Diet and Acne Re-visited

March 2013 - Whether you call them pimples, blemishes or zits, the hallmarks of acne are the source of untold misery for many young people. At a time when they are developing crucial lifeskills and social networks this cruel affliction affects self-esteem and causes social withdrawal, depression and anxiety.

Research over many decades seemed to link acne with diet - specifically chocolate, sugar, and fat. Since the 1960s, however, studies have played down the link between diet the development of acne. Jennifer Burris, MS, RD, of New York University said:

"This change occurred largely because of the results of two important research studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne,"

"More recently, dermatologists and registered dietitians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment."

Jennifer Burris and colleagues, William Rietkerk, New York Medical College, and Kathleen Woolf, of New York University published results of a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showing increasing evidence of a connection between diet and acne - particularly from high glycemic index/load glycemic diets and frequent consumption of dairy products.

They conducted a literature review of studies between 1960 and 2012 to evaluate evidence for the diet-acne connection. They looked at three distinctive time periods: early history, the rise of the diet-acne myth, and recent research, comparing characteristics such as reference, design, participants, intervention method, primary outcome, results and conclusions, covariate considerations, and limitations.

The study concludes that results from studies from the last decade do not show that diet causes acne but that it may influence or aggravate it, so that medical nutrition therapy (MNT) can play an important role in acne treatment.

The researchers recommended that dermatologists and registered dietitians should work together in designing and conduct quality studies. Jennifer Burris concluded:

"This research is necessary to fully elucidate preliminary results, determine the proposed underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne, and develop potential dietary interventions for acne treatment. The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne. At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counseling."

Acne Inhibits Exercise

Research from Bath University published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 2008 found people with acne who are highly anxious about their condition report being less likely to get involved in sport or exercise.

The study involved 50 young to middle-aged men and women recruited from a national acne support group. Those who perceived their skin to have a negative effect on others also experienced lower self-esteem and a poorer quality of life. Researchers conclude that "dermatological social anxiety" is an overlooked factor inhibiting participation in sport and exercise.

Dr Martyn Standage, lecturer in the school for health commented:

"The skin is the most visible organ in the human body and, as such, is an important part of personal image. Fear of having one's skin evaluated by others has implications for physical and social wellbeing. Sport and exercise activities provide many opportunities for the skin to be exposed to evaluation. Due to this, acne sufferers may become so anxious about their appearance that it prevents them from participating in physical activity."

PhD student Tom Loney added:

"It is well known that reduced levels of physical activity can increase the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes."

Alison Bowser, acne patient spokesperson, said:

"Acne is usually a very treatable condition, but requires persistence and determination to find successful treatments. Untreated acne may lead to scarring and embarrassment, which in turn by lead to an avoidance of daily activities such as sport."

Researchers said they hoped that these results will help promote new ways to encourage acne sufferers to stay more physically active.

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