What I’ve Learned: Acne and Wheat


It typically starts around 13 years old. That’s about when everyone begins to go through puberty and while there is a war zone going on inside your body, the wounds are seen on your face.

Yep, you guessed it. We’re talking about acne.

Specifically, I’m going to discuss the correlations I’ve made between acne and wheat.

Back Up

This seems like a strange conclusion to draw. Wheat and acne? There’s no way they could possibly be related. For years, while I suffered through acne that only seemed to get worse and not better, I never drew a line between the two. In terms of the average American diet, I was all about the carbs. Specifically, wheat carbs. If there was free bread at a restaurant, you could count on me to eat the whole basket to myself. Burgers? Absolutely! The more bread the better. “Bread is life” is an actual phrase I said. Pasta before races; embracing all that mumbo jumbo about carb loading.

By the time I was 20, the acne hadn’t gone away. In fact, my acne was severely worse than before. We’re talking cystic acne so painful and inflamed I had one breakout that looked as though I had been punched in the eye. This led to my obsessive desire to do whatever it took to get rid of the breakouts. Adult acne is a crime- as if becoming an adult wasn’t hard enough already.

Drug Loading

It started with tetracycline. Once that drug stopped working, we moved to minocycline. When changes weren’t seen with that, we moved to doxyclcyine. All options had been exhausted in that family of antibiotics so we moved to something more aggressive- Bactrim. With this came monthly blood tests to check my white blood cell count, monthly dermatologist visits, and a stern warning to stay out of the sun. This all came during high school, when I was competitively swimming. Outdoors.

Once I was in my third year of college, the acne came back with a serious vengeance. This was when I turned to Accutane. Was being a junior in college the ideal time to try such an aggressive drug? Absolutely not. By this point though, I had reached the end of my rope. This is what I have to do, so be it, I remember thinking when I signed the paperwork to begin the six month treatment.

For one full year after finishing Accutane I enjoyed the beauty of finally having clear skin.

Then, the acne came back. Not as aggressive, but enough so that in desperation I ditched the dermatologist and went straight to the hormone doctors themselves- gynecologists.

The Connection

It came to light that actually, after all this time, doctors were speculating that I had PCOS.

For those that haven’t heard of this, it’s poly cystic ovarian syndrome. In short, my body’s hormones are like college students on spring break. Unruly, messy, and impossible to control. With high androgen and testosterone levels in my body, my inner workings were essential forever going through puberty. Sounds like a great time, doesn’t it?

During this time, I was given a book by a friend who revealed she also had PCOS, but was working towards finding more natural ways to handle her symptoms- her most aggressive symptom being the acne.

The best piece of information picked up that is pertinent to share regarding this connection is: insulin.

Now, I’m no doctor. I wasn’t even a science major in college. But in short, insulin spikes in my system triggers a hormonal response from my body. Testosterone production is increased, leading to higher androgen levels, leading to, you guessed it, acne.

So sugar causes an insulin spike, right? Well, not exactly. Short answer, it does. Long answer, wheat is the worst culprit of insulin spike of them all.

Insulin and Wheat

Here I was, suffering from break outs again on my back and face, my body acting like a 13 year old, and I was concerned into the only source of information I can find- the somewhat misguided advice of modern medicine. I spent years on tons of different antibiotics, potentially putting my future health at risk, for a solution that merely masked the real issues that were growing just beneath the surface. (Literally).

Wheat Belly, a fantastic buy on Amazon, coupled with my holistic friend’s all natural approach to her solves for the breakouts, I figured out what could possibly be going on under the surface.

Wheat triggers an insulin response that is much higher than say, for example, eating a Snickers bar. So when I was eating all this wheat during crucial hormonal imbalance years, I was sending my body further out of wack contributing to some nasty break outs. By not stopping this eating behavior, the acne only continued to get worse. The medicine simply prevented what I would call, surface acne. So any break out that could happen due to make up being left on, overly oily skin, touching my face with my hands, was all surface acne fixed by the antibiotic drugs I took.

The cystic acne- the ones that permanently scarred my face and back, made me self conscious to go out, and hard to look people in the eye, was the hormonal acne I struggled for years with to no avail.

Next Steps

Wheat Belly points out that there is no need to eat wheat of any kind. Humans survived for hundreds of years before growing grains. Wheat is what I consider to be called a “filler” in your diet. When you feel the urge to eat, you grab crackers. Then, before you know it, you’re hungry again even though you just ate. Wheat doesn’t carry substance or nutrition to actually satisfy the needs that your body has. Therefore, you end up indulging in more calories than you need for no nutritional benefit. What’s even worse is the flip side of this: if you’re counting calories, you’re cutting down your caloric intake but not your wheat intake leading to even less nutritional value in your daily diet.

Wheat Belly makes a great point about breakfast: you start the day with a wheat heavy breakfast. I used to eat cereal every morning for breakfast. When I moved away to college I would eat eggs over easy on two pieces of whole wheat toast. 100% whole grain bread- I remember thinking what a healthy breakfast and lifestyle I was beginning to lead! How wrong I now realize that I was.

I was feeding the hormonal imbalance in my body and creating a mine field of hoops for my body to jump through that in turn punished my skin and my self- confidence.

The Results

Currently, I’m eating as wheat free as I can. This even includes avoiding beer the majority of the time. Which is hard sometimes, because I really do enjoy a good beer after a long day. However, I know that the wheat lurking inside will do far more damage to the delicate hormonal system that my body tries to regulate day in and day out.

It’s simply about making swaps in your diet and not replacing the wheat with wheat free alternatives. Think of this in terms of dairy free diets. Why replace milk with chemical ridden soy milk, just to satisfy your miss of dairy. Think of it in terms of a smoker, who quits smoking but in order to quit continues to chew nicotine laced gum. The alternatives don’t make sense and are no better for you than the reality of eating what you’re trying to replace. This is the same theory that applies replacing wheat with rice flour or tapioca flour. Just don’t do it. From one wheat free diet individual to someone who wants to venture down this path too, you’re better off going cold turkey.

Although it’ll feel like a mini withdrawal period, your body quickly makes the adjustment to no wheat. Consider these possible side effects that I have experienced since heavily cutting down the wheat in my diet to only special occasion wheat meals:

  • More energy
  • Better focus
  • Clear skin
  • Less soreness in the joints
  • Some weight loss *

It’s really worth a shot to see for yourself what changes you can make to your health.

(The Wheat Belly cookbook you can buy here, so that you can try some new recipes to jump start your new adventure).



*Note: I do not advocate to start this diet if you’re looking for a quick fad diet to lose weight. I included this in the list to showcase that these were my results from my lifestyle change. I did not attempt this or change my eating in order to lose weight.

2 Replies to “What I’ve Learned: Acne and Wheat”

  1. […] I recently wrote a post on my change away from a wheat heavy diet. If you missed the post, you can catch up here. […]

  2. […] the root of all that ails us. While I’ve seen improvements cutting down on wheat intake, and my daughter has too, I don’t think cutting it out is the answer to every one of our health problems. Don’t […]

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