Not every society bases its diet on high-glycemic, low-nutrient foods like we do in the US, and not every society faces an acne epidemic. In fact, acne is virtually nonexistent in communities not influenced by the Western diet. In a landmark study published in the Archives of Dermatology, Loren Cordain, PhD, and a team of doctors observed 1,200 Kitavans living on remote islands off of Papua New Guinea and 115 Ache hunter-gatherers living deep in the Paraguayan jungle. The Kitavan diet consisted mainly of fish, fruit, tubers, and coconut, while the Ache ate mostly wild game and foraged foods. Neither group’s diet included more than a scant amount of Western food and not surprisingly researchers didn’t find a single case of acne in either.
So why can’ t we chalk up the absence of acne among the Kitavans and Ache to genetics? Because members of the same ethnic groups living in urban areas and eating Western diets do in fact suffer from acne, according to Cordain.
Further proving food’s effect on skin, researchers have seen acne go from nonexistent to widespread in cultures that begin adopting Western diets. In one study, Otto Schaefer, MD, observed Inuit people of northern Canada from the 1940s to the early 1970s. Sure enough, once the Inuit traded their traditional regimen of fish, wild game, berries, and greens for candy, soda, and other Western foods, acne extremely rare before the diet shift became noticeably prevalent. The same holds true for Okinawa, Japan: Once an acne-free community, the people living on the Japanese island have seen a dramatic increase in acne since incorporating more Western foods into their diets.