Teen Acne: Why Food Matters and Simple Things You Can Do to Beat Breakouts

For teens, acne breakouts can be a huge deal, affecting not just their skin but also their emotional well being. Teens who suffer from acne are more likely to also experience low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.1 And the rates of acne in the U.S. are increasing, with an estimated 50 million people currently affected by the condition.2

What Causes Acne?

Acne is often a sign of deeper imbalances in health. Although the exact cause of acne is not entirely understood, it appears that some people’s skin produces excessive levels of oil and protein (called Keratin) that leads to clogged pores. When you combine clogged pores with an overabundance of certain bacteria (such as Propionibacterium acnes), it’s a perfect storm for acne breakouts. Inflammation also plays a key role in the formation of acne, and blood markers for inflammation are commonly increased in people who suffer from acne.

We are What We Eat

Many people have previously been told by their family physician or dermatologist that diet doesn’t matter when it comes to acne. This dietary dogma is fueled by two small and highly flawed studies that failed to show a correlation between chocolate consumption and acne breakouts. However the “control” that was used in the study was a candy bar where the cocoa butter in the chocolate was simply replaced with hydrogenated oils. Not surprisingly, there were no significant differences in the number of acne breakouts between the group who ate this manufactured bar and the group who ate a normal chocolate bar. Somehow this research was interpreted to mean that acne is not related to diet in any way.3

Many new studies reveal that diet actually plays a significant role in whether or not someone is prone to breakouts. Research suggests that eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (i.e. bread, crackers, candy, sugar, soda, cake, and chips) increases blood sugar levels, which in turn triggers a series of hormonal and inflammatory changes that can lead to acne lesions. Studies have also shown that eating a diet low in simple carbohydrates and high in vegetables, protein, and healthy fats can help to improve acne.4-5

Digestive health also plays an important role in acne. The body often expresses superficially what is going on at a deeper level. When there are imbalances or inflammation in the digestive tract it may present as skin conditions like acne, eczema, or psoriasis. Getting to the heart of digestive issues can significantly improve the health of the skin. Common issues in the digestive system include food sensitivities and overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, all of which can be tested for by your doctor. Naturopathic physicians are expertly trained in functional digestive medicine and can help you determine what testing options are appropriate for your child.

Supplements that Support Healthy Skin

Looking for more things that you can do today to help your teen with acne? A high-quality probiotic and fish oil supplement may be a good place to start.

People in the U.S. have notoriously low levels of good bacteria in their digestive tracts. This may in part be because of rampant antibiotic overuse in medicine and in agriculture. On average, kids in the U.S. receive between 10 to 20 courses of antibiotics by their 18th birthday.6 The type of bacteria in our guts is also influenced by the foods that we eat. When we eat diets that are high in processed foods and simple carbohydrates and low in fiber, our friendly gut bacteria suffers and becomes unbalanced.7 Taking a probiotic containing multiple strains of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species can help to restore balance to our digestive flora while improving digestion, skin health, immune function, and even mood.8-11

Fish Oil may also help decrease acne breakouts. Studies have shown that supplementing the diet with fish oil high in the Omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA reduces acne breakouts when taken for at least 3 months.12 This benefit may in part be due to the anti-inflammatory effect of Omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the body. IGF-1 stimulates proliferation of keratinocytes and increases sebum (i.e. oil) production, leading to clogged pores. IGF-1 also stimulates the production of higher levels of testosterone and estrogen, hormones that can trigger acne breakouts.

Eating a few servings of fish each week may have a similarly beneficial effect to taking fish oil supplements. The Environmental Working Group has an amazingly helpful tool for finding healthy and sustainable sources of seafood that are high in Omega-3’s and low in mercury.

Want even more help for your teen? Talk to your doctor about other effective natural options for treating teen acne.

References:

  1. Loney, T., Standage, M., & Lewis, S. (2008). Not Just `Skin Deep’: Psychosocial Effects of Dermatological-related Social Anxiety in a Sample of Acne Patients. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 47-54.
  2. Bickers, D. R., Lim, H. W., Margolis, D., Weinstock, M. A., Goodman, C., Faulkner, E., . . . Dall, T. (2006). The burden of skin diseases: 2004. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 55(3), 490-500.
  3. Logan, A. C., ND, FRSH. (2010, May 24). Acne Vulgaris Yes, Diet Matters. Retrieved August 25, 2016, from http://ndnr.com/gastrointestinal/acne-vulgaris-yes-diet-matters/
  4. Thiboutot, D. M., & Strauss, J. S. (2002). Diet and Acne Revisited. Arch Dermatol Archives of Dermatology, 138(12).
  5. Smith, R. N., Mann, N. J., Braue, A., Mäkeläinen, H., & Varigos, G. A. (2007). The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic–load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic–load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: A randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 57(2), 247-256.
  6. Blaser, M. (2011). Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature, 476(7361), 393-394.
  7. Brown, K., Decoffe, D., Molcan, E., & Gibson, D. L. (2012). Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease. Nutrients, 4(12), 1095-1119.
  8. Balakrishnan, M., & Floch, M. H. (2012). Prebiotics, probiotics and digestive health. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 15(6), 580-585.
  9. Roudsari, M. R., Karimi, R., Sohrabvandi, S., & Mortazavian, A. M. (2013). Health Effects of Probiotics on the Skin. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 55(9), 1219-1240.
  10. Popova, M., Molimard, P., Courau, S., Crociani, J., Dufour, C., Vacon, F. L., & Carton, T. (2012). Beneficial effects of probiotics in upper respiratory tract infections and their mechanical actions to antagonize pathogens. J Appl Microbiol Journal of Applied Microbiology, 113(6), 1305-1318.
  11. Vitetta, L., Bambling, M., & Alford, H. (2014). The gastrointestinal tract microbiome, probiotics, and mood. Inflammopharmacology Inflammopharmacol, 22(6), 333-339.
  12. Jung, J., Kwon, H., Hong, J., Yoon, J., Park, M., Jang, M., & Suh, D. (2014). Effect of Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Gamma-linolenic Acid on Acne Vulgaris: A Randomised, Double-blind, Controlled Trial. Acta Dermato Venereologica Acta Derm Venerol, 94(5), 521-525.

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Cori Burke, ND
Cori Burke, ND
Dr. Cori Burke is a licensed Naturopathic Physician with offices in Hillsboro and Beaverton, Oregon. She practices integrative primary care medicine with a special focus on pediatrics and women's health. Dr. Burke believes in in looking for the root cause of illness and honoring the body's innate ability to heal. Find out more about Dr. Burke at: willownaturalhealth.com

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