Acne: what your doctors may not know

Acne is not JUST a skin condition. Your skin is a reflection of what is going on inside your body. So acne is a symptom, a sign that your body is giving you that things are not right.

So many people focus ONLY on the skin when they treat acne, using creams, potions, and doctors prescribe antibiotics or even isotretinoin (Accutane) but none of these address the underlying root causes.


Obviously, in teenagers, hormonal imbalance is the commonest cause and fortunately for most, acne settles down after puberty. However, there is a growing epidemic of adults with acne.


What factors lead to acne?


  • Inflammation – Diet plays a HUGE role in this. Food sensitivities mean that when you eat a food you are sensitive to, your body becomes inflamed. Also, processed foods, conventionally farmed animal products are all high in Omega 6 which tips the body into a more inflammatory state.

  • Stress – this affects your hormones and also causes inflammation, gut issues (leaky gut) and dysbiosis

  • Hormonal imbalance – which stems from the above two factors, but can also be other things like environmental toxins, hormone disruptors, heavy metals.

  • Toxins/heavy metals – see above

  • Gut issues – dysbiosis, leaky gut (and guess what, those antibiotics doctors frequently prescribe to treat acne will worsen this)

  • Genetic predisposition – some people are more prone to acne – sadly we cannot change our genes but luckily we can address the rest of the above factors.

BY FAR the biggest culprit for acne that dermatologists are not talking about is dairy (several studies have shown a clear relationship between dairy and acne).


How does dairy cause acne?

  • It contains 5-a-pregnanedione which is a precursor to dihydrotestosterone (an androgen that stimulates sebaceous glands and implicated in balding and prostate cancer)

  • Dairy also kicks up the mTOR pathways which then leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is what underlies PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and we know a high circulating insulin level is associated with acne… (and by the way, the ‘mTOR march’ = early onset puberty, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration means that if we heed the warning our body is giving us (acne), and we down regulate mTOR pathways with lifestyle changes and diet, we may then stop the development of diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s later.

It hurts me to see that dermatologists don’t advise dairy elimination 1st line before prescribing antibiotics or accutane, especially in teenagers. To me, this is a missed opportunity to address the mTOR march and possibly prevent future chronic illnesses in these individuals. Plus, the drugs they use have serious long term health consequences and should be carefully considered.


So what can you do?

  • Eliminate dairy – discuss this with your doctor and if you are eliminating dairy, please make sure you are getting enough calcium from plant sources and vitamin.

  • Eliminate sugar – this will drive insulin and along with other dietary factors like saturated fat, lead to insulin resistance and a high insulin level in the blood will cause acne.

  • Heal your gut (I have blog posts about this so check them out but many acne sufferers have gut issues and leaky gut)

  • If that doesn’t work – then look at your diet: what else are you eating that could be contributing to inflammation – try to eat a whole food plant based diet which is nutrient dense, so that your body is nourished. Add anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.

  • Also consider: could you have food sensitivities? Do you have digestive issues? Do you have gut dysbiosis or leaky gut?

  • Look at your lifestyle: is stress a prominent feature? Do you often feel overwhelmed? do you sleep enough? if your cortisol is high that also leads to insulin resistance.

  • Do you have dental amalgams or exposure to heavy metals (e.g. too much high mercury fish) that could be playing havoc with your gut/liver health and therefore hormones?

  • Do your personal care products have endocrine disruptors? Do your foods contain hormones and toxins? (animal products contain lots of sex steroids, PCB/dioxins which are all endocrine disruptors)

If you are interested in exploring what some of these factors may be for you, email me: [email protected] to book a consult.


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