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Acne & Carbohydrates

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

Acne is most commonly associated with adolescent years, but many people get acne well into their adulthood. The previous school of thought stated diet had no influence over acne, but emerging research suggests refined carbohydrates may play a role. Tweaking your diet to control your intake of refined carbohydrates may provide relief for some people. Refined carbohydrates are processed and absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, which causes insulin -- a blood sugar-lowering hormone -- to spike.

Refined Carbohydrates Contribute to Acne

Researchers from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, say they've confirmed their suspicion that refined carbohydrates are a dietary contributor to acne. They reviewed case-controlled studies found in the PubMed database for a link between refined carbohydrate intake and acne severity. The team found eating a high refined-carbohydrate diet increases acne severity, according to the study. The results were published in the April 2014 edition of the "Journal of Drugs in Dermatology."

Results of Restricted-Carbohydrate Diet

The glycemic index refers to a measurement of how rapidly a carbohydrate raises insulin. There is evidence to support the idea of restricting high-glycemic carbohydrates, according to a February 2013, Academy of Dermatology news release. Research on males found that switching to a low-glycemic diet significantly improves acne, according to the report. The author notes the participants also lost weight, which means the low-glycemic diet may not have played the only role in the results.

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How Carbohydrates Influence Acne

Research is ongoing and scientists have failed to pin down exactly why eating a diet rich in high-glycemic foods aggravates acne. High-GI foods appear to have a domino effect, triggering growth hormones and sex hormones, which may aggravate acne, according to American Academy of Dermatology expert Whitney Bowe. A restricted-carbohydrate diet stabilizes the hormones that cause breakouts, according to Bowe. This may explain why acne severity improves on a controlled-carbohydrate diet.

Diet and Acne Tips

Talk to your dermatologist if you think making dietary changes may help your acne. Keep a food diary to help determine whether foods in your diet may be contributing factors. Ask your doctor if you can test out a low-glycemic diet to see if it has any benefit on your acne. This diet restricts high-glycemic foods such as white bread, white pasta and white rice. Don't expect overnight results; it may take up to 12 weeks before you can determine a possible link, according to Bowe.

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