An interesting article published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition described improvements in teenage acne using a low glycemic diet. I have written many articles before on the glycemic index. Typically, I have focused on the benefit of a low glycemic diet for weight loss, chronic disease prevention and energy level increases. However, this new study suggests that it is also beneficial for acne therapy.
In the study, the investigators recruited 15 – 25 year old boys/men with acne problems. They instructed half of them to eat low glycemic foods and the other half continued eating mostly as they had been. They made sure that the change in diet did not differ from the amount of calories they were already eating; they didn't want weight loss to be a factor. The investigators also made sure that the participants didn't now that they were being checked for acne treatments – to avoid a placebo effect. Instead, they thought it was a test for monitoring protein to carbohydrate ratios.
After 12 weeks of dietary intervention the low glycemic diet group had significant improvements in their acne compared to before they started on the diet and compared to the control group. This is another ingenious example of how to use lifestyle choices to address problems that we often resort to drug treatments for.
The cause of acne is still mostly unknown. Way back in the 1930's doctors believed that it had something to do with blood sugar, but this fell out of favor with some research in the late 1960's. More recently, that later work has been called into question and the concept that acne has something to do with carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar has gained ground again. This new study suggests that the blood sugar metabolism theory may have some validity.
To revisit, low glycemic foods are those that don't spike your blood sugar. They consist of proteins and complex carbohydrates, typically higher in fiber, that burn slowly and give you sustained energy release. We don't completely understand the reason why these foods would be good for acne treatment, but it seems to have something to do with insulin levels.
High glycemic diets spike insulin levels by spiking blood sugar. Insulin, in turn, affects a whole bunch of other hormones that are especially raging in teenagers and young adults and this appears to stimulate acne.
You don't need to understand all the nuts and bolts of the biology to get the benefit. The great thing is that this new data will arm you with some reasons to convince your teens to adopt a healthy low glycemic diet. They will probably care much more about eating foods that will help clean up their face now, than they will about preventing heart disease and diabetes in their forties and fifties. But paying attention to what they eat will help them now and later.
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