Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Role Stress Plays in Causing Acne

In the past it was postulated that stress had a role to play in causing acne, based upon observations of individuals who suffered with acne when they went through a stressful period. But there was no clear evidence to confirm this connection. However now there are several clinical studies that support this link, and here I shall elucidate the biochemical mechanisms of how stress can lead to the formation of acne.

Spots form when sebum, which is a type of oil, blocks skin pores, which then feeds bacteria on the skin leading to inflammation. Stress contributes to this situation because one of the principal stress hormones, cortisol, encourages a number of processes in the body which increase sebum production and encourage inflammation.

The stress response involves an interplay between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. The hypothalamus is the master controller of your hormones. When stress is perceived, the hypothalamus produces a hormone called corticotrophic releasing hormone (CRH). This travels to the pituitary gland giving it the message to stimulate the adrenal glands which are responsible for releasing other hormones that we need to get us through stress. One of the main hormones that is released is cortisol.

This process leads to the formation of spots because cortisol, whilst having many useful functions in the body, also increases the production of sebum. Moreover the hormone CRH also can lock onto receptors on the sebaceous glands, (the glands which produce sebum) and stimulate sebum production further. Testosterone also encourages sebum production and CRH also interacts with testosterone, making its effects more severe.

Other biochemical processes that are the result of cortisol also contribute to acne. When cortisol production is elevated for a long time, it interferes with the production of chemicals called prostaglandins. These are very important messengers in the body which support immune function, they have an anti-inflammatory effect, they dilate blood vessels and inhibit thick blood. When these processes are inhibited, this leads to slower healing, infection and more inflammation.

Moreover, a high cortisol level also encourages a higher blood sugar level and a condition known as insulin resistance. It is a consistent finding that acne sufferers cannot transfer sugar effectively into their cells as their cells are to some degree resistant to the effects of insulin and have a higher than normal level of insulin. Higher insulin levels encourage sebum production.

Cortisol also adversely affects gut bacteria. It has been found that 50% of acne sufferers have abnormally high levels of unhealthy bacteria in their intestines. It is not completely clear what role these bacteria play in causing acne but it has been postulated that they lead to inflammation which contributes to insulin resistance.

How then can we help ourselves and our acne if we are stressed? There are many ways to do this naturally, three of the main ones include taking 300mg of magnesium twice a day which not only aids relaxation but also helps replenish the magnesium that stress depletes. The herb rhodiola can also be helpful for reducing cortisol, supporting immune function and keeping moods stable. Balancing blood sugar levels with diet also is important for stress levels and to balance insulin levels which is also a must for acne sufferers.

Stress is only one factor that contributes to acne, an overall programme that takes into account other factors such as nutrient levels, digestive health, hormone levels and toxicity is most likely to have good results.

Caution! Check with your health care provider before taking supplements.

Having suffered the side effects of prescription drugs for her own acne, Emma has qualified in nutritional therapy to help others overcome their skin problems naturally. For more information go to

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