Steinhardt Research Analysis Shows Increasing Evidence Linking Diet and Acne

Jennifer Burris, researcher and doctoral candidate within NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and her colleagues Kathleen Woolf of NYU Steinhardt and William Rietkerk of New York Medical College and Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, conducted a literature review to evaluate evidence for the diet-acne connection during three distinctive time periods: early history, the rise of the diet-acne myth, and recent research.

From their conclusions, a new study will be published in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Acne: The Role of Medical Nutrition Therapy.” Their analysis has determined that there is increasing evidence of a relationship between diet and acne. The link is stronger in high glycemic load diets and dairy products compared to other dietary components, and that medical nutrition therapy (MNT) can play an important role in acne treatment.

“The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne,” said Burris. “This research is necessary to fully elucidate preliminary results, determine the proposed underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne, and develop potential dietary interventions for acne treatment,” Burris explained.

More than 17 million Americans suffer from acne, mostly during their adolescent and young adult years. Acne influences quality of life, including social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression, making treatment essential. Since the late 1800s, research has linked diet to this common disease, identifying chocolate, sugar, and fat as particular culprits, but beginning in the 1960s, studies disassociated diet from the development of acne.

Culling information from studies between 1960 and 2012 that investigated diet and acne, the researchers concluded that a high glycemic index/glycemic load diet and frequent dairy consumption are the leading factors in establishing the link between diet and acne. They also note that although research results from studies conducted over the last 10 years do not demonstrate that diet causes acne, it may influence or aggravate acne.

“This change occurred largely because of the results of two important research studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne,” Burris explains.  “More recently, dermatologists and registered dieticians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment.”

The research team recommends that dermatologists and registered dietitians work collaboratively to design and conduct quality research.  Burris stated, “At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counseling.”

An audio podcast featuring the authors and information specifically for journalists are located at http://andjrnl.org/content/mediapodcast. Excerpts from the audio may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy at 732-238-3628 or jrnlmedia@elsevier.com to obtain permission.