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Acne, Carbohydrates and Hormone Imbalances


April 7, 2016 | Published by

acne tiles by Flickr user Practitcal Cures

What Is Acne?

Acne is the term which is commonly used for inflammation of the sebaceous glands of the skin. The sebaceous glands are the glands on the skin which produce oil, which helps to lubricate the skin and keep it soft and supple.To some degree, it has been estimated that acne affects up to 80% of those between the ages of 12-45. I have discovered that acne is not just a cosmetic problem.

For many who have acne the consequences can include a large amount of emotional stress as this visible condition can have a strong impact on one’s self-esteem. Acne can occur at any age, and can also commonly occur in infants (infantile acne). Acne can also occur with prolonged use of skin care products (acne cosmetica) or as a side effect of some medications, especially steroids.

What Causes Acne?

Acne often arises at puberty, and this is the time when the body is dramatically increasing its production of male sex hormones called androgens. Androgens stimulate the body’s production of sebum (an oily type of skin and hair lubricant) as well as keratin (a kind of protein). The problem happens often because sebum can be produced in such quantities that it can clog up the skin’s pores.

Dirt and oil become trapped, which leads to the formation of blemishes. Blackheads can form when the sebum and skin pigments plug up the skin pores. If the skin scales become clogged with sebum below the surface, whiteheads appear. In chronic cases, multiple whiteheads build up and spread under the skin and rupture, causing patches of inflammation and redness.

While proper skin care does involve cleanliness, it is important to remember that acne is not the result of an unclean person or habits of uncleanliness. Acne is much more likely to be the result of overactive oil producing glands at a time in a person’s life when they are producing too much sebum or keratin. As I’ll go into below, acne can also be caused by a diet high in refined carbohydrates, as well as hormone imbalances. Chronic stress and adrenal fatigue can also cause an increase in acne. More on the effects of stress on skin

Acne Linked To Refined Carbohydrates and Insulin Production

Acne vulgaris has sometimes been called a disease of the modern western civilization. Way back in the 1930’s, acne was considered to be a disease of disturbed carbohydrate metabolism because early research strongly suggested that impaired glucose tolerance occurred in prominently acne patients.

As a result of this early work, those with acne were discouraged from eating sugar and refined carbohydrate foods like sweets, candies, chocolates, biscuits/cookies, etc. More recent research has revisited this idea and is again showing a strong correlation between a person with acne and their refined food intake, any changes in insulin handling (insulin resistance) and hormonal disruption, which is also strongly associated with acne.

Most of our sex hormones (like testosterone or androgen) are bound to particular proteins which circulate freely throughout our blood stream. This binding limits their ability to perform until they become liberated. Diets rich in processed and sugary foods stimulate more insulin production, and it is these higher than average levels of insulin which negatively affect the liver’s ability to produce SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin), resulting in more active testosterone circulating in the blood.

Increased circulating testosterone levels result in higher sebum production in the skin, and increased sebum means more oil in the skin pores. This leads to clogged pores, which helps provide a rich food supply for the bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) that can colonize a person’s skin. This then results in the pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads which we know as acne.

Antibiotics and Acne

In some cases, antibiotic therapy can have a good initial result in many acne patients but will often return because the cause was never addressed. The antibiotic will kill bacteria, but the environment which feeds the bacteria and allows for its survival is still present. Until the growing conditions are addressed (hormonal, high carbs and insulin for example), the bacteria will continue to repopulate when the antibiotic is not there to control it.

Diet for Acne

As you are most probably aware, a fresh food diet is best with acne, just like it is with any other health complaint. A typical diet I see in those with chronic cases of acne would include plenty of refined sugars and bad fats. These diets which are poor are generally low in zinc, chromium, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin A, B Vitamins, and a host of other essential micronutrients. These nutrients are critical if you want to maintain optimal skin health.

If you want to beat acne for good, I suggest adopting a sugar-free diet that’s high in omega 3 essential oils. Eat walnuts, almonds, ground flaxseed, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish and other good quality proteins which all have been shown to improve the hormonal causes of acne within weeks.

Supplementation for Skin Health

Hair, Skin & Nails Plus FormulaOne of the best minerals to take when you have acne is zinc. I have often noticed in many young people that inadequate levels of zinc (especially when combined with Vitamin A and essential fatty acid depletions) appears to be a major contributing factor.  Zinc is so important because it is used to stop an enzyme found in the skin turning plain old ordinary testosterone into a much more potent hormone called dihydrotestosterone.

The action of zinc at therapeutic levels reduces the level of sebum (oil) production in the skin making it much harder for the bacteria to thrive and survive. As I have stated, therapeutic levels need to be used with bad cases of acne, so again supervision of an experienced practitioner is recommended. Your health-care professional should also mention to you that high dose zinc will have an effect on the copper levels in your body, which will need to be balanced accordingly.

Another great addition for skin health is Dr. Wilson’s Hair, Skin & Nails Plus Formula. This supplement provides essential nutrient building blocks for tissue structure and repair, and can provide noticeable differences within weeks.

Image Credits: Acne tiles by Flickr user Practical Cures

dr eric bakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 27 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specializes in candida, psoriasis, as well as adrenal fatigue, thyroid and digestive disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. He has also written what may well be the most comprehensive Natural Psoriasis Treatment Program available. You can find more articles by Dr. Bakker on his blog at

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1 Comment

  • Jessica says:

    Thank you so much Dr Bakker for your no nonsense advice. I have been following your directions for the last few days and am seeing fast results. I never had a sever acne problem before now and at 34 I was really struggling to pin point the cause. Everyone kept insisting I go to the Dr’s and demand antibiotics or visit an expensive dermatologist but these in my opinion are not addressing the underlying cause and listening to my body. Stress, lack of sleep and diet…just as you’ve said seem to be the problem. After the birth of my second child I hadn’t been as conscious of looking after my needs so your post has been invaluable in prompting me to step back and reassess things as I didn’t realise how much I was neglecting myself. Thanks again!

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