We have all been there… desperately staring at our reflection longing the latest unwelcome intruder on our face to dive back beneath our skin. Despite conventional wisdom that surface bacteria causes acne it is really the internal conditions which lead to acne in the first place and the primary culprit is our hormones. This is illustrated clearly in my recent experience of stopping the contraceptive pill: I stopped taking the pills, my levels of oestrogen subsequently dropped and, as if by clockwork, my skin took a steep downwards nose dive. Fascinated by this direct physiological consequence of adjusting hormone levels I started doing a bit of digging on this topic…
Acne is all about hormonal imbalance and inflammation. It all begins with the up-regulation of oil production in the oil glands beneath the skin. The primary drivers of this oil production are androgens, specifically when elevated relative to oestrogen – it is therefore the balance between androgens and oestrogen which matters rather than the absolute amounts of each. Therefore, oil production will increase if either androgen levels increase or oestrogen levels fall and keeing oestrogen levels elevated offsets the negative effects of elevates androgens. This is why the contraceptive pill (containing oestrogen) is able to improve acne. This is also why anything which causes oestrogen to decrease, such as hypothalamic amenorrhea or the menopause can trigger a re-emergence of acne. So the hormone imbalance drives the oil production and the oil production clogs the pores. It is then inflammation which leads these clogged pores to present as acne.
Diet can play a key role in both the hormonal imbalance and the inflammation which leads to acne and I have set out 4 key rules below to help balance our hormones reduce inflammation…
1) Avoid blood sugar spikes since blood sugar spikes elicit an insulin response which spikes androgen production. Sugar is also highly inflammatory.
2) Avoid dairy since dairy is the most androgenic of foods and is highly insulinogenic.
3) Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, grains and omega 6 vegetable oils.
4) Avoid excessive protein intake since protein is a key player in oil production.