If you're struggling with PCOS-related acne, there are numerous ways to gain the upper hand over this problem. Here are some ideas for you to think about.
There are several nutritional supplements that can help.
Zinc (50-75 mg daily): Zinc decreases the conversion of testosterone to its active form (DHT), thus reducing the stimulatory effects on oil glands. Other important functions of zinc include wound healing, immune system activity, tissue regeneration, and control of inflammation. In a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, zinc was found to be equally as effective as oral antibiotic therapy in the treatment of pimples. Results may take up to twelve weeks for results to occur.
Saw Palmetto (50 - 200 mg daily): Saw palmetto is also well known for its ability to inhibit the conversion of testosterone into DHT.
Vitamin A (25,000-50,000 IU daily - if you are not pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant): Vitamin A has been shown to reduce sebum production and the build-up of keratin in the follicle. The dosages required for this effect are relatively high (300,000-400,000 IU daily for up to six months) and potentially toxic. If you use a micellized (water soluble) form of vitamin A, you may be able to mitigate the toxicity somewhat. However, we recommend you consult with a naturopathic or other physician if you wish to take over 25,000 IU of vitamin A. You may be able to take less vitamin A if you're also taking other nutrients such as zinc and vitamin E. For sexually active women of childbearing age, do not take more than 5,000 IU daily unless an effective form of birth control is being used, or unless you are under the supervision of a physician.
Vitamin B6 (50-100 mg daily): Plays a role in the normal metabolism of steroid hormones. Vitamin B6 deficiency in rats has been shown to cause an increased uptake and sensitivity to testosterone.
Vitamin B5 - Pantothenic acid (2.5 grams four times daily for a period of two weeks): Plays a role in fat metabolism and has been shown to be of value in the treatment of pimples at high doses.
Vitamin E (400 IU daily): Is vital to the functioning of vitamin A and the activity of selenium. During a vitamin E deficiency, blood levels of vitamin A stay low regardless of the amount of vitamin A consumed. However, when vitamin E is added to the diet, blood levels of vitamin A will normalize.
Selenium (100-200 mcg daily): This antioxidant trace mineral functions in the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium is important for preventing the inflammation associated with acne. Individuals suffering from pimples have been shown to have reduced levels of glutathione peroxidase. Following treatment with selenium and vitamin E, glutathione peroxidase levels significantly increase, while the severity of pimples typically decreases.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs): These fats have the ability to
reduce inflammation and may be of benefit in treating acne. One
tablespoon of either fish oil or flaxseed oil may be helpful.
Consumption of cold water fish like salmon and mackerel are other good
sources of anti-inflammatory fats. You can also obtain concentrated fish
oil in convenient capsules.
The above are a few of the specialized nutrients that could help you with pimples and other symptoms of PCOS.
In a study involving 100 people who were recently diagnosed with acne and not treated and 100 age-matched healthy controls, low blood concentrations of vitamin A and vitamin E were found among subjects with this disorder. Furthermore, it was found that the greater the severity of acne, the lower the plasma concentrations of vitamins A and E.
This study suggests that low levels of vitamins A and E may contribute to the pathogenesis and aggravation of pimples. You can get vitamin A and E by eating a variety of fresh whole foods. Processed "convenience" foods will be much lower in these nutrients.
An easy way to make sure you get enough vitamin A and E is to take a high-quality multi-vitamin supplement. (Most supplements have beta-carotene, which is converted by the liver into vitamin A.)
Tea tree oil (10-15% preparation): A 1990 study compared the topical use of tea tree oil (5% preparation) to benzyl peroxide (5% preparation) in the treatment of common acne. Although the tea tree oil took longer to work and was less potent in action, it had far fewer side effects and was thus considered to be more effective overall. Tea tree oil should not be applied to broken skin or to areas affected by rashes.
Azelaic acid (apply cream to affected areas twice daily for at least four weeks): This naturally occurring acid has been shown to have antibiotic activity against acne bacteria. Studies using a 20 percent azelaic acid cream have shown that it produces results equal to those achieved with benzyl peroxide, Retin-A or oral tetracycline in the treatment of many different types of acne. Given its low incidence of side effects and allergic reaction, azelaic acid may be a safe alternative to many conventional drug therapies. However, you may find it irritating to the skin.
Your genetic predisposition and health status is unique to you. If you have PCOS and acne, a treatment that works for you may not work for someone else, and vice-versa. Therefore, you will have to do some experimentation to find the right combination of diet, lifestyle, supplements and medications that will diminish your acne and other symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.
Source: El-Akawi Z et al, Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?, Clin Exp Dermatol, 2006; 31(3): 430-3.
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