Yogurt is typically viewed as a beneficial source of nutrition. With so many varieties providing 10 grams of protein or more per serving, plus live and active cultures to support gut health, yogurt is a staple for many. Not to mention the flexibility as an on-the-go snack, ingredients for smoothies and more.
So what’s the downfall? Well, if you currently struggle with acne, yogurt may be a potential culprit.
Yogurt is a go-to source for probiotics, which are live bacteria that support your gut microbiome (or the presence of all the microbes in your intestine that support your immune system, digestion, and many other aspects of health).
Research shows that yogurt can actually help to reduce acne breakouts for many individuals, based off the ability to improve the presence of healthy bacteria.
The gut-skin connection has been studied to better understand the relationship between gut health and skin health. While there are many complex connections between the two, it is explained that the intestinal microbiome contributes to the restoration of skin after a disturbance or stressor. Bottom line, supporting your gut health is a step towards supporting your skin health.
Clearly, the presence of probiotics are not an issue when it comes to yogurt, so what is the concern when it comes to acne? Let’s explore the following areas:
What type of yogurt are you choosing?
Is the variety of yogurt you typically purchase a high source of added sugar? Remember, added sugars can be sneaky, so it’s helpful to refer to the nutrition facts label. The front of the container does not always disclose this information.
When it comes to nutrition for acne, the impact that certain foods have on our insulin response and blood sugar levels is important to consider. Foods that are high in added sugars (more than 10 grams of added sugar per serving) are considered to have a high glycemic index or glycemic load.
What does this mean exactly? It means our bodies are going to respond to the added sugars with a resulting higher blood sugar and more insulin is needed to bring it back down.
Why do we care about this?
The driving factor is the influence that high insulin levels have on the presence of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1). The levels of this hormone have been found to influence acne in adult men and women and is an established factor in acne patheogenesis. Specifically, IGF-1 can increase the expression of inflammatory biomarkers and sebum production (the oily substance made in sebaceous glands).
In a study from 2018, adults with moderate to severe acne participated in a low glycemic index diet. After two weeks, levels of IGF-1 were significantly reduced.
Similarly, another study compared the effects of a low and high glycemic index diet in males with acne ages 15-25. Those that ate a low glycemic index diet had lower levels of IGF-1, in addition to improved insulin sensitivity (which helps to improve blood sugar levels throughout the day).4
In summary, high levels of insulin and IGF-1 are referred to as the pivotal factors in the diet-acne conversation, and examination of high glycemic index foods in your diet is worth while.
So what can you take from this information? When it comes to yogurt, find options that have at least 10 grams of added sugar or less. This will lessen the body’s response in needing more insulin to bring blood sugar levels down.
Choosing a Greek yogurt variety is also helpful as the protein content is higher. Eating enough protein throughout the day, especially in combination with carbohydrate or sugar sources is helpful in stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Here are dietitian recommended yogurt options you might find at your local grocery store or supermarket:
These are just some ideas. The amount of yogurt options can seem endless! Plus, most brands are more aware of added sugar content in today’s world, so chances are the yogurt you already like is a good option.
Do you have a milk or dairy allergy?
Don’t get this confused with lactose intolerance. Most individuals who are lactose intolerant (or have difficulties digesting lactose found in dairy products) are able to tolerate yogurt as it contains much lower levels of lactose compared to milk, cheese, or ice cream.
Individuals with a milk allergy are allergic to components found in milk, including casein or whey. Due to the allergy, the immune system will overreact and reject those milk components leading to mild or moderate symptoms like rashes, hives, itching, swelling, and acne. Many individuals may experience digestion related difficulties as well.
It has also been debated whether dairy intake in general has a role in acne as well, regardless of a milk allergy.
A meta-analysis from 2018 concluded a positive association between milk consumption and acne risk, however the significance of the data was mixed.
A second review of 14 studies found a 41% increase in the risk of acne with consumption of one glass of milk a day.This study also associated the consumption of yogurt and cheese with an increased risk. Authors of these studies did acknowledge inconsistencies in the data, overall encouraging readers to interpret with caution.
So should you consume dairy if you struggle with acne? Or how do you know if you have a milk allergy? Let’s review some possible next steps.
1. Trial with a dairy-free diet
If you consume dairy on a regular basis and struggle with acne, it may be worth trialing with an elimination of all milk containing products. Remember, this can be difficult as milk protein can be hidden in many foods. When looking at an ingredient list, terms like whey, butter, cream, half & half, or casein are all indications of milk in the product.
A dietitian can help you find dairy free alternatives of your favorite items or make modifications to recipes that you typically make. It will take at least 2-3 weeks in order to determine any changes in your symptoms if they were occurring related to dairy consumption.
I recommend working with a dietitian if you plan to eliminate dairy long-term, as they can provide recommendations in meeting all your nutritional needs that dairy may have been providing for you previously.
I would also recommend considering the sources of probiotics in your diet if you eliminate yogurt altogether. Kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, and sauerkraut are all great fermented foods that support gut health. Remember, there are many non-dairy yogurt varieties that have live and active cultures, but remember the sugar content.
Below are some great non-dairy yogurt options that are lower in added sugars:
Be careful with non-dairy yogurt. Popular brands can have more than 15 grams of added sugar!
2. Talk with your doctor or Registered Dietitian
If you suspect a milk allergy, talk with an expert. Your doctor knows your medical history best and can account for possible side effect from medications or supplements you may be taking. They can also refer for allergy testing if indicated.
A Registered Dietitian can also provide ideal nutrition recommendations when it comes to avoiding dairy in your diet if an allergy is present or suspected. They can also work with you when it comes to nutrition in general for acne management.
Does yogurt cause acne? It depends.
Yogurt itself is an amazing way to support your gut health, which as a result can support your skin health and prevent acne. Including probiotics in your diet doesn’t have to come from yogurt though. Kombucha for example contains live bacteria that are great for the gut.
Probiotic supplements are also an option, however, overall effectiveness can vary depending on the product.
Watch out for the added sugar content in the yogurt you choose, along with all foods you eat on a regular basis. Foods with less than 10 grams of added sugar are helpful in keeping your sugar intake moderate and prevent consistently elevated blood sugars throughout the day, which lead to higher levels of insulin to bring your blood sugar back down. Research has shown higher levels of insulin in the blood along with the hormone IGF-1 to be a factor in acne pathogenesis.
If you eat yogurt often, consider switching to a lower sugar variety.
Consider the possibility of a dairy allergy (not lactose intolerance). If you struggle with acne, the components of milk, whey and casein, can lead to skin related side effects such as rashes, itchiness, and acne. Talk with your doctor or Registered Dietitian for recommendations and next steps.
A 2-3 week elimination diet can also be helpful in determining the presence of a possible allergy. Allergy testing may be with the help of your doctor.
Remember, acne is multifactorial and one item in your diet is unlikely to be a direct cause. Consider your diet and lifestyle in general and work with your healthcare team for the best course of treatment.