Studies show that acne is virtually non-existent in non-westernized societies.
However, in westernized societies acne is a near universal skin condition.
For example, in the United States alone acne affects 80%+ of the adolescent population (16 to 18 years of age). At 25 years of age, acne affects 54% of women and 40% of men.
Even into middle age acne affects 3% of men and 12% of women.
If that wasn’t enough, a significant percentage of children and pre-teens are diagnosed with acne.
With acne being such a common skin condition in the United States, why is it that some populations of people have no acne whatsoever?
One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) actually went and observed two non-westernized populations of people for the prevalence of acne.
The first place they went was the island of Kitava located near Papua New Guinea. They observed 1200 local islanders, including 300 aged 15-25.
The study found ZERO cases of acne (grades 1-4) amongst the population. You heard that right… zero.
Of the 300 individuals aged 15-25, the age for which acne rates are the highest, they still found zero cases of acne.
In the U.S., if you took a population of 300 people in this age range, some degree of acne would be found in at least 120 of those 300 people.
That’s a pretty stark difference, isn’t it?
Next, the researchers studied a smaller group of 115 hunter-gatherers living in Paraguay. What did they find?
Just like the islanders, they found ZERO cases of acne.
But it’s not just these two populations of people that follow this trend.
Another study reports that acne was non-existent in an eskimo population until they began to become more accustomed to western living. After they “westernized,” acne rates trended toward that of other westernized societies.
Prior to World War II (before contact with western society), the Japanese people residing on the island of Okinawa were found to have no acne.
A study on 9,955 schoolchildren in a rural area of Brazil found only 2.7% of children aged 6-16 had acne, a much lower rate than what you would find in a more westernized population.
Another study of 2,214 children in Peru found lower rates of acne (28%) amongst the Indian population than the white population (43%).
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that acne is less common among people living in rural, non-westernized societies than those living in more modern westernized societies.
These studies are strong evidence that acne is not based on genetics alone. Instead, it is our environment which has the biggest impact on our acne.
This conclusion aligns with my own personal acne experience. It wasn’t until I changed my environment (mostly the food I was eating) that I was able to get rid of my acne for good.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably asking yourself why. WHY do these populations of people have far lower rates of acne than others?
And most importantly, how can you apply their secrets to your own life so that you can enjoy the clear skin that they enjoy?
The Secret Of The Kitavan Islanders’ Clear Skin
If you want to know the secret of how these non-westernized societies maintain clear skin, you first have to ditch the notion that acne is caused by genetics alone.
Additionally, with the science of epigenetics expanding at a rapid rate, we are learning more and more everyday just how much our environment influences our genes.
In other words, you could be genetically pre-disposed to acne, yet never get it due to how you interact with your environment.
When I say “environment” I’m talking about things like…
- What you eat
- Where you live
- Who you have relationships with
- How you sleep
- How you exercise
- The air you breathe
- Your stress levels
The clear skin populations described above live very different lifestyles than most people living in more westernized societies.
If you want to get clear like a Kitavan Islander, you have to study how they interact with their environment. And perhaps the most important thing to study is their diet.
The Kitavan Islanders mentioned in the study above eat a diet consisting mostly of tubers, fruit, fish, coconut, and vegetables.
The hunter-gatherers of Paraguay eat wild foraged foods and locally cultivated foods.
We could geek out over their macronutrients and other things, but the bottom line is that their diets are mostly absent of the processed and refined foods that run rampant in westernized societies.
For example, consider the following table which shows a list of westernized refined foods on the left next to a list of traditional unrefined foods on the right:
As you can see, the table on the left shows all of our western favorites. Heck, I practically grew up on this stuff as a kid.
And then the table on the right shows what one might consider more “whole foods.”
Which do you think the Kitavan Islanders and hunter-gatherers of Paraguary eat more of?
The answer is the foods on the right, because the foods on the left do not exist amongst these populations!
Without having access to western refined foods, diseases of western civilization (including acne) are largely absent.
Now… does this mean the foods on the left in this table cause acne? They may, although we can’t say for certain that they do.
But the correlation is strong enough that it should peak your curiosity.
If you look closely at the table above, you’ll notice another interesting pattern. The glycemic load of the foods on the left are all significantly higher than the glycemic load of the foods on the right.
What is glycemic load? It is essentially a number that indicates how much a certain type of food will raise a person’s blood sugar.
In general, a glycemic load of less than 10 is consider low, 11-19 considered moderate, and greater than 20 considered high.
ALL the foods on the left can be considered to have a high glycemic load, whereas the foods on the right are considered either low or moderate.
Could glycemic load have something to do with acne? Turns out, it might.
The Relationship Between Glycemic Load And Acne
Acne can have a multitude of causes. One may be glycemic load.
Put your science hat on boys and girls. It’s time to get a little technical.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body responds by breaking those carbohydrates down into their simplest form: glucose (also known as sugar). This glucose is then released into your bloodstream.
When your body senses an overabundance of glucose in the bloodstream, it releases a hormone called insulin which helps get that glucose out of the bloodstream (too much glucose in the bloodstream is toxic).
The glycemic load of a food gives you an idea of how much that food will raise your blood glucose levels. The higher the glycemic load, the higher your blood glucose levels will be after you eat that food (and thus the higher your insulin levels will be too).
Still with me? Good.
Now… when you eat carbohydrates it isn’t just insulin that gets released. No sir. In reality, an entire hormonal cascade happens.
And the higher the glycemic load of the food you eat, the more intense that hormonal cascade becomes.
Another hormone that elevates along with insulin is called insulin-like growth factor 1 (or IGF-1 for short). IGF-1 stimulates growth in all tissues (that’s why it has the word “growth” in its name).
At a biological level, one thing that causes acne is something called hyperkeratinization. This is a fancy term that means your dead skin cells fail to detach or “slough off” and instead stick together and obstruct the hair follicle.
Well… it just so happens that IGF-1 is necessary for this hyperkeratinization process to happen!
Additionally, it was found that women with adult acne have higher levels of IGF-1.
Insulin and IGF-1 also stimulate the production of androgens in the sex organs. An androgen is essentially a sex hormone.
An excess of androgens in the body is bad news for acne sufferers. Studies show that sebum production (essential for the development of acne) is stimulated by androgens.
Androgens also rage during puberty, which explains why teens and young adults have the highest rates of acne when compared to other age groups.
If that weren’t enough, insulin and IGF-1 stimulate sebum production themselves.
It’s worth mentioning that sebum production isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s only when your body makes too much sebum or modified sebum that it leads to acne.
Do This For Clearer Skin
Now that we’ve got through the technical stuff, let’s get to the practical application of this information.
First, you learned that acne is practically non-existent amongst non-westernized societies. This debunks the notion that acne is caused by genetics alone.
Rather, it is primarily our environments which determine whether or not we get acne.
Second, you learned that eating foods with a high glycemic load causes a hormonal cascade favorable to causing acne.
High insulin and IGF-1 levels not only cause hyperkeratinization and excess sebum production themselves, they stimulate other hormones that also cause these things!
The result is a compound effect that produces a face full of acne.
If you want clearer skin, it’s important to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake, specifically the glycemic load of the carbohydrates you are eating.
I’m not saying to not eat carbs. Carbs are important for many functions in your body. I personally love carbs.
What I am saying is to avoid the type of carbohydrates which cannot be found in nature and instead are produced in a factory.
For example, you cannot go harvest angel food cake from the wild. But you could harvest a sweet potato from the wild.
Therefore, the sweet potato would be a more ideal carbohydrate to consume if you are trying to keep insulin and IGF-1 at a minimum.
In general, whole food carbs (fruits, veggies, tubers, etc.) have a much lower glycemic load than the processed carbs running rampant in western society.
If your food comes in a box or package or has a laundry list of ingredients, that should be a sign to investigate further. Whole food carbs do not need a laundry list of ingredients because they are the ingredient.
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