Monday, June 18, 2012

Acne, Hormones and Chocolate

Gone are the days of believing chocolate was to blame for the acne we experienced as teenagers. Personally, I suspect that the spread of this myth was mum’s way of getting us to eat more fruit. Acne is generally an accepted part of growing up, but it is with increasing frequency that we hear of women in their 30’s and 40’s that are still battling this problem.
Acne itself is caused by a blockage of the sebaceous glands of the skin. When there is an overproduction of sebum, excess oil and dead skin cells clog the pores. During puberty, increased hormone levels cause excess sebum production. This provides an important link in identifying a cause of adult acne. Among the many symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances, acne rears its ugly head in quite a few common conditions. It is estimated that 20-30% of women aged between 20 and 40 suffer from acne due to hormonal imbalances.
Let’s look at Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This condition revolves around an increase in androgens (these are our masculinising hormones), which cause the classic symptoms of erratic/absent ovulation and menstruation, male pattern hair growth, acne and obesity. Looking back quickly to puberty, it’s a little easier to understand why adolescents, especially boys, are affected by acne due to high levels of androgens. 

Acne is also a symptom of endometriosis, cysts or fibroids.  In some women it occurs during menopause, often accross the upper back area.

Here are some other examples of hormonal factors that can contribute to acne:
  • Excess weight: fat can convert oestrogen into hormones that behave like androgens, promoting acne by increasing the production of sebum.
  • Oral Contraceptive Pill: some OCP’s can cause acne by boosting sebum production.
  • Stress: studies have shown that women who work in competitive environments under stress can overproduce androgens. Many women juggle jobs, friends, family, financial commitments and many other life stresses which make adrenal glands produce more cortisol hormones, which can set off acne. Also, acne itself can cause stress!
  • Insulin resistance: metabolic abnormalities, such as high insulin levels, can also play a role in female adult acne. The harmful effects of high insulin levels include over-stimulation of the ovaries, which can lead to ovarian cyst formation (e.g. polycystic ovaries), menstrual cycles of variable duration, infertility and higher levels of hormones with testosterone-like effects.
Now, I’m not saying this gives you open reign to a full packet of Tim Tams. It is important to think of the influence your hormones are having on your skin if you want to nip those pimples in the chocolate bud. A full hormonal assessment will help you establish where your areas of imbalance lie and what your best treatment options are.