Acne isn’t just an issue for teenagers. While the condition does affect around 85 percent of teens, studies show adult acne is a real and growing problem.
The conventional medicine approach is to attack symptoms. So we’re slathering on lotions and gels, popping pimples and even resorting to antibiotics and liver-damaging drugs in an effort to eradicate the bumps we can see.
In fact, we’re spending more than a billion dollars on prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) acne products every year. But these are just temporary short-term solutions and don’t address the underlying issues that caused the breakouts in the first place.
Fortunately, Functional Medicine, addresses acne’s root causes addressing the various contributing factors including
- nutritional status
- stress, toxicity
- hormonal imbalances
- and gut imbalances.
Oxidative stress is at the heart of acne
Our cells contain a total of one hundred thousand trillion mitochondria, which consume 90 percent of our oxygen intake. This oxygen is necessary to burn the calories we eat in food.
But free radicals are produced as a by-product of this combustion, much like exhaust that comes out of the tail pipe of your car. These free radicals are dangerous because they damage or oxidize the molecules and cells throughout our bodies.
This damage is called oxidative stress. More damaged cells equal more oxidative stress or “rusting”. Oxidative stress triggers inflammation, which in turn contributes to acne and a host of other problems.
We have our own built-in antioxidant factories that produce molecules that seek out free radicals and clean them up before they rust our bodies. But these systems are easily overwhelmed by a toxic, low-nutrient, high-calorie diet like the ones most Americans eat.
We can get more of these important antioxidant molecules if we eat the right foods. But most of us don’t.
A damaging diet triggers acne
The single most important controllable factor regulating the oxidative stress in your body is your diet. Eating too many calories and not enough antioxidants from colorful plant foods results in the production of too many free radicals, wreaking havoc on our bodies and our minds.
Oxidative stress, as I mentioned, creates inflammation. While a number of things including toxicity, allergens and nutrient deficiencies contribute to inflammation, the biggest culprit is a processed, sugary diet.
What you eat becomes the root cause of most acne. Along with a high-processed, high-sugar, high-dairy diet, studies show nutrition-related lifestyle factors can contribute to and exacerbate acne.
In fact, if I could narrow down the culprits to two, they would be:
1. Sugar (including flour):
Sugar raises insulin levels, which promotes the production of testosterone in women, and inflammation in general, causing acne. Large randomized prospective controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) found people who had higher sugar intake and a high glycemic load diets (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar and flour products of all kinds) had significantly more acne.
Hormones (including growth hormones) in dairy contribute to acne. Two large controlled trials found cow’s milk increased both the number of people who got acne and its severity.
Other acne-triggering dietary culprits include processed fats like trans fats, which increase arachidonic acid levels and compete with omega-3 fats in the body, leading to more inflammation and acne.
But the big two – dairy and sugar (in all its blood sugar-raising forms) – cause spikes in certain pimple-producing hormones. Dairy boosts male sex hormones (various forms of testosterone or androgens) and increases insulin levels, very similarly to sugar and starchy carbs, which quickly raise blood sugar and spike insulin.
Simply put, to get your acne under control, you should start by getting your insulin levels under control and then try my…
10 powerful solutions to eliminate acne without drugs
In my practice, I’ve seen numerous patients struggle with acne and other skin problems. I find these 10 strategies almost always remedy the issue without resorting to harmful antibiotics and other conventional therapies.
1. Go low glycemic:
Cut out all sugar and processed food. Opt instead for whole, real, fresh foods, which tend to be lower glycemic. One randomized controlled trial showed a low-glycemic-load diet improved symptoms  in acne vulgaris patients.
2. Eliminate food sensitivities:
That includes gluten, dairy and processed foods, but also processed soy products, nuts, citrus and other culprits. I’ve found an elimination diet can become very powerful here.
3. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet:
Foods like wild-caught fish, turmeric, ginger, green tea, dark purple and red foods such as berries, green foods like dark leafy vegetables, and barnyard-raised eggs all help reduce inflammation that contributes to acne.
4. Fix your gut:
Taking probiotics (such as lactobacillus), prebiotics, and digestive enzymes can improve acne. Work with an integrative physician to correct leaky gut and other gut issues. I have seen serious cystic acne resulting from gut imbalances and parasites that resolve when the gut is fixed.
5. Stress less:
Chronic stress causes acne flare-ups by increasing inflammation and oxidative stress, raising cortisol and depleting zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which help control acne. Stress also causes poor dietary choices. You can manage stress through meditation, yoga, saunas, massage, biofeedback, aromatherapy, and more. Relaxing is anti-inflammatory.
6. Address nutritional deficiencies:
These include zinc, omega-3 fats, and some anti-inflammatory omega-6 fats like evening-primrose oil, which can boost immunity, reduce inflammation and reduce acne. Saw palmetto, most often used for prostate health, can reduce facial hair and acne in women. Take 320 mg twice a day, once with breakfast and once with dinner. You can find all of these nutrients and more in my store.
7. Get great sleep:
Studies show sleep loss contributes to inflammation, which feeds the flames of acne and numerous other issues. Those are among the many reasons you want to aim for eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night.
8. Get more antioxidants:
I find antioxidant levels are low in acne patients, especially vitamins A and E, which are critical for skin health. People who eat more fruits and vegetables (containing more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds) have less acne.
9. Exercise regularly:
Among other benefits, exercise helps improve insulin function, reduces inflammation and boosts self-confidence.
10. Choose skin care products wisely:
There are some good skin care products out there. Just make sure they aren’t toxicor otherwise harmful. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database here.
If you’ve struggled with acne, what tactics did you find helpful? Did you take a conventional approach or implement Functional Medicine for healthy, vibrant skin? I want to hear your story below.
Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field.
He is the Director the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and was a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The View, Katie and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters, Achieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
He is the winner of the Linus Pauling Award, The Nantucket Project Award, and was inducted in the Books for Better Life Hall of Fame, and the Christian Book of the Year Award for The Daniel Plan.
Latest posts by Mark Hyman, MD (see all)
- 7 secrets to supercharge your slow metabolism - June 16, 2016
- Losing your memory? Try my 9 step plan to reverse dementia - April 7, 2016
- Warning: Your olive oil may be an imposter - March 20, 2016