01.01.2015 Naturopathy

Uncovering Acne

Acne affects all ages and has some surprising causes, says naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Acne is a skin condition that creates stress and embarrassment for many people. It is most common in teenagers but you certainly don't have to be a teenager to suffer with this problem. You can be in your 30s, 40s or even older and still struggle with acne.

There is a great deal of debate over whether acne is caused by hormones or diet. The answer is acne can be caused by both - plus many other things. Certainly your hormone levels will determine the look of your skin, but what determines your hormone levels? The answer is your diet and your overall state of health.

There are several other, lesser known causes of acne, which I will reveal to you now.

A high glycemic load diet

Bread, pasta, rice, sugar and foods that contain flour are all common acne culprits. This is because these foods are rapidly digested into sugar in your body and consequently result in a rapid rise in blood sugar. The rise in blood sugar triggers your body to produce insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

These hormones trigger your body to produce more male hormones, which encourage pores in the skin to secrete large quantities of sebum. Sebum is a greasy substance that acne- promoting bacteria love. IGF-1 also promotes skin cells called keratinocytes to multiply, further encouraging acne.

We know that overproducing insulin and IGF-1 can promote weight gain and raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, but many people are not aware of the relationship between these hormones and acne. When IGF-1 was used to treat people with a condition called Laron syndrome, they experienced a spike in male hormones, followed by acne. Metformin is an insulin-blunting drug used to treat insulin resistance, and it is known to curb acne in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which too much insulin is secreted.

A sluggish liver

Your liver acts as a filter. It literally cleanses your bloodstream of the toxins you are exposed to each day, and the waste products of metabolism that your body generates each day. If your liver is not able to detoxify your bloodstream adequately, toxins must find an alternative route of excretion. Typically this is the skin. Acne is very common in people with a sluggish liver and lazy bowel. The good news is this is usually easy to remedy with an appropriate diet and liver tonic.

Bowel toxicity

This usually accompanies a sluggish liver. Your liver dumps toxins into the bile, which is transported into the gallbladder and then into the intestines. If your intestines are eliminating wastes effectively, you will excrete them via bowel motions. Ideally, you would have between one and three bowel motions each day. Many people do not achieve this, or their bowel actions are not thorough.

If this is the case for you, a great number of toxins will be allowed to recirculate through your body. Consuming plenty of fibre in your diet will help to trap the toxins as they travel through your bowel and carry them out of your body. The insoluble fibre in fruit and vegetables helps to soften the stool and allow an easier passage out of your body. Nuts and seeds, particularly flaxseed and chia seeds, are also helpful.

Dairy products

If you suffer with acne, you may want to give dairy products a miss. They are a potent source of hormones. Breast milk is naturally very high in hormones, and modern dairy farming practices have resulted in exceedingly high levels of hormone residues in cow's milk. Consuming dairy products also promotes increased production of insulin and IGF-1 in your body. The whole purpose of milk is to stimulate rapid growth; that's why babies drink it. If you are drinking milk as an adult, you are promoting all the wrong hormones in your body. You can read more here: http://www.mdlinx.com/dermatology/news-article.cfm/3358624/acne-vulgaris

Zinc deficiency

You have probably heard about zinc being beneficial for acne. It is the most common ingredient in natural supplements specific for healthy skin. Zinc helps to reduce inflammation, it helps your immune system fight bacteria and it improves skin healing. That means it helps to minimise an acne breakout and helps you to overcome it sooner. Zinc also positively influences hormones by reducing the production of a particular type of testosterone that is more likely to promote acne flare-ups.

Allergies

We won't usually associate acne with food allergy or intolerance, but it is a common manifestation of food sensitivities. If you regularly eat a food you unknowingly have a sensitivity to, this creates an enormous amount of inflammation in your body. Inflammation can worsen insulin resistance, weaken the immune system and make you more prone to bacterial infections. Identifying allergens can be a challenge, but the most common offenders are gluten, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs and nuts.

Mites that live on your skin

I've purposely left this point to last, so you can stop reading now if you're squeamish! Acne rosacea is a type of acne that usually affects women over the age of 30 and causes redness and bumps over the nose and cheeks. Recent research has shown that Demodex mites may be partly responsible for this skin condition. These mites live on the skin of 20% to 80% of adults. The tiny bugs are invisible to the naked eye.

Poor health (caused by poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, etc.) can cause these mites to multiply and reach pathological levels. Research shows that people with rosacea have more than 10 times as many Demodex mites on their skin as people without the condition. The problem is, when these mites die, they release bacteria into the skin. The bacteria trigger an immune reaction that causes redness and inflammation of the skin. So it's not the mites themselves that are harmful, but rather the bacteria inside them.

However, the underlying message is to improve the state of your health, because in healthy individuals the mites are never allowed to overgrow to such extreme levels. Along with following the recommendations in the points above, I recommend selenium to help strengthen your immune system against infections and reduce inflammation.

Acne is an incredibly common problem that is not always simple to overcome. Hopefully, the points above will offer you some help.

Margaret Jasinska has co-authored 7 books with Dr Sandra Cabot. See www.sandracabot.com for information.

Margaret Jasinska

Sydney-based naturopath Margaret Jasinska has co-authored seven books with Dr Sandra Cabot

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