About 50 million people suffer from acne, making it the most common skin condition in the United States. It is also one of the primary reasons men and women drop by their dermatologist for an appointment.
A mild case may require a treatment protocol that involves regular skincare and the best acne wash. Meanwhile, moderate and severe cases may call more complex therapies to hopefully kill the bacteria and reduce oil buildup.
Nevertheless, acne can still be tricky to manage. Contrary to what most people, in certain situations, the problem is more than skin deep. Consuming high-sugar foods, for example, might be stimulating it.
The Connection Between Excessive Sugar and Acne
Multiple studies already show that eating high amounts of fat doesn’t necessarily cause acne, but most people are not aware that excessive glucose may trigger the skin condition.
This is because it increases the risk of low-grade chronic inflammation. In turn, the person becomes more susceptible to hormone imbalance.
How Sugar Leads to Inflammation
To be clear, not all types of sugar is harmful. Carbohydrates remain one of the primary food groups the body needs. The problem stems from two factors: too much sugar consumption and the wrong type of carbs digested.
When you eat a lot of sugar, the body stores the excess glucose in the liver as glycogen. This way, if you engage in strenuous activities and suffer from blood sugar shortage, the body converts glycogen into glucose.
However, when you remain sedentary but your calorie intake remains excessive, some portions of your blood sugar transforms into fatty acids stored by your adipose tissues. This then increases the risk of obesity, particularly visceral or abdominal obesity.
Why is abdominal obesity dangerous? Compared to subcutaneous fat, which is only on the deeper layer of the skin, the fat cells that accumulate in the middle section can stimulate chronic inflammation:
- These fat cells can increase in number and size. Eventually, they will cut off the supply of other healthy cells until they die.
- They can also trigger the release of a type of immune cell called a macrophage. Both these fat cells and immune cells release proteins that will then trigger more immune responses.
- Studies also show that adipocytes in this area can also release substances that mimic the hormones the body produces, such as estrogen. They can also increase the levels of androgens, a type of male hormone.
How about the Type of Sugar?
Not all types of sugar are created equal, but understanding this point is to know more about insulin.
When the body breaks down carbs and converts them into glucose, the cells don’t use it right away. It needs a messenger—more like a delivery mechanism—and that is insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.
Some kinds of sugar, though, have a high glycemic index. In other words, when you consume it, it raises your blood sugar levels rapidly, forcing the pancreas to produce large quantities of its hormone.
Over time, along with changes in the metabolism, the cells become less resistant to insulin, so it doesn’t take up glucose efficiently. It causes blood sugar levels to rise, and the pancreas works harder until it also becomes less effective in its job.
As high glucose builds up, it triggers an immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. When left uncontrolled, it can increase the risk of diabetes.
But What’s Acne Got to Do with It?
Acne can happen because of hormone imbalances:
- High androgen levels, especially in women, can increase the risk of developing male characteristics. These include hirsutism, or excessive body and facial hair, and acne. Androgen receptors can bind into the sebaceous glands, stimulating the overproduction of sebum.
- Chronic inflammation correlates to insulin resistance. It is a major risk factor for a hormone-related and metabolic disorder known as a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). When left untreated, PCOS can worsen and lead to other hormone issues like high androgen levels.
- Excess estrogen promotes more obesity, which leads to chronic inflammation. Low-grade inflammation worsens the odds of insulin resistance and, therefore, hormone imbalance.
There’s no doubt that dermatological interventions can help reduce or even eliminate the signs of acne. These can range from redness to swelling, itchiness, and the presence of blackheads and whiteheads.
However, unless you address the root cause, acne can come back. By then, it may be worse than before.
If you have acne, it pays to stick with the right skin care regimen. But it also ideal to see a GP, especially if you experience other symptoms, are susceptible to diabetes, or have obesity.