As a hormonal dermatologist, Dr. Zenovia believes in the importance of regulating our hormones. Hormones affect our skin and so many other bodily functions. Dr. Zenovia recently spoke with Cory Ruth, a registered women’s dietician on diet modifications we can make to improve PCOS symptoms, acne, and the skin’s overall health.
PCOS & Acne
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where women produce higher than normal amounts of male hormones. This hormonal imbalance is very common and can cause skin issues including acne. The diagnostic criteria for PCOS include underdeveloped or immature follicles (found on the ovaries from an ultrasound). An irregular menstrual cycle, overgrowth of facial/body hair, and jawline acne can be signs of PCOS. Adrenal issues can also cause PCOS. Stress and inflammation can contribute to this condition.
Hormonal imbalance in women is often due to excess androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones that women have in a similar way that males have estrogen. Women have them but in smaller amounts.
PCOS & A Low Sugar Diet
The standard American diet has made carbohydrates the star of the show. A carb-loaded diet causes a spike in our insulin levels and can exacerbate skin issues (whether or not PCOS is a factor). When it comes to our skin’s health, working on blood sugar management is imperative! Our blood sugar levels regulate so much in the body including our androgen hormones. Having too much sugar causes insulin spikes and more of the male sex hormone milieu which triggers testosterone production and sebum activation leading to acne and/or facial hair growth. By sticking to a blood sugar lowering diet one can see an improvement in their hormonal acne over time.
We don’t typically consider PCOS an insulin problem, but it is very insulin-driven. Insulin resistance contributes to hormonal imbalance. If you control your insulin resistance with a low sugar diet, then you will see an improvement in PCOS symptoms. There is a direct correlation between hyperandrogenism (acne, hair growth, irregular periods, etc.) and sugar intake as well as insulin sensitivity.
In addition to watching your sugar intake, it's important to work on anti-inflammatory nutrition too. Cory recommends eating fatty fish or taking an Omega 3 Fatty Acid (EPA or DHA) daily supplement.
Healthy Meal Ideas for PCOS
A great PMS acne-controlling breakfast would be a protein-rich smoothie. Adding cocoa powder can give it that chocolatey flavor many of us crave. Adding a quarter cup of fruit, a handful of spinach, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and plant-based milk will add extra fiber and antioxidants. If you crave sweet snacks, celery and peanut butter are a great option- Cory loves to sprinkle cinnamon on hers! For a savory snack, healthy options include rice cakes with hummus, edamame, and hard-boiled eggs. Cory’s favorite healthy lunch/dinner idea is lettuce cup tacos with chicken or salmon for protein. For hormonal acne, Cory recommends patients drink spearmint tea. She also recommends no more than 1 cup of coffee per day to keep hormones balanced.
What you put in your body is so important physiologically! Sugar isn’t all evil but it does affect so many parts of our body, particularly our hormones when consumed in excess.
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