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Acne & the Healing Benefits of Real Food

Acne and skin problems are common occurrences, especially amongst adolescents and young adults of Westernised nations.  Diminished quality of life for sufferers may be extensive with reports of social withdrawal, anxiety and depression [2].  Therefore, treatment that resolves the underlying problem is essential.  

From as early as the 1800’s treatment has included nutritional therapy, however this approach became unpopular during the 1960’s, [2] and we have since seen a rise in the use of hormones, antibiotics, drugs and steroids in an attempt to resolve the problem quickly.   These synthetic medications, however, are just a band aid solution.  All too often prescribed medications or over-the-counter ‘wonder drugs’, have their own set of side effects and may in fact devitalise the body by creating other imbalances [1].  In recent years nutritional methodologies for the treatment and prevention of acne have once again obtained momentum [2]. 

Although only a limited number of studies have been conducted on the correlation between nutrition, health and acne, increasing scientific, anecdotal and clinical evidence is becoming more readily available [1] [2], and suggests that true health, vitality and a radiant complexion is linked, in many cases, to balanced, real food nutrition, immune and endocrine health [2]. In fact, acne, and associated skin problems  may be easily remedied and cleaned up when given individualised and correct nutritional advice.

Early anecdotal and clinical evidence noted a correlation between the increased consumption of chocolate, and patients with an impaired glucose tolerance, to acne, resulting in recommendations to decrease carbohydrate, chocolate and sugar consumption.  Acne severity was reduced amongst those patients following these guidelines [2]. 

Clinical observations also illuminated some associations between frequency of dairy milk consumption and acne.  Although, at the time, the amount of fat in dairy products, was thought to be of significance, it is now also considered to be the insulinotropic (stimulating the production and activity of insulin [3]) amino acids, residing predominantly in the whey fraction of soluble milk proteins, that are the main factors of acne pathogenesis [4]. 

It was decided by some in the 1960’s, that an apparent ‘lack of convincing evidence’ should challenge the role nutrition played in the development and aggravation of acne.  This prompted a small number of, some would say, ‘flawed’ studies to be conducted, indicating no or little correlation between acne, skin disorders and nutrition.  Two of these studies, conducted in 1969 by Fulton and colleagues, and in 1971 by Anderson and colleagues, commonly cited in literature against the connection between food and acne, have been exposed to flaws such as:

Anything less than 30% was not considered to be affected by food,

The consensus, that diet was not linked to acne, derived from these ‘blemished’ studies, has unfortunately impacted general beliefs for over 40 years.  It is thanks to advances in our understanding of acne pathogenesis, new epidemiological evidence and a thorough analysis of earlier studies, that the acne and nutrition theory is once again being explored and upheld.

According to a paper published in 2018, environmental circumstances do seem to have the largest effect on the development of acne in westernised society [4].  Dairy products, specifically milk,  became the focus of many studies conducted throughout the 2000’s.  Although these studies were limited in many cases to the participants recollection of dietary habits, the consistent result indicated an increased prevalence of acne associated with an increased consumption of dairy milk.  Modern day studies have also evaluated the difference in impact of low and high glycemic index (GI) diets.  Outcomes have frequently illustrated the preference of low GI diets for reduced inflammation of acne lesions, and greater insulin sensitivity [2]. 

Although many of the studies conducted are not ideal, the majority support the connection between nutrition and acne.  To further substantiate the debate, many clinical and anecdotal observations, from those people suffering and the practitioners working directly with them, provide clear and often photographed evidence [1].  Even more valuable than a study, is a client, thrilled with the improved clarity of their skin, and subsequent overall health and vitality, through the consumption of a well-balanced, whole food diet and lifestyle changes.

Current controlled clinical studies have recognised milk, saturated and trans fats and a hyperglycemic load as major factors causing or exacerbating acne [4].  “Acne, the mirror of Western diet, can be regarded as a useful indicator of appropriate or inappropriate human nutrition.” [4]. More than 2000 years after Hippocrates wrote “Let food be your medicine, and let medicine be your food,” the truth of his words seems more pertinent than ever.  Your action is imperative to your health, vitality, longevity, and to the radiance of your skin.

Nutritional and Environmental Considerations for the Prevention and Reduction of Acne

Initially, simple ‘lifestyle’ changes to incorporate may include:




skin” [1].


 1.     Edwards, Peter. “Childcare Naturally & How to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round” (2001).  National Library of Australia 

ISBN 0 957891 30 X

 2.     Burris, J., Rietkerk, W., Woolf, K.  2012.  Acne: The Role f Medical Nutrition Therapy.  The Academy of Nutrition and

Dietetics (2013) DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.16

 3.     Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (2020).

 4.     Gabriel, V., Voicu, C., Voaides, C., Roseanu, A., Icriverzi, M., Jurcoane, S.  Diseases of Civilization – Cancer, Diabetes,

Obesity and Acne – the Implication of Milk, IGF-1 and mTORC1. Maedica (Buchar). 2018 Dec; 13(4): 273–281. 

DOI: 10.26574/maedica.2018.13.4.273