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Can Eating Carbs Give You Pimples?

Posted: February 5, 2013
Most have heard this cautionary phrase at some point: "Don't eat that; it causes pimples." 
 
While the exact cause of acne is unknown, dermatologists are taking a look at whether diet plays a key role in contributing to acne flair ups. In fact, several new studies have examined the possible link between diet and acne, particularly carbohydrates and dairy products.

"The strongest evidence we have to date of a link between diet and acne comes from the glycemic index studies," says Whitney P. Bowe, MD, FAAD, who is the lead author of the article "Diet and Acne," published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. "These studies show that low-glycemic index diets may improve acne. The consumption of high-glycemic index foods appears to trigger a cascade of responses, which can lead to acne through effects on growth hormones and sex hormones," Bowe adds. 

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate-rich foods based on their potential to increase blood sugar levels. For example, high GI foods include white bread, chips and white potatoes; low GI foods include multi-grain bread, peanuts, vegetables and beans. 

A study of 23 Australian males ages 15–25 who followed a strict, low-glycemic load (LGL) diet experienced significant improvement in acne severity by adhering to a LGL diet. However, the participants in the LGL group also lost weight, which means the LGL diet may not solely be attributed to the outcome. Specifically, studies have also shown that acne improves when the patients' blood sugar levels are controlled and a low-carbohydrate diet stabilizes hormones. 

In addition, a web-based survey assessing the role of a low-glycemic diet in the treatment of acne found that 86.7% of the 2,528 dieters who completed this online survey reported improvements in their skin while following this diet. Still, based on some of the flaws in the design of the study, the results must be interpreted with "cautious optimism," says Bowe.