with Food

treat acne with food
Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

If our diet can work wonders lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses—could our diet help prevent and treat acne as well? Let’s take a look at what the science has to say.

At first glance, this issue isn’t cut and dry—the studies out there have mostly been small, but small doesn’t mean they don’t count.

Some studies suggest that eating a low-glycemic diet can help. What does this mean in your day to day routine? Processed foods—these are notoriously high glycemic foods, meaning they’ve been so processed that your body breaks them down into sugar fast. Whole plant foods, like vegetables, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains, and legumes have fiber, which helps the sugar get absorbed more slowly into the blood stream. So it appears that staying away from convenience foods may improve your complexion.

The mechanism isn’t exactly clear—but are you surprised that these studies have found this? More and more diseases are showing improvement when we skip the convenience foods in lieu of foods as grown.

A small study in the journal BMC Dermatology showed a positive association between dairy intake and acne vulgaris (the very severe, cystic form of acne). In order to say definitively that dairy causes increased acne there will have to be many more studies, with larger groups of people enrolled. This same study found the link between high glycemic diets and more acne.

Studies looking into chocolate consumption and acne are few and the results conflicting—some studies show that acne worsens quite quickly with chocolate consumption. This has more than a  few dermatologist’s scratching their heads because it’s thought that it take 6-8 weeks for a pimple to form. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely that some chocolate today will make you break out within the week.

And what does the American Academy of Dermatology Association have to say? They’re still not sure if diet plays a major role in acne, and this has kept many specialists from recommending dietary change for their patients.

So what if you want to play it safe and eat the healthiest diet for your skin—not to mention the rest of your body? Chow down on the most natural fruits, veggies, and legumes you can find, and skip the cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and chips.

Sources: NIH 1, NIH 2, NIH 3, NIH 4American Academy of Dermatology

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