When most people think about acne and hormones, they usually believe that testosterone and DHT are important, and they are. However they are nothing compared to the acne-causing monstrosity that is insulin.
High levels of insulin will both massively increase your sebum production, and enhance the ability of DHT to do the same.
Insulin is not an evil hormone; it is vital for human health. However it can destroy your health when you have chronically elevated levels of it.
The majority of Western citizens have high insulin levels and it’s extremely likely that you do too. That therefore means that elevated insulin is almost certain to be a huge cause of your acne.
Read on and find out why insulin is so bad for acne and how you can deal with the problem…
How elevated insulin begins
Insulin’s basic role in the human body is to shuttle nutrients into cells, and by far the most important nutrient it controls is the carbohydrate. You’ll have been told at a young age that the human body needs carbohydrates for energy, but it also needs insulin to extract that energy and allow it be used.
Here’s how it works:
Every single carbohydrate you eat will eventually get converted into glucose – the form of sugar in your blood. A plate of potatoes breaks down into glucose, and a slice of sugary cake will become glucose as well.
Therefore, eating any carbohydrate causes an increase in blood sugar and this is what gets insulin involved. Insulin is required for converting this excess glucose into energy and it does just that; it first converts the blood sugar into glycogen, an easily usable form of energy, and then it shuttles this glycogen off into your glycogen stores.
There, it is ready to be used by you when you walk, cycle, lift weights, or exercise in any way.
Therefore insulin is an absolutely vital hormone for health. It is vital for engaging in any form of physical activity, and it is vital for enjoying life full stop. Without it you would have no energy and you would be dead.
However the big problem for almost everybody is not that we don’t have enough insulin in our bodies; it’s that we have too much.
The proper function of insulin depends on you actually using up the energy it produces through exercise. If you consume more energy in the form of carbohydrates than you expend though this exercise, then your glycogen stores will become full and unable to accept more glycogen.
To stop insulin from pushing more glycogen in, the stores become insulin resistant, meaning that they become less responsive when stimulated by insulin.
However it’s also not healthy to have excessive levels of glucose in your bloodstream. Your body has to come up with some solution to deal with it. Therefore it responds by pumping out higher levels of insulin, in order to cram as much glucose into the stores as possible.
The cycle continues and continues; your stores get more insulin resistant, and your pancreas has to pump out ever higher amounts of insulin.
How insulin causes acne
Sebum is the oil that is responsible for blocking your skin pores. It is produced by the sebaceous glands in your skin, and insulin stimulates them to be active. The more insulin you have, the more sebum production there will be.
This makes it inevitable that your pores will get blocked and then it’s only a matter of time before acne starts. P.acnes bacteria will flood into the blocked pores, they will be attacked with an inflammatory response, and the surrounding pore will swell up and go red.
In other words, acne will be born, and it will be born in droves. It is very hard to have high insulin levels and work your way around the problem. Insulin leads to the creation of IGF-1, which stimulates a massive increase in sebum, and it also enhances the ability of androgens to cause acne.
You could get away with it if you had an immune system that was absolutely perfect. The problems that the attack on bacteria creates are caused by chronic inflammation, when your immune system is too active and sends out too many inflammatory chemicals.
However if you control your insulin, your pores will never even get blocked in the first place. You will still have to place some effort into controlling inflammation. However with no bacteria lodged in pores to attack, an overactive immune system will have less chance to create acne anyway. PS: you can read more about chronic inflammation and how it affects acne here.
The simple solution
If this description of insulin’s acne-causing power has scared you, then don’t worry. The problem is fairly simple to resolve, and when you do you will notice good improvements.
The first and most important thing you have to do is eat less carbohydrates, and get more exercise. It’s vital that you do this by the right amount. If you were to prevent insulin resistance, then you would simply need to strike a balance between carbohydrate intake and energy output. Your glycogen stores would not fill up at all and your level of insulin sensitivity would remain roughly the same.
However most acne patients need to improve their insulin sensitivity. You need to use up your glycogen stores and to do this, you need to consume less energy from carbs than you expend through exercise. You need to cut back your intake of sugar, of grains, of potatoes, and any other source of carbohydrates.
You need to get more exercise such as walking, cycling, or anything else. This exercise doesn’t have to be particularly intense; walking will suffice because anything that uses up energy will do.
As you keep going with this strategy your glycogen stores will gradually empty. They will then become more sensitive to the effects of insulin. Your body will then detect this and in response it will decrease its insulin output, because it won’t be needed anymore. Your fasting insulin levels will then be lower and your acne should improve tremendously.
It’s really very simple. Elevated insulin is a very damaging condition for your skin but fortunately it is fairly easy to resolve.
The reason why so many people reach this state in the first place is because the average citizen eats far too many carbohydrates. He wolfs down tons of bread, cake, biscuits, endless amounts of potatoes in their various forms, and plenty of rice and oats too.
Some of those foods are unhealthy on their own, whereas some are great; sweet potatoes are full of vitamin A, whereas bread and pasta are two of the worst foods for acne ever. But it’s certain that eating enormous amounts of them is always bad news.
The problem is that governments around the world recommend that carbohydrates form the main part of your diet. This wouldn’t be a problem if everyone was up and about and extremely active…
…but given the way jobs have shifted towards the office, and the way that home media has grown, people get less exercise than ever before. The majority of people are now at least mildly insulin resistant, and that’s why acne is so common.
Interestingly it’s also the reason why type 2 diabetes is so common, since that disease is little more than a super-advanced form of insulin resistance.
Don’t forget the insulin-lowering bonus factors
The carbohydrate-energy axis is the most important factor determining your insulin levels, but other strategies can provide an even further improvement. The basic reason why insulin gets high is that your cells don’t respond to it properly.
There are several foods, nutrients and lifestyle hacks that can enhance the ability of insulin to do its job regardless of your glycogen status. You can…
Increase vitamin D – it’s widely known in the acne community that the so-called sunshine vitamin can be a miracle for your skin. However most people don’t realise that this is partly due to its effects on insulin resistance. Vitamin D has been shown in studies to decrease insulin resistance, regardless of the glycogen status of the individual.
It’s likely that it enhances the functioning of insulin in the human body. Another possibility is that it makes glycogen stores more sensitive to insulin. Regardless, we know that supplementing with vitamin D or getting plenty of sunshine is a good way to reduce your insulin levels.
In fact I’d go as far to say that supplementing with vitamin D is one of the best strategies for clearing acne full-stop. Personally, I take 2500-5000IU per day in the winter, and it causes not just an outstanding drop in acne, but also a radiant and glowing skin tone.
The best vitamin D supplement money can buy is this organic, whole food derived Garden of Life Vitamin Code RAW D3.
If that fantastic supplement is too expensive then you can buy this Seeking Health High Potency Liquid Vitamin D3, which is extraordinarily good value for money as its only $19.95 and contains a 900 day supply.
Both supplements are free from dodgy fillers and binders and are in the highly absorbed vitamin D3 form (unlike your standard grocery store pill).
Eat dark chocolate – cocoa has been shown in several studies to combat insulin resistance. Cocoa is an extremely complicated substance with a variety of natural compounds, so it’s likely that at least one of them enhances insulin’s power. This is an extremely enjoyable way to reduce insulin in your body. PS: if you’re terrified of chocolate and its mystical acne causing powers, then read this article right now.
Reduce stress – the stress hormone cortisol is a big cause of insulin resistance. When you are stressed it tells your body to increase glucose in your bloodstream, in order to give you energy to fight off the threat you face. To do this it makes you insulin resistant, and if cortisol doesn’t decrease then the familiar cycle will kick off. Therefore, you need to use all the mental hacks you know of to reduce your stress levels. You also need to eat foods which can inhibit its production; the pomegranate is one such food. Vitamin C is another excellent way to crush your cortisol.
Get plenty of antioxidants – studies have shown that eating plenty of antioxidants has a beneficial effect on insulin resistance. The explanation is that antioxidants protect your insulin molecules from free radical damage; therefore what insulin you have works well and your body doesn’t have to produce massive amounts of it. Good sources of antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, dark chocolate and coffee. Read more about antioxidants and how they cure acne in this article.
Get more sleep – in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne we covered how poor sleep is one of the biggest causes of acne ever. Sleeping is so important for your health and bodily functions (you spend a third of your life doing it) that it can wind up causing acne in a huge amount of indirect ways. Insulin resistance is just one of them.
Eat sweet potatoes – just look at the red colour of sweet potatoes and you can see that they’re bursting with antioxidants and healthy compounds; apparently some unknown ones have the power to increase insulin sensitivity. This study compared sweet potato starch to white potato starch and concluded that the sweet potato was superior for controlling insulin resistance. We can thus label sweet potatoes the ultimate carb source within your limited carb budget.
Add ginger to foods – ginger powder has been demonstrated in studies to directly increase the responsiveness of glycogen stores to insulin. For that reason (and others like improving brain performance) I add 5 grams of ginger powder to my bowl of natural yoghurt each day, and sometimes to meat, and it’s smart for you to do the same. This bulk bag of Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Ginger Powder is excellent value for money. Use 5 grams per day and you’ll have a 3 month supply.
Avoid trans-fats – the trans-fat, a chemically altered mutant fat not found naturally in nature, is the real villain behind the heart disease explosion of the early 20th century. It has also been demonstrated in numerous studies to worsen insulin sensitivity, so avoid hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) fats or oils on food labels, or follow the simplest option which is simply eliminating processed foods.
Take a magnesium supplement – there are numerous nutrients that can affect insulin sensitivity via indirect methods, but it’s magnesium alongside vitamin D that has the tightest relationship to optimal insulin levels in studies. Magnesium seems to work virtually identically to vitamin D; by bringing energy store insulin receptors up to optimal function.
My recommendation is to use the superbly absorbed Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil. In fact, magnesium is the only nutrient which I believe everybody should take a supplement of, because soils and thus almost all foods have grown massively depleted of it.
I also find this supplement better for sleep quality than anything I’ve ever taken. I sleep like I’ve just summited Mount Everest after three consecutive nights of using this supplement. Apply 16 squirts equal to 400mg magnesium, and leave to absorb for 15 minutes (directly into the bloodstream, which is why it works so well). A well absorbed bottle of capsules is this Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate.
If you follow those strategies, and sort your glycogen levels out, then you should be able to achieve a good reduction in the oiliness of your skin. Complications are possible, but almost everyone can generate at least a good improvement.
Judging by all the factors, we can conclude that your acne is likely to be due to insulin resistance, at least in part, if the following conditions apply to you:
- Your diet is mostly based around carbohydrates; if you eat tons of grain-based foods like bread, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, oats, rice, breakfast cereals, pies and the rest. Also if you eat lots of fries, crisps and other foods made with potatoes.
- If you do not get much sunlight. This is the main source of vitamin D.
- If you eat very few fruits and vegetables. They are the main sources of antioxidants.
- If you are very inactive. If you have an office job or drive to most places then this is highly likely to apply to you. In reality you will almost certainly know whether you get enough exercise or not.
Don’t worry about insulin spikes
It’s very important to understand that temporary increases in insulin are not a problem. Your body generates an increase in insulin after every single meal you eat; its job is to shuttle nutrients into cells after all. Your body NEEDS this to happen in order to use the nutrition in foods.
It’s not a process you want to try and stop, and it’s not a problem for your skin. The typical-post prandial (post-meal) insulin response lasts for up to two hours, depending on what kinds of food you eat, and that is nowhere near enough time for it to cause massive oil production.
The scenario of insulin resistance described above will cause your insulin levels to be elevated all the time. That’s what you need to avoid because that allows insulin to cause higher sebum production all day, every day.
An increase for about two hours, more likely one hour, after a meal will not damage you. It is completely necessary for health anyway, so my advice is to not worry about it.
The basic piece of information you need to remember is that temporary increases in insulin are perfectly safe; the real killer is CHRONICALLY elevated insulin.
Dealing with high insulin has to be one of your top priorities when reducing acne. If you have elevated levels and don’t address them, then it will be very difficult for you to reduce your sebum production, and thus it will be almost impossible to prevent blocked pores.
The good news is that doing so is dead easy as long as you have no complications. Eat less carbohydrates, get more exercise and follow the other strategies above and you should see excellent improvements in your acne. It won’t be instantaneous but they will arrive and you’ll be pleased with them when they do.
Finally, dealing with insulin resistance will massively reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well, because the two conditions are intricately linked. In fact the healthiest diet for acne is, quite luckily, almost always fantastic for your health as well.
Therefore, that’s an added bonus reason to make tackling insulin one of your main acne strategies.
Thanks for reading!