Many young adults, both women and men, are plagued by the skin condition acne vulgaris, more commonly known simply as “acne”. Acne can cause serious long-lasting physical and emotional scars. Unfortunately, many parents, even these days, take the “aw, they’ll outgrow it” approach when it comes to this serious medical condition. They prefer to use “acne home treatment”. Common over-the-counter acne “remedies” include cleansers, “leave-on” products, mechanical treatments (e.g. brushes and scrubs), essential oils, etc. For those seeking professional help, acne “medicine” generally involves long-term use of prescription oral antibiotics. It has been reported that according to I.M.S. Health, an information services company, the top five acne prescriptions racked up $1 billion dollars in U.S. sales in the year 2012 alone (see-medpagetoday.com, Sept. 2013). So called “acne surgery”, which involves painful lancing of pustules and removal of accumulated fluids, is usually performed in conjunction with antibiotic administration. In most cases, treatment is only temporarily effective and hardly produces the acne free results sought after. Furthermore, the hazards of long-term antibiotic use are well known: the destruction of “good” intestinal bacteria that are an important part of our immune system; and, the development of antibiotic resistant “bugs”. Some dermatologists have gone further by prescribing acne products such as “Accutane” now believed to have serious side effects (refer to www.drugwatch.com/accutane/side-effects.php). Production of this product was discontinued in 2,009.
Zinc and Acne
Over the years, I have personally encountered much anecdotal evidence that many adolescents and adults suffering from acne benefit from oral zinc supplementation. In some cases, practically miraculous results have been reported. As a result of taking 50-100 mg. of elemental zinc orally daily, chronic acne has cleared up in these individuals in a matter of days.
Why may zinc afford effective acne treatment? First of all, acne is believed to be triggered by an increase in the production of androgen hormones at puberty which causes sebaceous (sweat) glands to enlarge. (Androgens are responsible for development of certain sexual characteristics.) That may be the case. However, what most dermatologists may be overlooking is the fact that zinc is also a major component of both the immune and reproductive systems. In the immune system, zinc is believed to reduce inflammation by inhibiting production of the enzymes and proteins responsible for its development. Zinc simultaneously stimulates production of antioxidant enzymes that specifically fight infection. (See: “Physiopathology of acne vulgaris: recent data, new understanding of the treatments” by H. Pawing et al. published in European Journal of Dermatology, 2004; 14: 4-12) My personal theory is the following: as a result of puberty, and especially in young men, the body diverts zinc away from immune protection and toward reproductive development specifically for increased semen volume, sperm production, and heightened testosterone levels. In young women, zinc plays a similar role in ovary development, and also facilitates efficient estrogen and proestrogen utilization. For these reasons, increased zinc intake during puberty may be extremely beneficial health-wise.
Despite the anecdotal evidence of zinc efficacy and a plausible physiological mechanism explaining it, all scientific theories must be confirmed using well-designed clinical research.
Consistent with this philosophy, Spanking FIT undertook an exhaustive search for relevant research. Unfortunately, the majority of studies I uncovered suffer from design weaknesses and misapplications of statistical methods common in the field of medicine. However, there are a couple of serious exceptions that support the zinc-acne hypothesis, in my opinion. They are cited below:
- “Zinc levels in patients with acne vulgaris” by Y. Kaymak published in the Journal of the Turkish Academy of Dermatology, 2007, 1 (3): 71302a.
While not proving that low serum zinc levels actually cause acne, this publication is one of very few that contains real evidence supporting that hypothesis. It was reported that 54.1 % of 47 acne vulgaris patients had abnormally low zinc levels compared to only 10% among 40 controls. Unfortunately, study authors appear to have made an annoying arithmetic error: 25 out of 47 would be 53.2%, and 26 out of 47 would be 55.3%? After correction, results would definitely be statistically significant to a very high degree.
- “Effect of zinc gluconate on propionibacterium acne resistance to erythromycin in patients with inflammatory acne: in vitro and in vivo “by B. Dreno published in European Journal of Dermatology; May-June 2005, 15 (3): 152-5.
The main purpose of this publication appears to be a disclosure of oral zinc’s ability to reduce the resistance of acne bacteria to topical erythromycin treatment. Nevertheless, hidden within the study, Spanking FIT found important evidence that oral zinc alone in the form of zinc gluconate is highly effective against acne. Claiming to use appropriate non-parametric statistical tests, researchers reported that the median difference in number of inflamed lesions (both papules and pustules) before and after treatment (30 mg. per day of zinc gluconate for 60 days) was negative 63.6%. Furthermore, results were reported with an exceptionally high level of statistical significance. Also, keep in mind that a relatively low dose of zinc was used.
Despite evidence that zinc may be an effective natural alternative to prescription drugs in treating some cases of acne, it is surprising that no clinical trials appear to have been sponsored by U.S. government bodies. A quick search that I performed of the U.S.N.I.H. clinical trials data base using www.clinicaltrials.gov turned up empty. Large scale scientifically designed clinical trials regarding health benefits of zinc dietary supplementation should be performed by sources independent of the drug industry, in my opinion. They are long overdue.
Don’t forget the importance of bio individuality
One important note regarding the use of the mineral zinc. In my opening blog, I referred to the subject of “bio individuality” (see ABOUT US, Spanking FIT, October 2014). Consequently, the outcomes are not expected to be identical for everyone. You may wish to personally explore the many different forms of zinc available (e.g. zinc gluconate, picolinate, citrate, etc.) and find the ones offering optimal benefits for you. Also, there is evidence that all minerals taken in high dosages have some toxic side effects. Proceed slowly and carefully in determining the proper dosage for you. Never take zinc on an empty stomach. This may cause you to vomit. There is also a belief that zinc can deplete copper. For that reason, you may wish to supplement your copper when taking zinc supplements.
Potential benefits of taking zinc probably outweigh the hazards: Increased sense of smell and taste, heightened sexual performance and pleasure, and an overall increase in personal health due to zinc’s anti-viral activity and ability to regenerate human cells. (It’s a fact that it has been used with great success in treating wounds and burns.) There is also scientific evidence that zinc may benefit certain hearing loss conditions (see: “Nutrition & Noise-Induced Hearing Loss”, Spanking FIT, Oct. 2014). For some young acne sufferers, their dream of having a clear complexion like the attractive couple above may also become a reality.
Featured photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/136920307@N06/28085238574/in/photolist-