True or False: Eating Chocolate (or Other Fatty Foods) Causes Acne
by Jacquelyn Rudis
Have you heard rumors that your favorite snacks may be causing your face to break out? Should you cut out chocolate, pizza, or nuts from your diet? If your reasons for considering such sacrifices are to prevent acne, then the answer is no! No foods have been scientifically proven to cause acne. Acne has a genetic basis, and is caused by factors such as hormonal changes, overactive oil glands in the skin, and bacteria.
Evidence Against the Health Claim
Chocolate, like many other foods, can be bad for your body if it is eaten in excessive quantities. Many researchers claim that acne is not affected by chocolate, and a variety of studies have examined the role of diet in acne. Some studies on the influence of genetics versus environment (including the foods you eat) on acne have followed sets of twins. For instance, a study of female twins in the United Kingdom found that despite different environmental exposures, acne levels were very similar and could mainly be attributed to genetics.
Various dermatologists have studied chocolate’s effects on acne, and have recently made statements denouncing diet altogether as an influential factor for acne. Dermatologist James E. Fulton, Jr., MD, PhD, conducted a placebo-controlled trial examining 65 acne clinic patients and male prisoners with mild or moderate acne. He saw no difference in acne levels between the group that ate chocolate and the group that ate non-chocolate placebo bars. Dr. Fulton has been adamant in saying, “Chocolate doesn’t cause acne.”
Dr. Phillip Swarbrick, an Australian dermatologist, has also said, "There was a time when people used to seriously think that things like chocolate would cause acne but [now] we know that diet is not a factor.”
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dermatology and the National Institute of Health also back the dermatologists’ claims, and these sources agree that chocolate and other fatty foods do not cause acne. Guidelines for the treatment of acne do not recommended diet as a way to control the condition, but focus on antibiotics and other medications.
Evidence for the Health Claim
Studies examining the role of nutrition and other environmental factors on acne have mostly been small, short, and poorly designed. Thus, it is possible that some dietary factors may yet be found to influence acne if and when larger, more rigorous studies are performed.
One popular theory proposes that if a person is acne-prone for hereditary reasons, it is important to maintain a balanced diet. Some nutritionists contend that because of the way your body metabolizes food, diet may play an indirect role in acne. The chemicals that your body releases while breaking down certain types of foods can influence factors that cause acne, and a breakout may be triggered or worsened. Such foods include those with high fat content.
The theory holds that eating high-fat foods may increase oil levels in the skin, thus increasing bacterial growth and promoting acne. One study, published in the Archives of Dermatology, provided some support for this theory. It showed that non-western cultures whose diets are rich in roots, fruits, and vegetables have little or no incidence of acne, as compared to the 78%-95% rate among American teenagers (who tend to consume lots of fatty foods). However, the rate difference may also be attributed to other non-dietary factors, including genetics.
Some people are adamant that certain foods worsen their acne. If you think that a particular food causes you to break-out, by all means, stop eating it for a while and see what happens. However, there is no compelling evidence that the average American will notice a connection between their acne and their diet. So if you need to feel bad about eating that piece of chocolate cake for dessert, focus your guilt on your waistline, not your skin.
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