Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Acne is becoming increasingly common, and unfortunately, we see many studies pointing to no effective way to control it. I get asked about treatment, effective acne regimens, natural and alternative options daily. I do my best to answer all the questions, and I wonder why it seems that there is no correct answer. Pharmaceutical treatment options do not work effectively, and they are expensive. There are all kinds of light treatment options that also do not help; there are OTCs, affordable but still ineffective. You just have to walk down the aisle of a drug store, and one can get confused looking at the choices displayed. There is salicylic acid, benzoic acid, niacinamide, and many more, available in all kinds of doses and combinations. Do they work? Some say yes, but most are still looking for an effective way to control their acne. Acne is a frustrating disorder for a person who suffers from it, be it at any age.
I always had a nagging thought that though we have studied and somewhat interpreted that genetics, hormones, inflammation, bacteria, medicines, environment are all causes of acne, there is something missing in the equation. With my focus having switched from pharmaceutical science to Ayurveda, it has become evident that diet and lifestyle are important factors for maintaining a healthy and balanced life. I strongly feel that in addition to the above said causes of acne, the diet has a huge role to play in the rising and resistant type of acne we are seeing.
Americans, in general, eat plenty of high-glycemic foods and beverages. These foods and beverages raise blood sugar quickly. Foods rich in sugar lead to an increase in blood sugar, which causes the body to release a hormone called insulin. Excess insulin triggers the oil glands to produce more oil, increasing the chances of getting acne. Studies have indicated that following a low-glycemic diet may reduce acne. Low-glycemic foods include fresh vegetables, some fresh fruits, beans, and oats. Several studies suggest that following a healthy diet can help prevent and treat acne. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates, zinc, vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants can be helpful in preventing and controlling outbreaks of acne. Other foods such as dairy, saturated fats, and trans fats are equally bad for acne. These foods fuel the production of hormones that can cause excess oil. Chocolate is also believed to worsen acne in some people.
According to Ayurvedic research, consumption of incompatible diet and dietary habits were seen to be higher in acne patients compared to their controls. Ayurveda states that vitiation of the kapha and pitta doshas along with an aggravated rakta dhatu (blood tissue) leads to an increase in the secretion of sebum and inflamed cysts. Pores are blocked by sebum, dead skin cells, increase in Cutibacterium acnes acne - acne-causing bacteria - leading to a pus-filled, inflamed papule or pustule.
Ayurveda believes that an appropriate diet for daily consumption is important and a diet that predisposes an individual to diseased states is considered an “unhealthy diet”. This unhealthy diet can be due to the intake of incompatible dietary items or incompatible dietary behaviors. Diet is ranked high in Ayurveda treatments. Acne can be encouraged by various internal factors that can be further provoked by diet. Following an appropriate diet for acne can bring equilibrium of the vitiated doshas and can ensure the removal of toxins from the body.
It seems like there is an agreement here. Eating low-glycemic foods made of complex carbohydrates may reduce the chances of developing acne. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and unprocessed fruits and vegetables may prove beneficial for a person prone to acne. Foods containing the mineral zinc, vitamin A and E, and antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and can be helpful for the skin. Fruits and vegetables like spinach, carrots, apricots, apples, and aloe vera, ginger, coriander, sweet potatoes, lemons, tomatoes, blueberries and whole-wheat, brown rice, and quinoa are good to prevent and control acne. Pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans, peas, and lentils, salmon, and fish have been shown to be instrumental in keeping acne away.
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