By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson
Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet
You are just about to head out for the day when you stumble upon something in the mirror, it’s the dreaded red blemish on your face. For those who have had a pimple or two, know just what a damper this can put on your entire week. Acne has been linked to hormones and that can be a direct result of your diet. In teens and adolescents, it can feel like the end of the world; adults into their 30’s can struggle with acne too. Nobody likes having acne, in fact, dermatologists remain busy by prescribing acne medications. What if I told you that you could clear up your acne just by changing the food you eat? Would you believe me if I said that a ketogenic diet could be a cure for acne?
Most individuals have experienced acne with 90% affecting adolescents and 50% affecting adults.1 Acne is a result of complex skin interactions, creating an unpleasant look on an individual’s skin. The skin has glands that are connected to hair follicles responsible for producing an oily substance called, sebum.1 Sebum is responsible for lubricating hair and skin cells which are constantly shedding and being replaced.1 Hormones in the form of androgens, male hormones, have been directly linked to excess sebum production.1 This leads to oily skin preventing dead skin cells to shed and regenerate properly. The hiccup in this normal system causes dead cells to combine with excess sebum which causes blockages.1 During this process bacteria that live off sebum begin to produce leaving that undesirable look of acne.1 The skin can balance bacteria by using P. Acnes, bacteria living deep within hair follicles, to do so. When an acne breakout occurs, increased concentration of this bacteria causes inflammation that leads to whiteheads, pustules, and cysts.1
There has been much controversy amongst research on the role diet plays in acne. In previous studies, sugar was thought to be the culprit of acne but lacking evidence of specific foods and acne put the studies to rest. Today, studies have continued to pick up momentum as to how acne could have a dietary culprit. The reason for this is carbohydrates and their effects on hormone regulation. Again, we know that acne has a direct correlation with hormones.1 In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a low- glycemic-load (measured by blood glucose levels) diet was proven to reduce acne in various patients by decreasing androgen and insulin levels.2 This study proves that acne can be directly related to nutrition.
Many people following the ketogenic diet have noticed the reduction of acne as a result. Although there has yet to be a controlled study done on the Ketogenic Diet and acne, there are a few scientific reasons that would suggest that a low-carb diet would be helpful for acne sufferers. For instance, a reduction in insulin levels is a direct result of a ketogenic diet. When there is too much insulin in the blood, an increased production of skin cells, sebum, and androgens are a result.1 It is also suggested that low-carb diets reduce inflammation.1 Inflammation speeds up acne progression.1 IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) plays a role in acne by increasing sebum production.1 In a ketogenic diet, IGF-1 levels decrease.1
A ketogenic diet could be promising for reducing acne by regulating insulin, having anti-inflammatory effects, and by decreasing the amount of IGF-1 present. The nutrition in a ketogenic diet could be the reason acne suffers on the diet have noticed an improvement in skin conditions. There are certain foods that have effects on the body that are consumed on a ketogenic diet. For example, fatty fish is a popular choice for the diet and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.1 Low-carb vegetables (leafy greens) are also noted for their hormonal regulation and in-turn skin health.1 Lastly, a ketogenic diet focuses on consuming unprocessed foods, limiting potential skin provoking additives.
1 Can keto or low-carb diets cure acne? (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2018, from https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/benefits/acne
2 Smith, et al. “Low-Glycemic-Load Diet Improves Symptoms in Acne Vulgaris Patients: a Randomized Controlled Trial | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2007, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/1/107/4633089.
Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.