Abolish acne

Most of us get the odd spot now and then, but acne can be a long-lasting, painful condition. It can also cause great distress and undermine our self-confidence.

Acne affects parts of the skin where there are hair follicles and active sebaceous glands which produce oils or sebum. It shows up as blackheads, whiteheads and redness due to inflammation. The most common type is acne vulgaris, characterised by inflamed, pus-filled spots which open out on to the skin. Acne conglobata is more severe – when the infection does not actually break through the skin but stays underneath, forming a painful cyst.

What causes acne?

There are various factors which differentiate acne from ordinary spots. The fact that more boys suffer from acne and that people with no male hormones do not suffer at all gives us some insight into its causes. The amount of the male hormone testosterone in the body increases at puberty. This triggers the production of sebum and keratin – an excess of which can block pores. It has also been found that it is not just the increase in testosterone – which happens to all teenagers – but excess conversion to an even more powerful version of the hormone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone) which may bring on acne.(1)

With the increase in keratin, a blockage forms, which in turn creates a build-up of sebum behind it and shows up as a blackhead. As the pores become blocked, it provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria which normally live harmlessly on our skin, causing them to create an infection in the skin, inflammation and the soreness of a spot. If this inflammation gets out of hand, it can spread through to deeper tissues and if it doesn’t break through to the surface, cause a cyst under the skin.

Avoid dairy for a while

A number of trials have shown a clear link between dairy product intake and acne.(2) Some people are unknowingly allergic to milk, but nevertheless milk promotes a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in all of us and possibly also oestrogens. IGF-1 levels peak in teenage years, doubly so if you consume a lot of dairy products, and may be a factor in acne if they become too high.

Oestrogen dominance is also a common cause for acne in female adults. A diet high in meat and milk can contribute to oestrogen dominance in both men and women. Being overweight has the same effect, because fat cells whether in meat, or you because of excess weight, make oestrogenic hormones. I recommend a trial period when you avoid dairy products for up to two weeks as well as reducing meat in favour of fish and vegetarian sources of protein, to see if milk and meat are contributory factors for you. Only total avoidance can produce a result if you are allergic.

A high fat diet, especially if you eat damaged fats in processed and fried foods, may also contribute to acne, so reducing meat and dairy products also tends to lessen fats.

Eat more beans and greens

Greens, especially broccoli, contain compounds called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and di-indolylmethane (DIM) which help the liver to break down excess circulating oestrogens. I3C or DIM can also be supplemented if dietary changes don’t do the trick. These are more relevant to women than men, because women have higher oestrogen levels. Also, beans and lentils contain phytoestrogens that lock onto oestrogen hormone receptors but don’t send a ‘growth’ signal. In this way they lessen oestrogen load, which might help if oestrogen dominance is contributing to your skin condition.

Oestrogen is counteracted by progesterone. Progesterone is only produced during a cycle in which ovulation...

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