The Role of Diet in Acne: We Get It, But What Should We Do About It?

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The role of diet in acne, both as a causative agent and therapeutic intervention, has been the topic of discussion in both the dermatology community as well as the laypress for decades. There is ample evidence highlighting the association of acne and high glycemic loads, certain dairy products, and refined sugar product ingestion. In the most recent edition to the repository, Grossi et al (J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. doi:10.1111/jdv.12878) reanalyzed data from their case-control study among young patients (age range, 10–24 years; N=563) with a diagnosis of moderate to severe acne versus control (participants with no or mild acne) between March 2009 and February 2010 that was originally published in 2012 (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67:1129-1135). The unique element was how they evaluated the data. The investigators utilized a semantic connectivity map approach derived from artificial neural network computational models, which allowed for a better understanding of the complex connections between all of the studied variables. (The assumption of a given relation between any variables would not influence the results.) The data were presented on an Auto Semantic Connectivity Map that resembled a 4-leaf clover, representing “explanatory” information pertaining to the cases and controls and “residual” information of less importance. It is worth seeing in the manuscript to better appreciate the data.

What did they find? There is a close association between moderate to severe acne and a high intake of milk, other dairy products, sweets, and chocolate. Obesity and the low consumption of fish were linked to the presence of moderate to severe acne, while high consumption of fish (1 d/wk or more), high intake of fruits and vegetables, and body mass index lower than 18.5 were all associated with limited or no acne.

What’s the issue?

By adopting a different analytic approach, it was shown once again that diet plays a substantial role in acne, indicating that some food items may stimulate selected acne-promoting pathways. But what now? Here is the evidence yet again, but where is the medicine of “evidence-based medicine”? It is time to recommend guidelines for screening and counseling. In a recent article, Bronsnick et al (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71:1039.e1-1039.e12) found that the level of evidence supporting the benefit of a low-glycemic, low-carbohydrate diet was sufficient to recommend to acne patients. How many dermatologists feel comfortable providing dietary guidance to their acne patients? A consensus statement from relevant organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and the American Acne & Rosacea Society that provides tangible and realistic screening tools to identify those who would benefit from dietary intervention and implementation and practice guidelines for Dr. Derm seeing 40 to 50 patients a day in Springfield, USA (homage to The Simpsons) based on the level of evidence available would be useful. What are your thoughts?

We want to know your views! Tell us what you think.

Suggested Readings

  • Bowe WP, Joshi SS, Shalita AR. Diet and acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010;63:124-141.
  • Ferdowsian HR, Levin S. Does diet really affect acne? Skin Therapy Lett. 2010;15:1-2, 5.
  • Melnik B. Dietary intervention in acne: attenuation of increased mTORC1 signaling promoted by Western diet. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4:20-32.
  • Veith WB, Silverberg NB. The association of acne vulgaris with diet. Cutis. 2011;88:84-91.

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