Got acne?


Hormone fluctuations during the teen years boost the body’s manufacture of sebum, the waxy stuff that seeps through your pores to keep your hair and skin lubricated and protected. But too much sebum blocks the pores, along with dead skin cells. Blocked pores turn into embarrassing pimples.

So what does that have to do with your diet?

Consumption of dairy in all forms (milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream) has increased dramatically over the last twenty years. A couple dozen clinical trials and observational studies have linked dairy and a high sugar/glycemic diet to severe acne. Dairy appears to spike the sex hormones that promote acne. Worse, dairy is a good source of sugar: about 30% of the calories in dairy come from lactose, a milk sugar. These triggered hormones and milk sugars then stimulate the production of sebum, the notorious pore blocker I just mentioned.

A famous Harvard Nurse’s Study found that women who drank more than two glasses of skim milk each day in their teen years were 40 percent more likely to suffer from severe acne.

The reliability of the Harvard study was questioned because the researchers asked adult women to try to remember what they’d eaten years ago while in high school. So Harvard conducted two more studies with teen girls and then teen boys. They found the very same link, again with the strongest and clearest association with skim milk. Instant breakfast drinks, cream cheese, and cottage cheese were also associated with acne.

Milk is intended to help calves grow. Milk naturally contains these growth hormones—they’re not added.

Getting a little deeper into science, milk boosts blood concentrations of insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-I), which stimulates the production of the androgen hormones (like testosterone) and that steps up sebum production.

So how about processed food? In two small studies, Australian researchers zeroed in on the effects of a high-glycemic diet of pasta, bread, cereal and sugar.

Those who ate healthy, whole foods and a low-glycemic diet lost weight, showed improvement in insulin sensitivity and suffered fewer skin lesions compared to a control group. Diets that are plant-based, low-fat, and high-fiber actually lower IGF-1 and increase IGF-1’s binding proteins, as well as decrease hormone stimulation and concentration.

Besides cutting out dairy and processed foods, I suggest eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fats for healthy skin (nuts and seeds), and high in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables), as well as probiotics (sauerkraut, dark chocolate, pickles and olives in brine). You’ll not only look fabulous, you’ll feel that way too. It turns out you don’t need cow’s milk for calcium anyway. You can choose soy or nut milk, or coconut milk. There’s also plenty of calcium in enriched juices, beans, grains and greens. Recent data suggests that we need far less calcium than is recommended by our government.


Adebamow CA, Spiegelman D, Danby FW, et al., “High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 52: (1988 August).

Adebamow CA, Spiegelman D, Danby FW, et al. “Milk consumption and acne in adolescent girls.” Dermatology Online Journal: (2006).

Adebamaow CA, Spiegelman D, Berkey CS, et al. “Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 58: (2008 May).

Ho-Pham LT, Nguyen PL, Le TT, Doan TA, Tran NT, Le TA, Nguyen TV. “Veganism, bone mineral density, and body composition: a study in Buddhist nuns.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: (2009 October). [Epub ahead of print]

Key TJ, Appleby PN, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Neale RE, Allen NE. “Calcium, diet and fracture risk: a prospective study of 1,898 incident fractures among 34,696 British women and men.” Public Health Nutrition: (2007 November).

Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, et al. “The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 57: (2007 August).

Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, et al. A low glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients; a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86: (2008 April).



Water is good for you. The human body is 72% pure water, with minerals and vitamins naturally infused in the aqueous solution. Tap water, especially hard water, contains trace amounts of magnesium, calcium and sodium. Water delivers these minerals to your body when you drink.

Most people get 20% of their water through food, and the rest by drinking beverages. Processing foods removes water and fiber, and adds sugar, salt and fat. Eating a less processed diet will therefore deliver more water to your system.

Infusing water with fruit juices is a good way to amp up the nutritional value and antioxidant content of each sip. Especially when individuals are transitioning to healthier foods, they may be used to drinking higher caloric or artificially sweetened beverages like soda. Adding some fruity flavor to pure water and storing it in the fridge will make it more palatable. Asking each family member to choose their favorite fruit infusion on their special day each week will also increase consumption.

Here are six of our favorite fruit infusion combinations to add to a pitcher of water. Use within two days:

Mango Basil: One mango, cubed, combined with 10 leaves of basil, ripped

Apple Cinnamon: Slice one apple thinly. Add apple slices and one cinnamon stick to a pitcher of water.

Strawberry Tangerine: Boil water with 1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries and the rind of one tangerine. Drain and chill.

Tropical Cucumber: one sliced lemon, 1 cup of cubed pineapple (fresh is best), 1/2 large sliced cucumber *** Dr. Mary’s Favorite ***

Peach Pie: Two crushed vanilla beans, six pitted and sliced peaches

The Wise Plum: Six fresh sage leaves, 10 pitted and quartered plums and two sliced peaches.

If you’re tiring of tea, try these fruit infused waters to supercharge your waters with superfoods like these spices and fruits.

Posted on by Mary Clifton, MD

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