Dairy Products and Acne Link Confirmed!


I've been in correspondence with Dr F.W. Danby, a Canadian dermatologist practising in the U.S. and he thinks that dairy products are the major triggering factor. Recently (Feb 2005) he published a study in the prestigious medical journal Dermatology, which confirms the dairy/acne link.


Dr Danby used a study of what nurses ate called the Nurses Health Study II. He thinks that the hormones in milk cause the problem, by overstimulating the human oil producing glands:

"But how could milk cause acne? Because drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to the hormones produced by the cows’pregnancy, hormones that we were not designed to consume during our teenage and adult years. It is no secret that teenagers’acne closely parallels hormonal activity..."

(from the Commentary) Download

"In conclusion, we found that intake of milk was associated with increased risk of teenage acne in girls. This finding suggests that the hormonal constituents of milk are present in sufficient quantities to have biologic effects in girls, and raises the possibility that other hormonally sensitive glands may also be affected. Because of the potential importance for acne and possibly breast cancer, these relationships should be evaluated further."

(From the Research Paper) Download

My comments:

These are excellent analyses of the problem. Note that they are both written in scientific language, and only talks about girls because the information came from females, I will step in for Dr D, and say that this obviously applies to males as well. Don't be misled by the call for further research, that's the scientific paper's way of saying "Ta ta for now!".



NOTE: As one fellow sufferer Riss pointed out, you do need to ensure you are getting enough calcium, either from a calcium tablet, or your diet. Don't just stop dairy products, get a good book about non-dairy diets to help you. Leslie Kenton is a useful author, but there are plenty of others.


Acne and Dairy Products

by F.W. Danby, MD, FRCPC

By way of introduction, I am a dermatologist. After training in Toronto, I practised in Canada for 24 years and then moved to the United States. My credentials include my Canadian specialist certificate, my American specialty 'boards', a few scientific papers, the conduct of 23 clinical trials (several of them on acne medications), well over 2000 personal cases of acne treated with isotretinoin, 23 years as Chair of a division of dermatology and teaching medical students in a Canadian university and now two years teaching about acne at an American medical school.

I have had an active interest in the interaction of hormones and the skin and when I saw David Collins's web site I sent him along a copy of a presentation that I've been developing and presenting intermittently to various groups of dermatologists and other doctors for over ten years. David asked me for a summary in layman's language, and so here it is.

Basically, almost all dermatologists agree that hormones are the driving force behind acne. Everybody pretty much agrees that the male hormone 5 alpha dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is the final molecule that turns on the oil making cells, even in women. The problem is that there are multiple sources of hormones that turn into DHT - some of them are accepted by almost all dermatologists and some are not, at least yet.

Generally, the male hormones that come from the testicles and from the ovaries and from the adrenal (stress) glands are accepted, but there is another source that has been investigated incompletely but that clinically appears quite important.

The story goes back to the mid 1960s when Dr. Jerome K. Fisher, a dermatologist in Pasadena, California, collected dietary histories on over 1000 consecutive acne patients. He found acne to be related to the amount of milk consumed and was able to compare his patients to a much larger group of 5227 teenagers whose diets were studied in New York City. The acne patients in Pasadena consumed 50 to 300% more milk than the teenagers in NewYork.

Other scientists, working in Wisconsin USA, Germany, and Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) showed in the early 1970s that milk contains progesterone; that is a product of the cows' pregnancy; and that there are other hormones in the milk of pregnant cows, particularly in the butterfat fraction. Also, it was shown that the enzymes necessary to convert these hormones to DHT are present right in the oil glands themselves.

So there is a chain of events that leads from the cow getting pregnant; to her being milked; to getting pregnant for her second calf while she is still being milked; to you taking the hormones into your diet as milk, cream, ice cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, pizza, lasagna, cheeseburgers and the rest; to the hormones being absorbed into your body, going to the oil gland receptors, converting to DHT and turning on the cellular activity that creates acne.

So why is this not common knowledge?

Well, first of all, Dr. Fisher's paper was never published. It was presented as his admission paper to the prestigious American Dermatology Association but we do not know if he ever got it ready for publication .We do know that his research on pregnant cows' hormones came to a halt because the cow he was using to test the milk during her pregnancy miscarried and the testing was incomplete. The researchers who did the work on hormones in milk were not interested in acne and never took their work further. The researcher who did the work on the enzymes shifted his career interest to other things. And nobody seemed to see the thread linking these findings until I noted the relationships about 15 years ago.

But I am not a research scientist and, despite attempts to interest others, it is apparent that, quite naturally, researchers want to follow their own ideas and not other folks', unless of course there is money involved to pay for some rather expensive testing of a fairly large number or people, cows and dairy products. I have so far been unable to put together the ideas, the team and the financing required to properly investigate and scientifically prove what I have outlined above.

This must therefore be considered a personal, incompletely proven theory of mine until properly constructed experiments provide the data needed to verify the chain of reactions linking pregnant cows and acne sufferers.

But in my practice, and in the practice of many noted dermatologists prior to Dr. Fisher's work, there have been many examples of patients whose acne improved when the dairy fat in their diet was eliminated. I recently mentioned this theory on an Internet chat group of several hundred dermatologists and heard a few more stories of patients whose acne didn't respond until they stopped their dairy intake. I also heard some skepticism, which is normal when proof is lacking.

As I see it, the problem is that, like when one is fighting forest fires, just stopping the cause of the fire doesn't put the fire out. David's web site points out that the only medication that really shuts down oil glands is isotretinoin. I could not agree more. There is a tremendous amount of money, time and worry wasted in trying to treat acne with other medications. Only isotretinoin puts the fire out. And only isotretinoin shrinks the oil gland back down close its pre-pubertal size. That is what really needs to happen.

Then, when the fire is out, is the time to stop making more fire. You must stop lighting any more matches.

  • Then is the time to stop all dairy fat intake.
  • Then is the only time that long-term topical retinoids will pay off as preventive medications.
  • Then is the time that birth control pills (that most female patients should have been on anyway during the isotretinoin) have the best chance of stopping further period hormone-related flares.

So the best way to see the effect of dairy restriction is somewhat after the fact, preventing recurrences. Nevertheless, it also works to help reduce acne activity in general, even when the acne isn't quite bad enough for isotretinoin. Indeed, I use dairy restriction whenever my patients (and their parents) will listen and try it.

But, it doesn't always work - it is, after all, only one of several source of hormone. The testicles, ovaries and adrenal glands may be producing enough hormones on their own to keep the acne going. Again, isotretinoin is the treatment of choice.

For women, the Birth Control Pill (BCP) Dianette or Diane 35 is a highly potent ally to reduce ovarian output, but there is no equivalent for males. And there is no safe way to suppress adrenal hormone output in either sex.

So give it a try - for at least six months. Remember that you were intended to be weaned some time in the first year or so of your life. Recall that milk from a pregnant cow is not really a 'natural' food for a growing human - any more than milk from a pregnant human would be natural to feed to a growing calf.

F. W. Danby, MD FRCPC


Any Comments? Please use the discussion board, or e-mail me and I'll pass them on to Dr. Danby - David.

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