Volume 11, Issue 98 November 3, 2014
Simple skin problem could mean bad news about your overall health
What if one of the most common "minor" medical conditions doctors ever see was not all that minor? What if it was, in fact, something really important that all of us are overlooking? And what if it led to many of the most serious conditions that we face as we get older, including obesity, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's?

Well, all of these "what ifs" are reality. And you're not going to believe what I'm going to tell you today.

If you were to ask most doctors what causes acne, the answer would probably be hormones in the teenage years. But there are two problems with that simplistic thinking. One is that acne is not just limited to teenagers. More and more, adults are complaining about acne.

The other problem is that teenagers everywhere don't get acne. According to a study published in the Archives of Dermatology acne is completely limited to westernized societies. They looked at two non-westernized populations. One was a group of Kitavan Islanders in Papua New Guinea. The other was a group of Aché hunter-gatherers in Paraguay. What they found out was eye opening.

Of 1,200 Kitavan men and women, including 300 teenagers, they found zero cases of acne. Of 115 Aché subjects, including 15 teenagers, once again they found zero cases of acne. And get this. They studied the groups for over two years. And in that entire time, they could not find one person with acne! How does this compare to westernized countries? Not very well.

In westernized societies acne is a nearly universal problem. It happens to 79% to 95% of the entire teenage population. And it's not just a teenage thing. In men and women older than 25 years, 40-54% have some degree of acne. Even in the middle-aged population, acne still afflicts 12% of women and 3% of men. But maybe it's all genetics? Maybe westernized people just have the genetics for acne and these other people groups don't? Here's what the authors of the study have to say about that.

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"The astonishing difference in acne rates between non-westernized and fully modernized societies cannot be solely attributed to genetic differences, but likely results from differing environmental factors. Identification of these factors may be useful in the treatment of acne in Western populations." Well, I don't think we have to go too far to identify the environmental factors at work here. How about diet for a starter? A recent study specifically looked at just that question.

The researchers looked at 32 patients with mild to moderate acne. They put half of them on a diet that consisted of no more than 45% carbohydrates. And the carbohydrates that this group ate were all low-glycemic carbohydrates. In contrast to the first group, they told the other half to go for it and eat any kind of carbohydrate and as much as they wanted. The study went on for 10 weeks. According to the authors of the study, "Subjects within the low-glycemic group demonstrated significant clinical improvement in the number of both non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne lesions." When they looked at biopsies of the skin of both groups, they found that the lower glycemic group had smaller sebaceous glands, decreased inflammation, and a reduced effect of hormones.

Everybody knows that Westerners eat way too many carbohydrates. So it looks like that's the end of the story. Cut out the carbs and clear up the acne. But it turns out that there is more going on here than just carbohydrates. And there's more going on than simply acne. A third study published only a few months ago is about to blow the lid off the idea that acne is just some aggravating cosmetic condition. This study connects it to some of the most serious diseases that westerners face. And according to these authors, the dangers of carbohydrates are greatly exaggerated when you combine them with a popular beverage. On Wednesday, I'll tell you just how serious acne can be — and what to avoid drinking with your carbohydrates (in this case, it isn't soft drinks).

Yours for better health,

REF: Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, et al. Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Arch Dermatol. 2002 Dec;138(12):1584-90.

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