The vast majority of medical doctors and dermatologists have for decades claimed that there is no link between acne and diet/lifestyle. This notion is based largely on some poor studies dating back to the 1960’s and 70’s (1-3). These studies showed no connection between diet and acne, and the results from these trials have been passed on through medical textbooks until this day. Today, the general belief is that acne is to be considered a normal part of healthy development, although the scientific literature shows that acne is not present in hunter-gatherer populations and rather a symptom of an inflammatory western lifestyle.
Several newer studies show that omega-3 intake, glycemic load of the diet and dairy consumption all influence acne severity, and a review authored by Whitney P. Bowe et al. published in 2010 states that “dermatologists can no longer dismiss the association between diet and acne” (4). Although it’s clear that diet and acne are closely connected, the available data show that while most people see definite improvement when changing their diet, only a minority are able to clear their acne completely.
It is apparant that it’s not always enough to imitate the diet of acne free populations totreat acne. Whitney P. Bowe is one of the leading researchers on acne vulgaris, and followed up his 2010 paper on diet and acne with a excellent review, “Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?”, in 2011 (5). Accumulating data are beginning to show a clear link between gut health and skin conditions such as acne, and russian researchers are pioneering some of the studies on the gut-skin connection (6,7).
When will the information spread to the dermatologists?
It’s more than 2000 years ago that Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut”, and it’s unbelievable that we think we have made strides forward in treating conditions such as acne. Teenagers (and adults) with acne are sent home from the dermatologist with a prescription for products such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics, while teenagers in non-westernized populations are thriving on an anti-inflammatory diet/lifestyle and have never seen acne lesions in their life.
The information is definitely “out there”, but the general medical community is notoriously slow at picking up new information, and even if all medical doctors and dermatologists had the needed knowledge on lifestyle and acne, would it really change anything? Patients with acne aren’t coming to their dermatologists to get the needed information on how to change the way they eat, but rather they are usually interested in little effort and fast results…
The best strategy for acne sufferers today is to look at the studies, listen to health professionals that follow the newest information (Chris Kresser on the gut-skin connection) and start healing their body. A more comprehensive article on acne: Acne originates in the gut
2. Fulton JE Jr, Plewig G, Kligman AM. Effect of chocolate on acne vulgaris. JAMA. 1969 Dec 15;210(11):2071-4.
3. Anderson PC. Foods as the cause of acne. Am Fam Physician. 1971 Mar;3(3):102-3.
4. Bowe WP, Joshi SS, Shalita AR. Diet and acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Jul;63(1):124-41. Epub 2010 Mar 24.
5. Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan 31;3(1):1.
6. Volkova LA, Khalif IL, Kabanova IN. [Impact of the impaired intestinal microflora on the course of acne vulgaris]. Klin Med (Mosk). 2001;79(6):39-41.
7. Zaĭnullina ON, Khismatullina ZR, Khaĭretdinova TB. [Correction of dysbiotic intestinal microflora imbalance in patients with acne]. Eksp Klin Gastroenterol. 2012;(1):38-42.