Hormones play a fundamental role in every part of your body, yet many people lack a clear picture of what they are or what they do. Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate the function of your vital organs. When your hormones are balanced and each at their optimal level, everything runs smoothly. When there is an imbalance, however, utter havoc can occur, striking your system in some ways that are pretty devastating.
Skin and hormones
Like all of your organs, the health of your skin is distinctly tied to your hormone levels. While hormones shouldn’t be treated completely in isolation – they interact with each other and with the functioning of your organs and systems in a complex feedback loop – certain hormones can be singled out as having an outsized effect on your acne.
When it comes to acne, you must be willing to explore many different avenues in order to get the best results. You should always strive to maintain proper hormone levels (for reasons that go far beyond the quality of your skin), but you can’t overlook the popular treatments on the market that attack acne directly. With so many available, it can be a little overwhelming. If you have questions about any of the treatment options available, you can check out our database of acne treatment reviews at Facing Acne.
Here is a brief rundown of the hormones that have the biggest effect on your acne and how they work to regulate your skin.
Insulin and IGF-1
When the word insulin comes up, most people think of diabetes. In fact, insulin also plays a key role in acne. The main function of insulin is to regulate blood glucose levels by shuttling excess sugar into your cells for use in energy production. When you eat foods that are high in carbohydrates, your body produces more insulin in order to deal with the resulting blood sugar spike. When your blood sugar is chronically elevated (usually from eating too many refined carbs, especially refined sugar), your cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, just from being exposed to so much insulin for so long.
So what does this have to do with acne? As it turns out, insulin also regulates sebum production (the oil that clogs your pores and promotes pimples), mostly through its effect on another hormone known as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Essentially, high levels of insulin lead to more IGF-1 and less of the protein that binds it and makes it inactive. This leads directly to more sebum production and oily skin.
The mechanisms involved can be complicated, but the bottom line is that if your insulin is chronically elevated, your sebum production will be too. So how do you control your insulin levels? Primarily by limiting your intake of fast-burning, simple carbohydrates like refined flour and sugar. This explains why low-glycemic diets have been shown to improve acne. Dairy can also have an insulin-boosting effect, so it may be worth limiting the amount of milk you drink to see if that is a contributing factor.
Androgens are the hormones that are responsible for the development of male characteristics. The primary and most famous of these is testosterone.While men have the highest levels of androgen hormones, they are present in women, too. Heightened levels of androgens are also linked to acne by stimulating sebum production. Testosterone is known to stimulate the proliferation of sebum glands in adolescent males, particularly on the face, chest, and upper back, common areas for the development of acne. Oversensitivity to androgen hormones can also occur at certain times of the menstrual cycle in women, around the time of the menopause, and in hormone-related conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
Androgens seem to work in concert with insulin to increase sebum. Remember how heightened levels of insulin reduce the production of the protein that binds with IGF-1? Well, it turns out that heightened levels of insulin also suppress production of the protein that binds with testosterone. So higher levels of testosterone (and other androgens) increase sebum production, and higher levels of insulin make testosterone more active.
Because androgens have such a strong effect on sebum production, some women are prescribed anti-androgen drugs to control their acne. Spironolactone, a prescription diuretic, is one such drug, since it suppresses the formation and uptake of androgens. Birth control pills have a similar effect, since they introduce more estrogen into the body, which also suppresses androgen hormones. Both of these methods have proven effective for many women, though like any therapy that alters your hormone profile, there are some potential side effects to consider. And because androgen hormones are vital to the proper functioning of the male body, anti-androgen therapies are not suitable for men.
You cannot ignore the role that hormones play in causing acne. And considering that chronically heightened levels of insulin cause many serious health problems, you are doing yourself a favor on more than one level by looking after your hormonal health. Hormonal-based therapies, like spironolactone, have in some cases produced results for women who have been unable to get relief from any other method.
As always, diet is a great place to start when it comes to balancing your hormones and improving acne. But if that fails, you may want to talk to your dermatologist to see if there are other options.
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Source: This guest article was provided by Facing Acne.