If you’re unaware of what chronic inflammation is, then I highly suggest you read this article about it. Basically, chronic inflammation is the number one disease behind acne.
If you don’t have time to read the article then in short, it’s when your immune system launches overly powerful assaults against the p.acnes bacteria lodged in your pores, causing the surrounding tissues to redden, swell up and become acne.
Sorting out inflammation is critical for all acne patients. Inflammation is the fire that creates acne, whereas blocked pores merely set the stage.
There’s tons of articles dotted around this website on specific fruits and vegetables that inhibit inflammation, but this article contains a convenient list of 20 excellent ones.
Generally, any food with plenty of antioxidants can lower inflammation slightly by inhibiting free radical tissue damage…
…but there’s loads more strategies, if you want skin that is not only free from acne but also immune to it. To take your skin to the next level, you need to directly lower your immune system’s activity.
This article contains 18 foods with nutrients or compounds that directly control the release of specific inflammatory chemicals, control vast swathes of inflammatory chemicals, or keep your body’s inflammatory responses targeted and efficient.
Let’s get started:
One – dark chocolate
Chocolate in any form is considered to be an acne-causing nightmare, but here’s the truth. 1) It is the sugar in chocolate that gives everyone acne, and 2) high cocoa, low sugar chocolate (85% plus dark chocolate) is actually healthy for acne.
Why? Partly because of the specific flavonoid antioxidants found in cocoa powder. Last year scientists performed a study where they discovered that dark chocolate lowered inflammation across the whole body. Specifically, they discovered that friendly strains of bacteria living in your gut like to ferment cocoa flavanols, and when they do, they churn out anti-inflammatory molecules.
So go to the shops, get some 85% plus dark chocolate, and enjoy what is perhaps the most acne-friendly indulgence on the market.
Two – ginger
That’s not some lame marketing hype either; one study found that eating ginger lowered inflammatory biomarkers as effectively as the pharmaceutical drug indomethacin.
Ginger contains natural compounds somewhat unimaginatively named gingerols, which are believed to be behind most of ginger’s medicinal properties. Ginger has also been tested against the inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis; this study fed either ginger or a placebo to women with chronic knee arthritis and ginger was easily the most effective.
Another study fed humans either 6 grams, 8 grams, or 10 grams of ginger daily. Inflammation fell substantially. One study compared 500mg of ginger powder taken daily against a placebo daily.
After three months, ginger caused a substantial drop in C – reactive protein, the classic biomarker scientists look for when analysing inflammation levels.
The solution? Buy this excellent bag of Frontier Ginger Root Ground Organic and sprinkle it over any food it enriches the taste of.
Three – sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are almost unbeatable as an acne-friendly carbohydrate source. For starters, they contain 250% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin A, which slows down sebum production and dead skin cell overgrowth. According to this study, sweet potatoes have somewhat mysterious anti-inflammatory powers. Eating sweet potatoes could inhibit COX-2 and most importantly NF-KappaB. Lowering NF-KB is the gold standard for any anti-inflammatory treatment since it’s a master messenger which controls a variety of inflammatory cytokines behind acne.
Sweet potatoes were found to lower TNF-a in this study. This one compared sweet potatoes starch to white potato starch and found a much bigger reduction in TNF-a and IL-6 from sweet potatoes. Why do I say that the powers are mysterious? Because no one super compound has been isolated yet. Sweet potatoes lower inflammation through a secret mechanism.
Four – fresh garlic
The bulbous root garlic has tons of natural compounds – allicin, alliin, allinase, etc. Two have been found to lower inflammation when consumed. Thiacremonone was found to lower both the COX-2 and NF-KappaB inflammatory regulators in this study. It’s also a treatment for arthritis. 1,2-vinyldithiin lowers inflammation via inhibiting interleukin-6, by 26% according to this study. Then there’s the fact that ground garlic cloves are the richest food source of antioxidants known to mankind.
Five – oysters
When it comes to nutrition, oysters have one incredible power – they’re the world’s best source of the mineral zinc. 100 grams of fresh shelled oysters gives you a whopping 91mg of zinc, over 600% of the RDA.
Zinc helps to directly constrain your entire immune system. Whenever an inflammatory assault is launched against a threat, like p.acnes bacteria, your body automatically dispatches anti-inflammatory cytokines to simultaneously lower the collateral damage. Zinc is a required cofactor to produce those anti-inflammatory cytokines. Hence, zinc and oysters keep your inflammatory processes targeted and efficient.
Oysters are also a known aphrodisiac. Why? Because zinc is king of all minerals for prime sexual function. Oysters are a delicious way to get zinc and lower inflammation. Just make sure you kill any parasites by grilling them properly. Oysters also contain omega 3s, making this food an anti-inflammatory double whammy.
Six – celery
Celery ticks almost all the boxes for an anti-inflammatory food. Celery itself was shown to inhibit the inflammatory transcriptor NF-KappaB in this study. One scientist called James Duke has apparently identified over 20 anti-inflammatory compounds in celery during his ongoing research.
Two have been subject to much research already. Celery contains luteolin, a flavonoid antioxidant also found in basil and thyme. Luteolin can lower interleukin-6 (study) and directly inhibit inflammatory responses in the brain by blocking the so-called JNK pathway. Luteolin also killed 40% of tumours it was applied to in a study on mice.
The second anti-inflammatory compound in celery is the flavonoid apigenin and this one lowers COX-2 effectively. Scientists aren’t sure how apigenin achieves this. Apigenin was also found to kill 86% of lung cancer cells it was applied to.
Celery is a zero calorie vegetable, so the amount of this anti-inflammatory food you can eat is limited only by your bank account. Personally, I find celery to be the best tasting green vegetable. Remember to buy it organically though, because conventional celery is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.
Seven – oregano
The standard dried oregano you find on Italian pizzas has countless benefits for acne. Number one, it’s the fifth highest ranked food on the ORAC scale for measuring the antioxidants in common foods. Number two, oregano contains several anti-inflammatory compounds.
First is beta-caryophillene which also prevents clogged arteries and osteoporosis. Swiss scientists from Bonn University found that beta-caryophillene could treat 7 out of 10 inflamed mice paws it was applied to and hence they called oregano the “ultimate inflammation fighter”.
Second is rosemarinic acid, which has been shown in truckloads of studies to lower inflammation. Rosemarinic acid can specifically lower chemicals called neutrophils which spew free radicals, and it can protect against inflammation in the liver, kidneys and lungs.
Finally there’s carvacrol, which is more famous as the active component of oregano essential oil (and thyme oil) but is also found in oregano itself. When applied to the skin, carvacrol inhibited the inflammatory chemical COX-2 by 75%. When you eat oregano the effect should also apply.
Oregano is also great because it’s so easy to sprinkle some on meat or salads. A bulk packet lasts forever as well. This Frontier Mediterranean Organic Oregano is a good bulk brand.
Eight – turmeric
Turmeric is the orange spice most popular in curries. It’s also gained attention recently for a very powerful compound it contains called curcumin. Like ginger, curcumin is as anti-inflammatory as NSAIDs, with less side effects. Possible the best aspect of curcumin is that’s it’s one of the strongest inhibitors of NF-KappaB yet tested. Turmeric is great for other inflammatory diseases as well, like arthritis and brain inflammation.
Then you’ve got curcumin’s mental benefits. It’s been shown to increase Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), or in other words, turmeric can sharpen your senses, improve your mood, enhance cognitive functioning and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
If you’re an acne patient who’s a fan of curry then adding mounds of turmeric is a great idea. You can also add this Source Naturals Bioperine Black Pepper Fruit Extract supplement to increase the bioavailability, since piperine increases curcumin absorption by 2000%.
Nine – onions
Onions have a variety of anti-inflammatory sulphurous molecules similarly to garlic. Many of them are unique such as onionin-A, which can control specialised white blood cells involved with inflammation called macrophages.
Onions also contain quercetin, which is notable for specifically reducing inflammation in your gut. That can then spread to the rest of your body thanks to a decreased risk of food allergies and leaky gut syndrome.
Important note: don’t peel your onions very harshly. Removing too much of the outer skin can lower the quercetin count by 20%. Peeling also reduces the anthocyanin antioxidant count by 75%. The sulphur content of onions also feeds your glutathione production, and apparently red onions contain even more anti-inflammatory compounds.
Ten – red grapes
As well as lowering pro-inflammatory chemicals, red grapes have the power to increase the production of anti-inflammatory ones. This study found that feeding red grapes to 24 men with metabolic syndrome increased their levels of interleukin-10 and adiponectin.
Furthermore, red grapes are the best food source of the phytoalexin compound resveratrol. This is one of the best natural compounds ever. Resveratrol is famous for keeping bodily inflammation in shackles. Resveratrol is being investigated as a new arthritis drug. Resveratrol has been shown to protect the brain’s neurons from inflammation. Resveratrol can both prevent inflammation-induced muscle wasting and restore muscle which was formerly lost. Specifically it can inhibit NF-KappaB, 5-lipoxygenase and interleukin-6.
As for the question which I’m sure you’re thinking – yes, red wine can be anti-inflammatory too. However it depends on your present ability to detoxify alcohol and hence factors like liver health and glutathione levels.
Eleven – wild salmon
Salmon is a small oily fish and small oily fish are the best source of omega 3 fatty acids in the world. Omega 3s are the active ingredient in popular fish oil pills. They lower inflammation by entering your cell membranes and directly constraining your immune system’s activity, similarly to zinc.
Omega 3s don’t impair your ability to kill deadly infections and viruses, but they keep the inflammation and collateral damage controlled. Salmon also contains 17% of the RDA for magnesium and 134% for selenium per 200 grams.
You absolutely MUST get wild salmon. Farmed salmon is declining at a rapid rate; it’s now fed cheap soy and corn like other “livestock” and the aquacultures are full of toxic dioxins. The omega 3 content of farmed salmon has declined by over 50% since 2000. A good example of wild salmon is Alaskan sockeye.
Twelve – blueberries
This study concluded that “these results indicate that blueberry is good resource of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, which can be promising molecules… to prevent chronic inflammation in many diseases” This study found that blueberries lowered methylperoxidase, a widely used biomarker of inflammation, by 42.8%. Two other studies were detailed in this article.
Blueberries are very high in natural plant antioxidants with additional anti-inflammatory functions, one of which is pterostilbene. This plant chemical is structurally similar to the strong anti-inflammatory red wine compound resveratrol, but has a much better absorption rate in the gut – 80% versus 20%. Its half-life is seven times longer, 105 minutes against 14 minutes. Pterostilbene was found to lower inflammatory chemicals well in this study and blueberries are full of it.
Blueberries are a delicious weapon for making your acne less red and inflamed.
Thirteen – crab
Crab is another simple but deadly effective anti-inflammatory weapon. Crab flesh is the next best seafood after oysters for the mineral zinc. 200 grams gives you the full recommended daily allowance of 15mg.
Crab is also quite high in omega 3 fatty acids, which is again in the well-absorbed DHA/ELA form. A serving of brown crab contains two thirds of your daily omega 3 requirements. Some other good nutrients in Alaskan king crab include magnesium, which is a hard mineral to get enough of (contains 32% of the RDA per 200 gram serving), calcium (12%) and vitamin C (26%).
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that crab is an amazing source of selenium as well: 200 grams contains 80mcg, or 114% of the RDA. Selenium is necessary to manufacture acne clearing antioxidants like glutathione.
Fourteen – broccoli
Trusted old broccoli contains a potent sulphurous compound called sulforaphane. This study found that low amounts of sulforaphane could substantially lower blood levels of TNF-a in mice. Sulforaphane is also linked to longer lifespan, as is consumption of broccoli and as is consumption of all green vegetables.
Broccoli also contains indole-3-carbinol which is digested into the famous DIM compound which detoxifies unhealthy and often highly inflammatory estrogen metabolites like 8-hydroxy-estrogen. One study examined the dietary habits of 1005 Chinese women. Those who ate the highest amounts of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower had significantly lower levels of inflammation.
If you want the most anti-inflammatory nutrition possible for your acne then you have to steam broccoli. Don’t boil your broccoli; that depletes the vitamin C content much faster than any other method. I outlined my simple method of steaming broccoli in this article.
Fifteen – grass fed gelatin
Gelatin is one of the best weapons for acne ever. It’s basically highly condensed animal joints and connective tissues. Gelatin’s claim to fame is containing tons of glycine, a non-essential amino acid which most humans don’t get enough of.
Glycine is emerging as an anti-inflammatory powerhouse; this study concluded that “multiple protective effects make glycine a promising treatment strategy for inflammatory diseases”. This study discovered that glycine could control arthritis, sepsis, adult respiratory distress syndrome, and many other diseases with inflammation at their root. Another study found that gelatin could inhibit NF-KappaB and interleukin-6.
The best brand of gelatin is this Great Lakes Unflavored Beef Gelatin. Eat gelatin and your acne will also benefit from a relaxed mind, improved sleep, and higher glutathione production.
Sixteen – olive oil
Olive oil contains a phenolic compound called oleocanthal which has very strong anti-inflammatory properties. This study found that oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties just as strong as the pharmaceutical drug ibuprofen. This study found that the oleocanthal in 50ml (3.4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil easily matched the anti-inflammatory properties of ibuprofen at 10% concentration.
Elsewhere, oleocanthal has been shown to inhibit the inflammatory molecule cyclogenase-2 (COX-2), and also, olive oil is 72% oleic acid. That’s a monounsaturated fat which itself has been demonstrated to lower the inflammatory biomarker C – reactive protein in a study on 1556 men and 1461 women. Olive oil is also one of the best heart protecting foods ever.
Seventeen – watermelon
One famous anti-inflammatory compound is lycopene, which is more traditionally cited as a reason to eat tomatoes. However, watermelon flesh contains roughly 1.5 times as much lycopene as tomatoes.
Lycopene is what provides the watermelon’s pink coloured flesh. This study found that lycopene inhibited TNF-a in the blood and increased the anti-inflammatory chemical interleukin-10. This study found that watermelon lycopene lowered COX-2 activity.
Watermelon is also packed with natural citrulline, which converts to arginine inside your body and increases nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas that is useful for accelerating the healing of your old acne. It can be both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory in the body, but it appears to have strong anti-inflammatory activity on the skin.
Eighteen – free range eggs
Egg yolk is the world’s best source of a nutrient which is virtually unknown in the minds of the public – choline. This study analysed the blood levels of the inflammatory biomarker CRP in 1514 men and found that those who ate the most choline had 22% lower levels.
Make sure you don’t fear the yolk! The yolk is where all the choline is concentrated. The same is true for other nutrients. Eggs are also a great source of selenium; two medium sized eggs will give you 90% of the RDA.
Don’t worry about the cholesterol, because free range eggs have been shown to increase HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and decrease bad LDL cholesterol. The conventional belief about cholesterol instantly entering your arteries and gluing them shut is overblown. Cholesterol is the precursor to all your hormones. It’s vital for life. What matters is less total cholesterol, but rather an imbalance between HDL and LDL cholesterol.
There you have it. You don’t need drugs to clear acne, when there are so many foods that reduce the main disease behind it. Add a few of those to your diet and you’ll make a good start.
I recommend adding at least one food high in omega 3s in particular, like salmon or any oily fish (herring, sardines, Atlantic mackerel).
Thanks for reading!