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Acne: impacts of diet and food supplements

  • Health nutrition

Do you have acne and you have questions about your diet? What are the three foods most likely to cause acne? Should we stop consuming them? Nutrimuscle answers your questions thanks to numerous details and figures.

Acne: impacts of diet and food supplements

Genetics play a key role in the development of acne. In people who are prone to it, food takes an undeniable aggravating role. Recent research sheds new light on the acne-diet link (1).

Using metabolomics (*), doctors have analyzed the direct impact of nutrients on the cellular processes that lead to acne. What's exciting about this new metabolomic research is that it sheds light on the strong link between acne and muscle gain.

Incidence of acne

Acne mostly affects adolescents. It is rare to see a senior covered with acne. It is estimated that around 90% of teens will get acne, some more than others. In those over 20, the incidence decreases to 64%. Among those in their thirties, it drops to 43%.

Those who are prone to acne might think of a never-ending story, but on the other hand, when sebum production decreases, wrinkles take advantage of this to set in or deepen.

Acne: an essentially hormonal phenomenon

The first hormone to be implicated in acne is testosterone, the puberty hormone. It is not for nothing that taking anabolic steroids has the first side effect of causing acne.

Yet the latest research shows that testosterone is not the most acne-prone hormone. This role is due to IGF-1, a very potent growth factor (2).

This does not mean that testosterone does not play a role in it, it is just that its acne effect depends on IGF-1 and not the other way around.

For testosterone molecules to work, they need 2 conditions:

  1. A receptor to stick to: testosterone receptors.
  2. Once testosterone interacts with its receptor, it needs to be given the green light to act. The permissive green light is IGF-1 which will provide it. Indeed, in a natural way, the action of testosterone is blocked by a co-regulator which is found within each testosterone receptor. This inhibitor is called FoxO1.

FoxO1 activity is regulated by IGF-1. When IGF-1 levels are low, FoxO1 is very active and blocks the anabolic activity of testosterone at its receptors. On the other hand, when the body produces a lot of IGF-1, the activity of FoxO1 is effectively suppressed, which gives the green light for testosterone to work fully.

Leading role of IGF-1

Thus, without IGF-1, the action of testosterone is weak. On the contrary, in the presence of IGF-1, testosterone becomes overkill. In the absence of IGF-1, it is insulin that can act as a FoxO1 repressor. It is by inhibiting the activity of FoxO1 in the skin that IGF-1 increases the acne action of testosterone tenfold (3).

But it's not just on the skin that IGF-1 works: it has exactly the same effects in the muscles, in order to increase the naturally anabolic efficiency of testosterone. The more FoxO1 the muscle testosterone receptors produce, the less muscle mass you will be able to build (4).

On the contrary, the less the testosterone receptors produce FoxO1, the easier it is to build muscle.

IGF-1 therefore has an essential role for the anabolism of muscles.

FoxO1-mTOR relationship

mTOR stands for "mammalian target of rapamycin", or target of rapamycin in mammals, which does not give much indication of its effects to the layman. If these acronyms seem a little complicated, know that it is mTOR, which, at the level of the muscle cells, triggers the anabolic processes.

The amino acids in proteins, especially leucine and glutamine, are anabolic nutrients because they stimulate mTOR activity. On the contrary, FoxO1 acts as an anti-mTOR. It is therefore anti-anabolic.

Just as it is anabolic in the muscles, mTOR is also anabolic in the skin by promoting the production of sebum. FoxO1 will mechanically have the opposite effect, which explains why anti-acne drugs (apart from antibiotics) promote, among other things, the activity of FoxO1.

So we see that the anabolic activity for the muscles is inseparable from the stimulating activity of acne.

The 3 most "acne" foods

If acne does not affect everyone with the same intensity, it is both for genetic reasons, but also for nutritional reasons. Three main foods are implicated in the amplification of acne.

  • Carbohydrates with high hyperglycemic power;
  • Dairy products ;
  • Saturated fat.

While these three foods are the most likely to exacerbate an acne tendency, should they be avoided?

Should you avoid milk proteins if they cause acne?

If dairy products and milk proteins (whey, casein, total protein) make your acne worse, an obvious strategy would be to replace them with another source of protein that does not have this effect, such as egg protein for example.

However, we must see a little further by questioning the intracellular mechanisms that these proteins have to exacerbate an acne tendency in some, while they do not have this effect in others.

Milk protein: powerful anabolic boosters

If the lactose-free milk proteins give you "pimples", it is not by pathological reaction: it is simply a sign that they place you in an anabolic environment very favorable to muscle growth.

If milk promotes acne, it is simply that it is a very anabolic food and a powerful natural stimulant of mTOR through increased production of IGF-1 (5) . The anti-anabolic activity of FoxO1 is repressed both in the muscles and in the skin. Muscles, but also acne, can develop.

Allergic reaction vs anabolic reaction

This is not an allergic reaction, but an anabolic reaction (6-7-8).

Beyond milk, amino acids like BCAAs or glutamine can also promote acne for the same reasons as milk: by boosting the body's anabolic environment.

When you see it like this, why deny yourself such a natural anabolic opportunity? Rather, it is your neighbor who laments that he does not benefit from such an anabolic response to milk protein. For those who find it difficult to reason like this, know that this anabolic opportunity will not last forever. The day will come when you can get all the milk protein you want without triggering any acne response. So this is a very limited duration anabolic opportunity. When you realize it too late, you can only regret not having looked a little further than the tip of your nose.

The modern bad milk theory

A very popular theory on the internet explains that only old-fashioned milk was of good quality. Today, as a result of modern agriculture and intensive breeding, milk has become poisonous. It is for this reason that it gives acne.

The scientific literature does not support this theory at all, as the link between milk and acne was already established by physicians in the 19th century (9).

Acne is pathological in sedentary people, but not in growing sportsmen

Professor Melnik's analysis of acne shows that the inflammatory phenomena that result from acne are harmful (1).

If this is true for a sedentary person, what about the athlete?

In a sedentary person, fully stimulating all the intracellular anabolic machinery while the muscles do not need to grow is quite harmful. It is like applying both the accelerator and the brake on a car.

Stimulation of anabolic processes

Fully stimulating anabolic processes in a sedentary person will only anabolize fat. We find ourselves overweight, we promote the onset of diabetes and the rise in cholesterol ...

In an athlete, the environment is quite different, because he only presses on the accelerator, not on the brake: therefore, he advances normally. He even needs this naturally very anabolic environment to progress. He will gain weight, but in muscle rather than fat. His regular physical activity will protect him from diabetes and cholesterol.

Wanting to mix things up, taking for example a sedentary person who is getting fat and whose diet is not at all in line with his needs in order to try to frighten the athlete who is building up muscles does not seem intellectually honest to us.

Should we do nothing against acne?

This opportunity for muscle growth doesn't mean you have to sit back and do nothing against acne - not at all. This means that you should not act on the hormonal level: you need to optimize the anabolic action of your testosterone thanks to a surplus of IGF-1.

IGF-1 and insulin also stimulate sebum production (10).

It is for this reason that the so-called fast sugars promote acne. In athletes who have trouble gaining weight, this hormonal action can be beneficial for building muscle. For those who gain fat easily and are prone to acne, it will be necessary to pay attention to its carbohydrate intake.

However, you should not play with this lever too much if you want to develop your muscles. It is not for nothing that the diet, acne regresses, because we place the body in a catabolic environment due to an activation of the inhibitory effect of FoxO1. The less you eat, the less IGF-1 you will produce and the stronger the inhibitory effect of FoxO1 will be (11).

If your priority is to fight acne, the low calorie diet will prove to be very effective.

To stop dairy products or not?

If stopping dairy products helps reduce your acne, it is through overall anabolic self-castration. Cutting out milk protein is a solution, but it's not the right solution.

Rather than acting at the base on the hormonal level by blocking its muscle growth, it is necessary to act on the second phase of the onset of acne: at the level of bacterial proliferation. This solution may be a little less effective against acne, but it will not inhibit muscle growth. Always keep in mind that this extremely muscle-friendly anabolic environment is only very temporary. It will restrict itself fairly quickly.

It's up to you to decide if you want less buttons and less muscle or less buttons and more muscle?

Saturated fat: an aggravating factor at the bacterial level

These bacteria which cause pimples do not give rise to muscle. It is therefore at the bacterial level that we can act without inhibiting its muscle growth and its growth, because it is these same hormones that give you muscle that also allow you to grow.

Research shows that saturated fat promotes the growth of bacteria that cause acne in the skin. Saturated fat is the preferred food for skin bacteria. Thanks to these fats, they will proliferate, because they have a lot to eat.

By avoiding saturated fat, we will starve bacteria. Medical analyzes have even shown that omega 3 has the opposite effect of saturated fat on bacterial growth. Omega 3s therefore represent an effective means of fighting acne in a healthy way, without weakening muscle anabolism (12-13-14-15).

We therefore find, thanks to the judicious choice of fats, two effective means of fight, in the long term, against acne.

What are the other most effective nutritional supplements for acne?

Along with omega 3s, supplements such as Peptan, N-AcetylGlucosamine, glycine, zinc and vitamin B3 represent effective weapons against acne and for skin health, without hampering intracellular mechanisms. muscle growth (16-17).

Scientific references*

(*) For a complete definition of metabolomics which studies the impact of nutrients on our cells, see:

(1) Melnik BC. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2015 8 July : 371—388.

(2) Deplewski D. Growth hormone and insulin-like growth factors have different effects on sebaceous cell growth and differentiation. Endocrinology. 1999;140(9):4089–4094

(3) Mirdamadi YS. IGF-1 induces nuclear upregulation of p-Akt and controls expression of nuclear transcription factor FoxO1 levels in SZ95 sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. 2014;23(3):E18.

(4) Qin W. Identification of functional glucocorticoid response elements in the mouse FoxO1 promoter. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2014 Jul 25;450(2):979-83.

(5) Melnik BC. Milk is not just food but most likely a genetic transfection system activating mTORC1 signaling for postnatal growth. Nutr J. 2013;12:103.

(6) Melnik BC. Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2011;67:131–145.

(7) Simonart T. Acne and whey protein supplementation among bodybuilders. Dermatology. 2012;225(3):256–258.

(8) Silverberg NB. Whey protein precipitating moderate to severe acne flares in 5 teenaged athletes. Cutis. 2012;90(2):70–72

(9) Bulkley LD. Acne, its Etiology, Pathology and Treatment. 1885. New York, NY: GP Putnam’s Sons.

(10) Vora S, Ovhal A, Jerajani H, Nair N, Chakrabortty A. Correlation of facial sebum to serum insulin-like growth factor-1 in patients with acne. Br J Dermatol. 2008;159(4):990–991.

(11) Gross DN. The role of FOXO in the regulation of metabolism. Curr Diab Rep. 2009;9(3):208–214.

(12) Jung JY. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014 Sep;94(5):521-5.

(13) Desbois AP. Antibacterial activity of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids against Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus aureus. Mar Drugs. 2013 Nov 13;11(11):4544-57.

(14) Khayef G. Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne. Lipids Health Dis. 2012 Dec 3;11:165.

(15) McCusker MM. Healing fats of the skin: the structural and immunologic roles of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Jul-Aug;28(4):440-51.

(16) Dreno B. Effect of zinc gluconate on propionibacterium acnes resistance to erythromycin in patients with inflammatory acne: in vitro and in vivo study. Eur J Dermatol. 2005 May-Jun;15(3):152-5.

(17) Niren NM. Pharmacologic doses of nicotinamide in the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions: a review. Cutis. 2006 Jan;77(1 Suppl):11-6.


Written on 1/10/2022 by Nutrimuscle Conseil
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