Can Certain Foods Cause Boils?

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Could dairy and sugary foods be to blame for cystic abscesses?

Boils, or skin abscesses, are infections composed of reddened, tender areas on the skin. Often, these boils form a head filled with pus, fluid made from white blood cells, bacteria and proteins. This pus can be drained by a doctor or might spontaneously burst from the abscess. A form of boils is cystic acne, which occurs when oil ducts get blocked and become infected. Scientific evidence now points to some foods as aggravating to cystic acne.

Sugar

Sugar was long pooh-poohed by the scientific community as a cause for cystic acne, but a 2009 New York Times article examines a 2007 study linking sugary foods with a high glycemic index and skin eruptions. High-glycemic-index foods quickly raise the body's blood glucose levels, flushing the body with insulin and other hormones. Scientists theorize that this rush of insulin and hormones might stimulate oil production and incite cystic acne.

Grease

Contact with grease and cooking oil from fast food restaurants often can irritate cystic acne or cause eruptions. This contact can come from working in a fast food outlet or eating a diet composed largely of junk food. Dr. Mark Hyman writes in a column for the website Huffington Post that saturated fats and processed vegetable oils such as soy and corn oils increase insulin-like growth hormones that stimulate and inflame the follicles causing acne. On the other hand, omega-3 fats from fish oil possess anti-inflammatory properties and might help calm skin.

Dairy

Hyman further reports that two large controlled clinical trials suggested that cow's milk boosted the number of people who contracted acne and the severity of breakouts. Cow's milk is thought to accelerate levels of eruption-causing hormones and insulin. It also spikes levels of anabolic hormones, the kinds athletes and bodybuilders use to become more muscular -- for example, androgens such as testosterone. Androgens stimulate the skin in a negative way, often resulting in cystic acne.

High Glycemic Carbs

Another source of cystic acne could be found in the pantry. A diet largely consisting of high glycemic foods -- white bread, white rice, pasta made with white flour, sugary cereals not made from whole grains -- has been shown to increase the severity of acne. A 2009 study published in the "Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology" showed "reasonably compelling evidence that high glycemic load diets may exacerbate acne." Again, the spike in insulin resulting from consuming high glycemic carbs causes the skin to over-produce oil, leading to breakouts.

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