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National Dairy Council on Acne and Milk

The Harvard Nurses’ Study found an association between high school dairy intake and severe physician-diagnosed acne.

May 10, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Dave Hamster.

Transcript

The National Dairy Council denies that milk intake causes acne, citing the American Academy of Dermatology. Let’s take a peek, shall we, at the official journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The Harvard Nurse’s study, no less. A study in fact supported by the National Dairy Council itself! High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. They studied 47000 women. What did they find? We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.
Yeah, but there’s a difference between association and causation. From the accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: The papers… from the Harvard School of Public Health establish an association between milk consumption and acne. 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,…So what happens if exogenous hormones are added to the normal endogenous load? And what exactly is the source of these hormones? Consider that, in nature, milk is con- sumed from a mother, whether human or bovine, until weaning occurs. Normally, the mother then ceases lactation before the next pregnancy occurs— so that consuming milk from a mother pregnant with her next offspring is not a common occurrence. We’ve all seen nature films of animals chasing their offspring away to encourage weaning at the appropriate time. Further, in nature the offspring consumes only the milk of its own species—but both of these natural rules are broken by humans. Viewed objectively, human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes mainly from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Today starts a three-video series on the latest evidence on the link between acne and milk (particularly skim, which has higher hormone levels—seeHormones In Skin vs. Whole Milk). I've previously covered this topic in my videoDairy & Acne. I've also created hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects—please feel free to check them out.

For more context, check out my associated blog post, Skim Milk and Acne andStool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Today starts a three-video series on the latest evidence on the link between acne and milk (particularly skim, which has higher hormone levels—see Hormones In Skin vs. Whole Milk). I’ve previously covered this topic in my video Dairy & Acne. I’ve also created hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects—please feel free to check them out.

  • Rudysteffen

    I wish I knew this 10 years ago when I was still in highschool and taking Accutane for chronic acne.  Back then it wasn’t unusual for me to drink, at lease, a half gallon of milk a day. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

       I consumed quite a bit in my teen years too thinking it would help me grow. Well, the other kids were towering over me still; I guess they drank more cow milk than I. ;)

      Then I became lactose intolerant in my adulthood. There’re no health reasons left for cow milk in my diet now, never mind the ethical issues.

    • http://www.facebook.com/robinLA Robin Petersson

      I can’t say I had much acne growing up, but there would always be one or two unsightly beacons growing on my face. I thought it would go away after my teens, but that was not the case. Only in the last few years of my 30s, when I also went mostly vegan, did all my acne finally go away.

      • Movies989

        Same here. Lived most of my preteen, teenage years, through 30 years old on acne med until I became vegan. Had to get off of the med due to side affects. Yeast infections, skin sensitivity, dry skin… ect.

  • Joyharris119

    I love reading the comments that accompany your blog, but recently they have been blocked by the large banner at the bottom of the page. Only the top comment shows, the rest get cut off midway or sooner. Any way to fix that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

       I don’t have this issue. Is it possible you have some kind of adware on your computer?

  • http://www.acnemilk.com/ Dr. Danby

    Dr. Greger
    The JAAD articles linking acne and dairy have finally found independent support.
    Please send me a live email address to which I may post PDFs of two very recent papers.
    You video treatment of these papers is superb! (But I may be a bit biased).

  • Megan Henderson

    Natural Acne Cures are 100% more effective and they are permanent. Medication only wastes your money and it does not even make the acne go away, it only keeps it under control. You have to buy the medication every single time you are finished.

    http://www.overnightacnecure.info

  • leafycafe

    Any data on HS and dairy consumption? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidradenitis_suppurativa

    • Dr. Danby

      There are no formal trials of dairy elimination in HS. True blinded trials are impossible because there is no ‘non-hormone-containing dairy’ available. None of the non-dairy substitutes will fool a teen, so no blinding is possible. I have an increasing number of HS patients who are much better (it is a long process) and a few who are clear, but the problem is that, once the fire is lit and burning well, blowing out the match will not put out the flames. You need all the strong fire extinguishers – diet alone is not normally enough – but you also need to stop lighting any more matches. The time to stop dairy is now (actually it was years ago but we are past that checkpoint). Follow the advice at acnemilk.com – which needs some updating but is the essential start of preventive action.

  • jontiffph

    My son who will be 14 next month has been vegan for nearly a year now. He has had bad acne for over 1.5 years. His dietary change – first vegetarian then vegan – did not affect his acne like I had hoped. Our Dr. recommended going to a dermatologist to have accutane prescribed but we do not feel comfortable putting him on it. His acne worsens with exercise. He is a wrestler but he showers immediately after practice. I just recently purchased pine tar soap, baking soda soap and some tea tree oil to see if any of these items would help. I’m a little confused about what to do and somewhat baffled regarding this info linking acne & dairy. He is currently using clindamycin and Retin A. These meds do seem to provide some help for if he skips using them then the acne does worsen. Any help, tips advice?

    • anne

      Sugar?

      • jontiffph

        He consumes less sugar than he used to as well. We don’t drink soda and many snacks & treats are made at home by me and I usually at least half the sugar recipes call for. Additionally, we use the unsweetened versions of items like almond milk, etc. I do allow him a sweet snack after school and after dinner but I don’t think that is an exorbitant amount and portion size is limited. A sweet snack may be a homemade smoothie pop or homemade almond milk ice cream or sometimes he does eat cookies. But he eats a lot of healthy whole foods in addition. After school snacks also consist of brown rice with onion, raw veggies, fruit, toast, etc. Both of my boys are usually left out of the “sweet festivals/parties” at school and sports because the foods usually contain animal products. He does eat A LOT of food and burns so many calories wrestling, running, working out and just being a teenage boy. His acne is definitely worse during wrestling season. He wears loose cotton t-shirts for wrestling which I have read is better than other materials. I also recently cut out unfermented soy because I have read some mixed information on that as well. I had a spectracell completed on him and he was 1 below normal range in selenium and lipoic acid. Everything else was within normal range. Trying to do the right thing but there is SO much conflicting info out there it’s hard to decipher what and who to believe. I worry about deficiencies, etc. It’s a lot different when children are involved and very scary- because they are my babies – even if they have out grown me:) It would destroy me to know I have harmed their development because of their diet.

        • Dr. Danby

          Is he totally off all dairy? And off all protein supplements? For at least six months? Have you been to acnemilk.com? Any ‘boils’ in groin or armpits?

          • jontiffph

            Cheese was the last thing to go and he hasn’t had any since August. He doesn’t take any protein supplements. He takes VegLife children’s multi, Vegan D3 with/ vitashine, & a vegan calcium supplement. I haven’t been to acne milk.com but will check it out. He does not have any boils on his groin or armpits – what is the significance of the boils? Thank you for your help.

          • jontiffph

            We live near seattle – hence the D supplement.

          • Dr. Danby

            The boils would suggest hidradenitis suppurativa – a deep variant of acne. Good thing to not have. It worsens with friction like in wrestling, so I checked.
            I’m not allowed to give specific advice here but it sounds like a derm would be a good idea and if this is not Malassezia folliculitis from antibiotics (ask the derm) then derm **may** (his or her decision) wish to consider an endocrinology workup. As for “Accutane”, it is now isotretinoin and the fears are, in my opinion with about 5000 cases behind me, vastly overblown. A good derm can give you amazing help with this and turn unhappy into happy and relieved (both Mom and son). Go talk it over. See if he has friends who have cleared on isotretinoin and ask them who they saw.

          • jontiffph

            Thank you VERY much!!!

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1670114924 Rita M Nicholson

            It was been several years ago that I put my son on Accutane when he severely broke out with acne. It was short lived course of treatment and consisted if chemical peels. It was the best thing I ever did fof him.

  • rick

    I have read lots over the last two years about the issues with humans eating meat and dairy whether these are low fat or not. What I am confused about is that I see popular doctors, in the media, recommending both. I can’t help but feel that they are trying to not irritate a large part of their viewer base.

  • Michelle La

    I hope you see this and can help me solve my acne issue.
    I have been eating healthy for a long long time and being a nutritionist really helps. (I am also an aspiring naturopath, so I like going as natural as possible.) I eat whole foods only (mostly plants), very little meat (lean only), avoid dairy like a plague and gluten whenever possible. I discovered that milk caused my acne when I haven’t drank it for years because I didn’t eat cereal for breakfast in college and then suddenly drank it for a week when I moved back home. I had horrible cystic acne and stopped drinking it. I solved my brother’s acne because of this discovery, but mine is still here for some reason. I notice that sleep really plays a role in my acne (earlier I sleep, the better), but I don’t know about nutrition wise. I don’t use any creams on my face, only water and some organic soap that I just recently got (doesn’t do much but at least it doesn’t aggravate my acne).
    I recently had a blood test and physical and the results are great. My LDL/HDL levels are 1:1 ratio, so I am pretty healthy I think. I really don’t know what I am doing wrong and I’m getting really desperate. Please help!

    • Dr. Danby

      I don’t get here very often, Michelle, but it may simply be the female factor. This isn’t the place to discuss your most personal things. Try to find a dermatologist who can talk to you about hormones beyond those in milk. Or go to acne milk.com and contact me through that private email.

  • JENNAE

    I don’t doubt the association but, for the record, the great majority of milk is NOT produced from pregnant cows. Two of my brother’s are diary farmers! Cows only start producing milk at time of birthing and then are milked for 2-3 years – uh, a lot like humans, eh? Of note, a pregnant cow produces less milk while pregnant, and so is not a desirable state for quality milk production. Of course some cows are indeed pregnant – no other way to reextend their lactation after a few years, but its a small volume of the total milk output. Still, I’m not a milk drinker and have no problem with the study conclusion of an association. The commentary suggesting the acne is due to the hormones of “pregnant cows” sounds like speculation, not supported science (yet?).

    • Dr. Danby

      Hi Jennae
      It sounds like your brothers are managing their herd in the old-fashioned way. Are they organic farmers? The factory farms pile one pregnancy right on top of the previous one and after 4- 5 pregnancies the cows’ volumes drop and they go to McDonalds.
      The other possibility is that they are going the other direction and are prolonging the time between pregnancies with rBST / BGH / Posilac.
      Ask your brothers for further details. You’ve got me curious now.

  • Eskil Jonsson

    As obvious as the evidence seems that last one was just an appeal to nature fallacy it seems and something to avoid citing. I was expecting the actual mechanisms of the hormones and the acne. But it appears all we have is the association.

  • Eskil Jonsson

    I wished though that I hadn’t drank so much milk during my teen years. Now – 7-8 years in – I have to take regular vitamin B5 supplements to keep them away.