Data from the 47,000 women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study showed that those who had drunk a lot of milk were the most severely affected; no similar link was found with other foods. The researchers concluded that the association between milk and acne was most likely due to androgen precursors and other bioactive molecules present in milk.
One of the primary driving forces behind the development of acne is androgenic stimulation of sebaceous glands within the skin. In healthy humans, levels of androgen hormones rise dramatically during adolescence.
Sebaceous glands contain the necessary enzymes to convert androgen precursors that are normally present in the bloodstream – as well as those absorbed from milk – to a physiologically potent hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT induces sebaceous glands to grow, increases the production of sebum, and speeds the growth of follicular skin cells.
As dying follicular cells accumulate in pores and impair the flow of sebum to the skin’s surface, bacteria that live within the follicles (principally Propionibacterium acnes) metabolize the sebum. This, in turn, leads to the production of fatty acids and other byproducts that trigger an inflammatory cascade around the follicles – a process that creates the classic and all-too-familiar pimple or “zit.”
Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), another hormone that peaks during adolescence, contributes to acne by accelerating the turnover of follicular skin cells and by increasing the production of sebum.
Milk, evolutionarily designed to maximize the growth of infant mammals, contains some of these same growth factors, including IGF-1. In fact, bovine IGF-1 is identical to human IGF-1, and any IGF-1 that is assimilated from consumed milk merely augments the levels that are already present in the bloodstream. In fact IGF-1 levels can increase by as much as 10% after the consumption of three daily servings of milk in adults, and consumption of 1.5 litres of skimmed milk daily for one week significantly increases IGF-1 levels in eight-year-old boys.
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