ORLANDO – A greasy hamburger and fries and a chocolate milkshake may all earn the finger of blame when teens fret over acne. But which of these foods is the real culprit?
A growing body of data suggests it may be the milk – especially if it’s fat-free milk, according to, who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. Skim milk has been at the center of a long-simmering acne controversy, said Dr. Zaenglein, professor of dermatology and pediatric dermatology at Pennsylvania State University, Hershey.
The same association was seen in a subsequent study of 4,273 teen boys, published in 2008. There was a 10% increased risk for acne associated with intake of whole or 2% milk, a 17% increased risk for 1% milk, and a 19% increased risk for skim milk ().
A prospective study of about 6,000 girls found similar risks associated with all types of milk: a 19% increased risk for whole milk, 17% for low-fat milk, and 19% for skim milk ().
They found positive associations with total dairy and with nonfat dairy, but not with whole-fat or low-fat dairy. “The association was driven by the nonfat dairy,” Dr. Zaenglein said. “When we took nonfat [dairy] out of the total dairy, the association there was no longer significant.” They also found no significant association with body mass index, glycemic index, or glycemic load, she added.
“You have to wonder, what could this association between dairy – and skim milk in particular – be? Could dairy actually be involved in the pathogenesis of acne?” There are a number of proposed mechanisms, none of which have ever been confirmed, she said. “Could it be related to steroids? Milk is a very bioactive substance with estrogens and other hormones, but these are fat soluble and would be removed in skim milk.”
Another theory suggests that insulinlike growth factor-1, either in milk or endogenously stimulated by its consumption, may make a contribution. “People who are passionate about this have published prolifically about the activation of this pathway,” Dr. Zaenglein said, “but it remains speculative.”
She added, there are a plethora of studies showing milk’s benefits in many other areas, including the benefits exerted by milk’s medium-chain fatty acids on cardiovascular health, glycemic control, insulin regulation, and even obesity.
Finally, dairy’s importance to bone health in the United States can’t be ignored. In fact, dairy products are the most commonly recommended foods for ensuring adequate calcium intake in children, teens, and young adults.
“It’s really hard to make a firm recommendation to eliminate dairy, because, in this country, it makes up a good portion of the calcium teens need during their bone-building years, and kids are already at high risk for not meeting these requirements.”
National nutritional guidelines recommend 1,300 mg of calcium every day, which can be accomplished in three to five servings of dairy. “An 8-ounce glass of milk has 300 mg. Yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified juice are all highly accepted by teens. But, to get that same amount from vegetables, for example, you’d have to eat 3 cups of cooked kale. That’s a lot of kale,” Dr. Zaenglein said.
She had no relevant financial disclosures.