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Bread may be the Culprit Behind Acne

Those with acne may find that a low or no-carbohydrate diet leads to clearer skin.

Eating highly processed foods such as refined breads and cereals, which are easily digested, leads to a chain reaction in the body. When breads and cereals are digested, it leads to an increased amount of sugar. In turn, this excess sugar allows the body to produce high levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Elevated insulin levels lead to an excess of male hormones, which cause pores in the skin to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria. Additionally, IGF-1 promotes the multiplication of skin cells known as keratinocytes, a process associated with acne.

Previous evidence has shown a link between insulin or IGF-1 and acne. It has been found that when IGF-1 is used to treat certain illnesses, male hormones increase, followed by acne. On the other hand, when women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes an excess of insulin, were treated with the insulin-reducing drug metformin, acne was improved. Moreover, many women with acne problems overproduce insulin and IGF-1, researchers say.

While there is anecdotal evidence to support this theory that a reduced-grain diet may curb acne, researchers are putting together a controlled study to test whether teenage boys’ acne will be affected by a low-grain diet. Researchers say that many dermatologists report improvements in their patents’ acne after putting them on low-carbohydrate diets. They also point out the rate of acne in contemporary societies, up to 60 percent of 12-year-olds and 95 percent of 18-year-olds, as compared with the rate in societies such as the Ache of the Amazon and the Kitava islanders in Papua New Guinea. In these traditionally based cultures, refined sugars and grains are virtually unknown -- and so is the incidence of acne.

The processes used to manufacture modern breads and cereals may alter the protein structures in the grains, leading to rapid digestion followed by excess releases of insulin. Researchers point out that, along with acne, eating refined starches may be associated with short-sightedness and diabetes as well.

Archives of Dermatology December 2002