Thursday, March 27, 2008

Low Carb: A Great Zit Zapper!

When I was a teenager, back in the stone age when dinosaurs roamed free, I had my share of pimples. Nothing was more devastating than to have some big red painful bumps on my face since they seemed to like to show up right before school photo day or a big dance. My mom used to blame those zits on junk food. Particularly the greasy kind.

"All that grease you eat ends right up on your face ya know!" was a common mom-ism.

Her "remedies" for my break outs usually included some kind of caustic cleaning agent that left me with dried out, cracked, bleeding skin still covered in pimples. I remember having tubes of Clearasil, containers of rubbing alcohol, lots of concealer and big tubs of Noxema at the ready. None of them really seemed to help, but at least my face wasn't as bad as my neighbor's. That poor kid was put on some prescription that made him look like and extra from the movie "The Mummy". He honestly looked better with the zits.

As my mom continued to blame grease and oils for our break outs, news was released that 2 studies proved that junk food had nothing to do with zit outbreaks. It was a hormonal thing. You either got zits or you didn't. Apparently I was just one of those unlucky people who was destined to have hideous red marks on her face at a time when appearance was very important, self esteem was at rock bottom, and I was already too tall for most guys to ask out anyway.

Like a lot of what I learned as a kid, it turns out those studies were complete crap.
"One compares real chocolate bars with fake ones and was conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine with funding from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. But that's comparing sugar with sugar, as Treloar says, and the fake chocolate bars were also loaded with trans fats known to trigger inflammation. The other study examines sugar in the diet of a small group, but, Treloar says, does not take into account what we know now about how glycemic loads from other foods such as white flour and potatoes affect insulin levels."

Despite the shoddy science, dermotologist dogma and "popular wisdom" became "diet does not effect acne". In the 30 years since I was was a pimply-faced kid, millions upon millions were spent on creams, washes, ointments and pills as embarrassed teens tried to get rid of the horrible zits. All the while the real culprit got a free pass. That culprit is carbohydrates.

"Associate Professor Mann and PhD researcher Robyn Smith, in conjunction with staff from the Department of Dermatology at Royal Melbourne Hospital, recruited 50 boys and divided them into two groups.

One group consumed a typical teen diet of sugary snacks and processed foods, while the other followed a more natural diet higher in protein and with low-GI foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and legumes replacing the normal high-GI foods such as potatoes, rice, white bread, cakes, biscuits, soft-drinks and sugary snacks that elevate blood glucose levels and insulin levels so dramatically..."The acne of the boys on the higher protein-low GI diet improved dramatically, by more than 50 per cent, which is more than what you see with topical acne solutions," said Associate Professor Mann.

“A diet high in processed foods pushes glucose and insulin levels higher, exacerbating the problem, but low-GI foods do the opposite. The mechanism and the results are as clear as day.”

While this study does give insight in to the pimple problem, it only gets it half right. By concentrating on low Glycemic Index foods, it ignores foods that do not raise blood sugar, but do raise insulin because they directly effect the liver. Glycemic Index does give clues, but it is a confusing and incomplete measure of what is going on. It appears to me that limiting carbohydrates of ALL KINDS may very well bump the 50% helped number up to 80% and beyond. 

Can reducing carbohydrate consumption end THIS?

Instead of relying on harsh prescriptions and mostly useless creams or lotions, your key to clear skin is to eliminate sugars, starches, and grains from your diet. While many of us use a low carbohydrate diet to lose weight, eating protein, healthy fats, leafy greens, and low carbohydrate fruits can also clear up your skin. Not only will teens have a good chance at avoiding the soul-crushing "pizza face" moniker, it will set them up for continuing health throughout their entire lives. 


Chris said...


This was a great read! And I can testify from my own experience with Rosacea, that the low-carb lifestyle keeps it under control - no medication.

Thanks for your wonderful blog!


Anonymous said...

As a Rosacea sufferer, plus being allergic to sunlight, my face was a total disaster even after 6 years of being fairly lowcarb. But after a chemical peel, a laser treatment, and ANOTHER chemical peel for cancer, all within 8 months, my face is much smoother and zit free. (It WAS the grains!) Will it hold, even with low carb? Time will tell.

ItsTheWooo said...

Yea, definitely. Insulin and leptin decrease the production of sex hormone binding globulin - SHBG turns off hormones.

Fat gets blamed because if carbs stay constant, increases in fat consumption will raise insulin levels. So, casually, people may notice their acne gets worse if they eat fattier foods (because this promotes insulin resistance). However if these same people decreased carbs but increased fat they would notice acne getting much better, as this is the most effective way to reduce insulin.

ItsTheWooo said...

FYI... The effect of leptin and insulin on sex steroids is also the reason behind the reproductive abnormalities associated with conditions of insulin excess.

Abnormally low SHBG secondary to abnormally high insulin/leptin is only one of the ways it messes up reproductive system... it also is responsible for the increased LH relative to FSH (characteristic of PCOS / disorders of hormone excess). LH is the hormone that tells ovaries or testes to make precursors to sex hormones. Excess precursors create an imbalance of hormones - too much androgen in women, too much estrogen in men.

Generally speaking insulin (and leptin, which follows insulin) promote this "Hyper fertile" state which ironically enough only results in reduced fertility or overt infertility because of the imbalances created. Acne is just the most superficial symptom of what is actually a considerable reproductive/endocrine disorder. I suspect this hormone imbalance of hyperinulinemia contributes to birth defects and sex hormone positive cancers all of which are more common among the obese.

Wifezilla said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. And thanks Woo for giving us the hard science.

Excess insulin causes SO many problems with the human body, I can't believe the main stream is so resistant to the benefits of a carb restricted diet.

ItsTheWooo said...

No problem wifezilla, I did a lot of research on all of this (how food affects reproductive function/hormones).

I do still browse the active lowcarber forum though I'm FORBIDDEN to post too LOL.

You were right on the money with your response to bandito. When we enter puberty, we start making sex steroid hormones. These hormones do lots of things, including waking up the sebacous (oil secreting) glands. Male hormones do this especially well which is why teenage boys (and women/adolescent girls with PCOS / insulin dysfunction) tend to have the worst acne.
If the glands are overactive, as they are during hormone surges of adolescence, the glands can get clogged which trap normal bacteria which in turn promotes acne. It may also be true that immune system dysfunction and / or poor glucose control could also relate to acne break outs... but clearly the most significant factor is an increase in free unbound androgens.

The hormone change is as quick as the insulin change, which is why we notice spots pretty quick after eating the wrong things.

ItsTheWooo said...

Regarding candida... I suppose it's possible, but I think candida most relates to immune system dysfunction (either idiosyncratic, e.g. an inborn error in how immune system works OR very advanced disease like severe diabetes).

Candida relates to so many diseases and sicknesses because a healthy immune system can suppress candida outbreaks pretty easily. WHen you see overgrowth of candida, that's like a red (or white, hehe) flag being raised by your body screaming "we can't fight off any diseases, help us!" Candida overgrowth, therefore, usually relates to severe diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and other conditions of immunosuppression. They actually grade the severity of HIV by the degree of candida infection (e.g. candida outbreaks in the oral mucosa and throat would be severe disease, whereas monolial/vaginal candida is more mild).

Therefore, if candida WERE related with acne, it would be most likely true that a poor immune system was causing both the overgrowth of candida AND the vulnerability to bacteria that cause acnea.

I don't think candida - the fungus itself - could cause acne.

Sorry BTW if I'm rambling too much feel free to delete as you see fit.

Dana Seilhan said...

Silly question: It's my understanding that insulin puts excess glucose into cells in the form of glycogen, and triglycerides into adipose cells in the form of fat. But how does eating fat increase insulin levels in itself? Triglycerides are as likely to come from excess glucose as from sources of fat, and people who adapt low-carb diets find that their insulin sensitivity improves. That makes no sense if eating fat produces hyperinsulinism. And it's been found that someone eating a low-carb diet generally does better if they eat high-fat instead--look up the traditional Inuit diet (which has been followed by white men to good effect) and something called "rabbit starvation." If you eat too much protein and not enough fat, not only can you make yourself sick, but about half the protein calories you eat can be turned into glucose (whereas with fat it's more like ten percent), which kind of poses a problem if you're trying to cut *down* on your glucose levels.

Just saying, I hear people claiming from time to time that eating fat causes diabetes and as traditional peoples do eat a lot of fat in their traditional diets, but don't go diabetic as long as they continue eating that way, this makes no sense to me.

Dana Seilhan said...

OK, I went back and saw "if carb levels stay constant," well, that really depends on the carb level, right? Again, I don't see how someone eating 40g or less who also eats a lot of fat is going to have an insulin problem. I think they would at 200 or 300g, but that wouldn't necessarily be from the fat--it's a lot of carbs for *most* people.

Wifezilla said...

It is more that you STORE more fat because of the already high insulin levels due to your carb consumption, but the increased fat in the diet gets the blame.

Awkward wording?

"However if these same people decreased carbs but increased fat they would notice acne getting much better, as this is the most effective way to reduce insulin."

That's the important part :D

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