What you eat influences what happens to your complexion. By Joan Chew
Yogurt contains good bacteria, which may create a healthier environment in the intestines, improve one’s immune system and help prevent inflammation and acne. Photo: ximatsuking / www.pixabay.com
Hormones are “chemical messengers” that affect the way cells and organs function in our bodies, hence it is normal for their levels to fluctuate at different times of the menstrual cycle. Hormones play an important role in the development of acne, although their exact mechanism is not clear. Male hormones known as androgens cause the oil glands under the skin to produce more oil. (Also read: What your acne can tell you about your health) This may clog up skin pores and result in bacterial infections and inflamed acne. Androgens are present in small amounts in women, produced by the ovaries and the adrenal glands (small triangular-shaped organs above the kidneys).
Women with hormonal imbalances due to diseases such as polycystic ovary syndrome may experience problems with acne as they have raised levels of androgens. Lowering the levels of these hormones using oral contraceptive pills will improve their acne condition.
Adopting a healthy diet is a natural treatment for acne. Foods high in saturated fats, processed grains, animal fats and refined sugar have been shown in numerous studies to increase androgen production. On the other hand, fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and antioxidants lower one’s androgen levels. (Also read: Is your office causing you to break out?)
A study in Finland in 1984 showed that by switching from a diet high in saturated fat to one with less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, fish, leafy greens) for six weeks, there was a significant reduction in the levels of androgens in the blood and, consequently, an improvement in acne.
Green tea, being a powerful antioxidant, may help in relieving acne. Antioxidants fight the free radicals that would otherwise damage the skin cells in acne. Green tea also has anti-bacterial properties. Consuming it kills the bacteria in the inflamed acne, and skin rashes and scars are reduced. (Also read: 12 Irresistible treats for matcha lovers) Consuming yogurt, which contains good bacteria, may create a healthier environment in the intestines, improve one’s immune system and help prevent inflammation and acne. Increasing one’s fibre consumption by eating more fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains helps in relieving acne too. Eating fatty fish such as salmon and nuts such as walnuts and almonds, which are high in omega fatty acids, can help fight acne by reducing inflammation in the skin.
Regular exercise and stress reduction reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which has been found to worsen acne.
Expert tips: Dr Peter Chew, obstetrician and gynaecologist, Gleneagles Hospital
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline ‘Healthy diet a natural treatment for acne’.