When it comes to clearing the skin and being healthy, there’s a few really key things to get down.
Your gut health is one.
And your blood sugar is another.
Getting our blood sugar under control is a major way to help our health and skin.
Acne is a process that is a revolving door between blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances and inflammation. Blood sugar imbalances and inflammation feed off of each other. It is an absolute necessity that we cool the fires of inflammation by balancing out our blood sugar levels.
- Part 1 of this post goes over how sugar can cause acne.
- Part 2 goes a little into insulin resistance and how that affects your hormones and can lead to acne.
- Part 3 goes over different steps you can take to help control your blood sugar.
How Does Elevated Blood Sugar Cause Acne?
It is absolutely crucial to stabilize our blood sugar levels if we want clear skin because increases in blood sugar and insulin are directly responsible for acne. The process goes like this:
1. We eat a food that contains a lot of sugar. This can be a food made from refined grains such as crackers, cereal, or breads. Starchy vegetables like a white potato or white rice can also cause spikes in blood sugar if our metabolism is off. High sugar fruit like a mango, papaya, or ripe bananas can have the same effect. Or it can be milk (milk raises blood sugar and insulin levels similar to carbs). This is why I suggest getting a blood glucose monitor and monitoring your blood glucose levels after different meals. See what different foods do to you. Track everything to understand your unique situation.
2. Because these foods quickly break down into sugar, we can experience spikes in our blood sugar. The spikes in blood sugar causes the pancreas to release insulin in large amounts to transport the glucose in our blood into our cells. We need insulin to take the sugar out of our blood and into our cells because if too much glucose is in our blood for too long, we will die. It’s as simple as that. So insulin is not the enemy. Our bodies are protecting us when they release a lot of insulin. Once the insulin gets released, it activates another hormone to be released as well, called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Both insulin and IGF-1 activate our sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. Not only that, but they cause our cells in our hair follicles (where pimples form) to divide more rapidly, which can lead to a build up of cells in the follicle. Because our biology has been so screwed up from years of poor eating habits, environmental toxins, poor sleep quality, not exercising enough (or exercising too much), too much stress, not enough sunlight or fresh air, dysbiosis in our gut and dozens of other factors, this spike in blood sugar can cause even more damage than it usually does. It’s also important to understand that too much protein can cause spikes in insulin as well. This is not good for people with acne!
3. The spike in blood glucose and subsequent spikes in insulin and IGF-1 lowers our body’s production of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3). This hormone actually helps to shed the top layer of skin cells in a process called desquamation. So when this binding protein is lowered, our cells become more cohesive and stick to each other. So now our skin cells on the lower layers are dividing more rapidly and the skin cells on the top layer are sticking together more often, all from eating a piece of whole wheat bread.
4. Once the insulin shuttles the glucose into our cells, our blood sugar levels come down. Unfortunately, because our hormones and blood-sugar system is out of whack, our blood sugar levels dip too low. Just as too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia) is not good, too little sugar in the blood (hypoglycemia) is not good either.
5. When our blood sugars are too low, male hormones called androgens get released from our adrenal glands that sit above our kidneys. These androgens signal our liver to release glycogen. Glycogen is our body’s energy reserve. It is a bunch of glucose sugar molecules stuck together and stored in our liver for energy use. Our liver cleaves glycogen apart and releases glucose into our blood when blood glucose levels are too low. The bad news is that the androgens also increase sebum production in our sebaceous glands. So now we have insulin, IGF-1 and androgens increasing the sebum production on our skin and increasing the rate of proliferation of skin cells (called keratinocytes). At the same time the lowered IGFBP-3 means our skin cells aren’t shedding as fast as they should.
6. Now, with more sebum than usual and a lack of oxygen in the hair follicle because the top layer of skin cells (the corneocytes) aren’t shedding, the bacteria that is always on our skin, called p. acnes, start to multiply out of control.
7. To isolate the bacteria, our immune system releases inflammatory molecules called cytokines to the site of the “infection.”
8. These cytokines call in more reinforcements and now there is a war going on inside of the hair follicle and the result is inflammation. Inflammation shows up as redness, puffiness, swollen skin and pimples, cysts, nodules, etc.
That’s basically the science behind how sugar imbalances create pimples. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
What Does Insulin Resistance Do?
Insulin resistance is when the amount of insulin that your pancreas secretes is not enough to adequately shuttle the sugar in your bloodstream into your cells. This leads to elevated blood sugar levels. Eating too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance because the insulin is needed to shuttle the glucose into the cells and can’t keep up with massive amounts of sugar. Eating too much animal protein at once causes increased insulin as well, so we need to be careful not to overindulge in animal protein (if we choose to eat any at all). I recommend filling your plate up with as many vegetables as you can, some fat (from avocado, coconut, or olives) and if you want protein, have some wild caught salmon or small fish such as sardines. The large amounts of insulin secreted from too much sugar or animal protein can mess up your hormones in a few different ways, which are explained below.
- Insulin surges can cause testosterone to convert into estrogen via an aromatase (an adrenal enzyme). In men, this can lead to higher estrogen levels and you really need to address the insulin resistance to fix it. In women, insulin resistance increases the production of testosterone and can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome (the No. 1 cause of infertility). “Bad” estrogen levels can also go up. When we have major blood sugar and insulin imbalances, our hormones may become imbalanced. This can lead to overproduction (and sometimes underproduction) of hormones and can lead to PCOS, which is seen in many acne patients.
How Do You Take Care Of Blood Sugar Imbalances?
You take care of blood sugar imbalances the same way you balance other things. You eat a low glycemic diet with no added sugars, eat plenty of vegetables, and take supplements such as probiotics, omega 3s, a multivitamin, vitamin D3+k2, and if need be, a glucose support until your metabolism stabilizes. You get at least 7-9 hours of sleep, enough relaxation, sunshine and fresh air. You improve your digestion by eating easily digestible foods like bone broth or steamed vegetables. You maximize detoxification with certain liver supplements and things like infrared saunas. And you reduce inflammation and calm your mind through meditation, being out in nature and being in good company.
If, after 6 months of doing these things, you take your blood glucose levels multiple times throughout the day, and they are still high, you can try doing things like a ketogenic diet. You can also see if you have any hidden infections or hormonal imbalances by doing functional testing through a functional health practitioner.
Recap and Takeaways:
- Stop eating sugar.
- Check your blood glucose levels with a monitor to see how different foods affect your blood sugar levels. If it’s constantly high, you can take a blood glucose supplement and recheck to make sure you aren’t going too low.
- Continue eating a low glycemic diet filled with tons of vegetables.
And for more ways to combat blood sugar imbalances and clear your skin, sign up to the Clear Skin Nutrition newsletter and get your free Clear Skin Guide now.