Are There Really Foods that can Trigger Breakouts?


Let me begin by saying that of course you need to maintain a healthy diet to have healthy skin.  All the organs of the body need  high quality  fuel in order to function properly.  For those who generally follow healthy eating habits but experience occasional breakouts or have acne that you blame on chocolate,  fried foods or some other  personal gastronomic  cryptonite, here is some interesting information:

It’s been a common belief among those suffering from acne and breakouts that certain foods can increase the incidence and severity of pimples.  Whether it’s too much chocolate, greasy fast food or some other  overindulgence, eat too much of a “trigger food” and you get pimples.  For most of my career I’ve believed that the only connection between what a person eats and  pimples  is probably not the food, but the stress that triggered the urge to overeat that food, and it’s commonly accepted that stress is a contributing factor for breakouts. The only food I ever felt might contribute to breakouts is dairy. Cows are given hormones to  increase milk production and we do know that certain hormones can be a contributing factor for breakouts and acne.

Turns out I was right. And wrong.

There has been an enormous amount of research focused on a possible link between diet and acne, and the results may surprise you. There does not seem to be any connection between acne and eating chocolate, or fatty foods. Yes that’s right no connection! There is however, evidence that acne can be affected by the consumption of dairy products as well as high-glycemic-index foods like soda, cakes and white bread. (I’ll provide a link at the bottom of this post for a more comprehensive list of high GI foods.) The following is from

  • There exists convincing data supporting the role of dairy products and high-glycemic-index foods in influencing hormonal and inflammatory factors, which can increase acne prevalence and severity. Studies have been inconclusive regarding the association between acne and other foods.
  • Authors of a randomized controlled trial examined the effect of low-glycemic diets on acne risk and insulin sensitivity. Individuals assigned to the low-glycemic diet experienced improvement in the  number of acne lesions, when compared with the control group. In addition, the low-glycemic diet group’s  weight decreased, and insulin sensitivity and SHBG [sex hormone-binding globulin] levels increased. Increases in SHBG levels correlated with decreased lesion counts. These investigative findings support the role of low-glycemic diets in influencing hormonal levels, as well as improving insulin sensitivity and acne.

One particularly interesting aspect of the studies  is the discovery that skim milk was more likely to contribute to acne than whole milk:

  • Authors of a large case-control study evaluated the association between milk and acne in the adolescent diets of more than 47,000 nurses. Among participants who had been diagnosed with severe acne as teenagers, those with the highest level of total milk intake (3 servings per day) reported having acne more frequently, when compared with individuals with the lowest level of intake (serving per week). This association was strongest (a 44% increase) for skim milk intake, suggesting fat content was not the determining factor for acne risk. Researchers hypothesized that the hormones found in milk played a role in acne risk.
  • A study from 2005 showed that components of milk, other than lipids, have insulin-stimulating abilities. Insulin drives insulin-like growth factor, which in turn increases testosterone [ a hormone  associated with increased acne and breakouts].

The conclusion:

  • Although studies are showing a an increased risk for breakouts for those eating dairy and high-glycemic index foods, no study has established a positive association between acne and chocolate, saturated fat, or salt intake.

Good news, and food for thought!



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