Acne is not just for teenagers, many people develop spots on the face, back and chest later in life. It’s thought to be a mainly hormonal driven problem (birth control pills, puberty etc).

In a Nutritional Therapy consultation we would look deeper at why the hormones are out of control and causing spots, taking into account all the body systems. Traditional medicine treats acne through topical creams, antibiotics or hormonal agents, but these do not solve the reasons why the skin is showing inflammation.

Root cause of acne

There are many interlinked causes of skin problems:

Gut bacteria

Some research has suggested rebalancing the gut bacteria is the key to skin problems such as acne.

We are learning more about how the gut controls our hormones, neurotransmitters and digestion and there is an emerging skin-brain-gut link.

Probiotic therapy has been shown to improve acne symptoms in some trials.

Oxidative stress

Toxins and the outputs of our biological systems create free radicals that can cause damage throughout our body, and also on the skin. Some studies have shown increasing anti-oxidants improved acne.

Insulin resistance

When we eat a sugary meal insulin is raised to transport the glucose into the cells. When we get insulin resistance, often the result of a high sugar diet, insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) can become elevated. IGF-1 can also increase sebum production and increase inflammation. Patients with acne have been shown to have reduced insulin sensitivity.

Excess hormones

Testosterone and DHEA (natural steroid in the body) stimulates the over production on skin cells and increases sebum (oil) levels in the skin.

Causes of excess sex hormones may be due to low levels of the protein (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin SHBG) that normally binds them and keeps them from damaging other parts of the body or too much testosterone being produced.

How can food help improve your acne?

  • A diet rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin C and E) may help reduce oxidative stress throughout the body and in the skin. Eat tomatoes, red pepper, green leafy vegetables, oranges, kiwi, strawberries for vitamin C, and nuts and seeds for vitamin E.
  • A low glycaemic diet has been shown to improve acne lesions, reduce weight, and also decrease inflammation in the skin. This means avoiding high sugar foods and simple carbohydrates such as cakes and biscuits, and including complex carbohydrates like brown rice and rye bread instead of processed alternatives.
  • Milk has been linked to acnes in several studies. Whey protein has also been linked to the development of acne in several cases, so anyone wanting to add protein to their diet to support building muscle should avoid whey based shakes and snacks if acne is a problem.
  • Cocoa has also been linked to an increase in acne lesions in patients with pre-existing conditions. So you may need to stay away from the chocolate too if spots occur.
  • High fibre diets may help, focussing on plant proteins rather than animal sources of protein, avoiding foods high in trans fats or processed saturated fats.

Exercising can improve insulin sensitivity which may also support improvement in acne symptoms.


Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • develop healthy, sustainable habits for life

“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"

To find more about 1:1 nutrition consultations or my group membership see my IBS Diet support page

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