The answer … well, it depends.
There are so many internal and external factors that cause or contribute to acne. The list is extensive however there are several common threads I see when treating individuals with acne.
Commonly, females are prescribed the oral contraceptive pill (the pill) to help control their acne. The pill contains synthetic hormones that, when ingested, are released into circulation where they suppress ovulation and revert sebum production to levels like those seen in childhood. This suppression ultimately leads to a reduction in acne and therefore clearer skin.
However, when a female chooses to come off the pill, natural hormone production is no longer suppressed. Often the body, or the ovaries, will overcompensate and begin to produce excess amounts of hormones including androgens, such as testosterone. As a result, sebum production goes into overdrive and you are now producing more sebum than before you went on the pill. We call this ‘post-pill acne’.
In addition, taking the pill contributes to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, gut inflammation and liver congestion. These are all common causative factors of acne which, when combined with excess hormone and sebum levels following cessation of the pill, create the presentation of acne.
The health of our gut and what is happening within it is directly reflected in our skin. Consuming inflammatory foods (gluten, sugar, dairy, caffeine), food intolerances, psychological stress, bacterial overgrowth and medication use can all cause immune reactions within the gut. This leads to inflammation that can become systemic, affecting the entire body including the skin. Often this will worsen the appearance and severity of breakouts – think big, red, cystic breakouts. When this type of acne presents it is important to address gut inflammation. Gut inflammation also impairs the eliminatory capacity of the gut, placing increased pressure on other channels of elimination (skin, liver, lymphatics). This is discussed further below.
Impaired detoxification and elimination
Our body has many primary routes of elimination – the gut, liver, lungs, kidneys and the lymphatics. They are responsible for detoxifying and eliminating substances such as medications, metabolic wastes, toxins, pathogens, inflammatory mediators and excess hormones from the body. Our skin is regarded as a secondary route of elimination.
Often, due to lifestyle and environmental factors, there is increased pressure on the primary routes of elimination, particularly the liver and lymphatics, meaning they cannot adequately detoxify and eliminate those substances from the body. When this is the case, the body tries to reduce the burden on these routes of elimination and will look to the skin as a secondary or ‘back-up’ route. This means that metabolic wastes, toxins, excess hormones etc are excreted through the skin, causing breakouts and acne.
While there is no direct evidence to suggest that certain foods such as chocolate or fried foods cause acne, they definitely do not help. These foods are what we call high GI simple carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are taken up quickly into the bloodstream and used almost instantly for rapid energy production.
In the body, high GI simple carbohydrates trigger the secretion of a compound called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This compound has been shown to increase the production of androgens in the body, contributing to higher circulating levels. Androgens are known to alter skin cell characteristics and increase sebum production in the skin. This leads to clogging of the skin’s pores, which causes inflammation and leads to breakouts and cysts.
A note on dairy: The consumption of dairy products has also been linked to acne because it too triggers the secretion of IGF-1 in the body.
While there are so many more internal and external factors that cause acne, these are just a few commonly seen in clinic. Once the underlying cause of acne has been identified, the appropriate naturopathic treatment can be prescribed. Treating acne requires a holistic approach, compliance and dedication in order to achieve healthy, clear skin with long-lasting results.
Written by Perri Baldwin BHSc
FREE WEBINAR ~ HEALING SKIN FROM WITHIN
Join Perri for this practical and informative session about the pathophysiology of acne, causes and contributing factors, treatment and topical products. Perri will provide loads of valuable information about hormones, gut health and liver function, along with diet and lifestyle, how treatment is prescribed and what it does within the body.
Wednesday 22 April 2020
Online – Zoom
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