Wheat and Your Skin

Wheat is a cereal grain cultivated around the world. It is a leading source of vegetable protein in the human diet and, after rice, is the main human food crop. Clearly, wheat is a valuable food source. As with most things in life, with the good comes some bad. Wheat is associated with a number of health issues. Among more well-known wheat-associated disorders such as allergic and autoimmune (e.g., celiac disease) are those related to increases in insulin. Wheat-induced increases in insulin are linked to a number of negative outcomes. Included in these is acne.

Skin is an organism that, among other things, reflects internal bodily processes. That is, internal and non-visible internal issues are often presented visually through our outer layer (i.e., skin). Acne is tied to oil glands under the skin which are connected to our pores via follicles. These glands are stimulated by hormones produced by the adrenal glands of both males and females. Blocked follicles result in oil trapped under the skin which presents as acne.

As mentioned above, with wheat ingestion comes an increase in insulin. Insulin stimulates the release of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) within our skin. IGF-I stimulates tissue growth in the above-described hair follicles and the production of sebum (oil produced by sebaceous glands). The tissue growth blocks the follicle and traps the sebum. Voila, a pimple.

What to do? Go gluten free? Gluten is the main structural protein complex found in wheat. So, drop the gluten and problem solved. Unfortunately, no. As "gluten-free" likely does not correlate positively with weight control, it also does not mean alleviation of wheat-induced, insulin-stimulated acne. Often, gluten free means substitution of gluten for items such as corn, potato or rice starch. While these starches do not induce the autoimmune responses associated with gluten (e.g., celiac disease), they do trigger the insulin response described above. As such, gluten-free products may be just as unfavorable as gluten-containing products with respect to acne and weight gain. For a more thorough discussion of wheat and weight gain/acne see The Wheat Belly by William Davis,MD.

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