The carnivore diet is becoming increasingly popular, and for a good reason. This diet that only consists of eating animal foods, including meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs, has many potential benefits ranging from weight loss, alleviating autoimmune disorders, improving your heart health to improving or curing acne and other skin conditions.
Hundreds of people suffering from skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, and cystic acne are turning to the carnivore diet. They report that their conditions improved after a few weeks of being on the carnivore diet. In this guide, you’ll learn the connection between acne and diet, what causes it, and how the carnivore diet can help improve the quality of your skin.
You’ve probably been told that dirty skin and bacteria on your face is what causes acne. But this isn’t true at all and only serves to market expensive serums and cleansers that further irritate your skin. Acne occurs due to complex interactions that take place within your skin. The outer layer of your skin contains sebaceous oil glands that are connected to hair follicles. These oil glands secrete sebum, an oily compound that lubricates your skin and hair. Acne develops when this lubrication process becomes impaired.
Your skin and hair are constantly being shed and replaced. The sebum plays a vital role in this process, ensuring dead skin cells are removed. When dead skin cells aren’t shed, they cause blockage of the pores trapping sebum from draining. The skin, much like the gut microbiome, maintains a delicate bacterial balance.
Your skin contains bacteria called P. Acnes. It is typically found deep in the hair follicles and outer skin layer, in small amounts. When dead skin cells and sebum accumulate in the pore, the P. Acnes bacteria on the skin’s outer layer feed on accumulated oil and dead cells. As a result, their concentrations increase considerably, throwing the bacterial balance out of sync causing inflammation. This leads to inflammatory acne like papules, blackheads, pustules, cysts, whiteheads, and nodules.
Acne is also caused by elevated levels of androgens (male hormones), which triggers increased sebum production. The excess sebum clogs the pores creating a perfect environment for P. Acne bacteria to thrive, causing inflammation and infections resulting in acne. Chronic stress has been shown to trigger cortisol hormone release, which weakens the skin and delays healing. Antioxidants protect the skin from damage, and not having enough antioxidants makes it easier for P. Acne bacteria to accumulate in the pores.
For so long, the medical community believed diet did not correlate with acne and other skin conditions. Researchers have found that acne prevalence in non-westernized societies is considerably lower, which may be due to diet.
One study examined 1200 Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and found that none of them had acne. Another study of the Inuit people found that acne was absent in the entire population when eating their traditional foods, which mainly consist of meat. But after acculturation, they changed from a meat-centered diet to a carb-based diet. With this diet shift, the acne prevalence levels within the population became similar to Western societies. More studies on non-westernized populations follow the same trend of zero or low acne prevalence rates.
The standard American diet comprises copious amounts of processed sugars and refined carbohydrates. Hence, acne is the most common skin condition in the US, affecting up to 50 million people and nearly 95% of the adolescent population. It’s fairly common in adults; about 40% of men and 54% of women older than 25 years have facial acne.
As more research into the acne and diet relationship is conducted, it’s emerging that carbohydrate-rich diets are the primary cause of acne’s widespread prevalence in westernized populations.
In 2007, scientists conducted a randomized trial to examine the effects of a low-glycemic load (GL) diet on acne. They observed 43 acne-prone young men and discovered that those on a low-glycemic-load diet had significantly reduced acne lesions than those on a high-GL diet. Additionally, the low-GL group reported decreased insulin levels and androgen hormones, weight loss, and improvement in insulin sensitivity. The other group had elevated androgen and insulin levels leading to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin disease. In fact, most skin conditions develop as a result of inflammation. Luckily one of the benefits of the carnivore diet is lower inflammation. It eliminates plant foods that contain anti-nutrients. The antinutrients like lectins and phytic acid cause inflammation and prevent nutrient bioavailability.
This means that even if you’re consuming the right nutrients for acne, your body won’t be able to absorb them. For example, phytic acid is a huge inhibitor of zinc and iron absorption, a vital nutrient for skin health.
Lectins are the primary cause of inflammation in the gut and can cause leaky gut syndrome. When you have a leaky gut, harmful substances like bacteria enter your bloodstream. It results in inflammation that can cause and aggravate skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.
Insulin resistance is a common condition that causes acne. When your body no longer responds to insulin, your insulin levels will remain elevated. This leads to acne and other chronic conditions like type-2 diabetes.
Carbohydrate consumption is the number one cause of insulin resistance. When you consistently consume carbs, there’ll be excess glucose in the blood since your body can’t use it all up. Constantly elevated glucose levels mean your body will have to continually produce insulin to push the glucose into the cells. After a while, you develop insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.
Insulin resistance increases levels of IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor – 1) hormone. IGF-1 stimulates cell growth in all tissues, including skin cells and the follicle, and the production of sebum as it’s vital for skin cells and follicles. IGF-1 triggers sebum production in elevated levels resulting in excess oil in the follicle, leading to inflammatory acne.
IGF-1 can cause hyperkeratosis and epidermal hyperplasia, a condition that causes the epidermis to thicken and fluid to accumulate in your skin. This results in acute or chronic spongiotic dermatitis such as eczema and psoriasis. It also decreases your ability to handle oxidative stress and increases androgen hormone production, two factors that contribute to acne development.
Insulin resistance also reduces levels of IGFBP-3 hormone. This leads to lower levels of naturally occurring retinoids in your body, which are vital for keeping tissue growth in check. Decreased retinoid levels may result in follicular cell proliferation, which causes acne.
The carnivore diet is the ultimate elimination diet. It eliminates carbohydrates, sugars, and other processed foods that trigger insulin resistance and, by extension, acne.
You can get just about every nutrient and vitamin you need both for your overall health and skin health from the carnivore diet. But eating steak alone won’t cut it. If you want access to all the nutrients that can alleviate your skin condition, you have to diversify your meat consumption.
The liver is an excellent source of iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12, which are essential for skin health. The kidney is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, vital for your skin.
It also contains selenium, an antioxidant essential for protecting skin cells from damage and preventing skin oil from clogging the pores. The pancreas contains digestive enzymes that are great for the gut. You should also include seafood in your diet as they contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for skin health.
Inflammation and insulin resistance are the leading causes of skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
The carnivore diet helps reduce inflammation and balances your insulin levels eliminating two major acne triggers.
It also has all the nutrients and vitamins crucial for skin health. The carnivore diet has helped many people beat acne and other skin conditions and can help you too.