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Are Pistachios Effective In Treating Acne?

Pistachios, along with almonds are an ancient nut. Their availability has been documented centuries ago where they were cultivated and consumed. Originating in Middle Eastern countries, they have also been unearthed in Turkey where their trees date back to 7000 BC. It is said the Romans took the crop to Europe and one emperor started its cultivation in Italy.

Pistachio is one of the most longstanding nut in our diet though it is said to be inferior to almonds, still, it works from within to produce beneficial results to our skin.

Pistachios are like almonds and despite the fact that they have been around for centuries together; their acne preventing properties have not been established. Being extremely rich in nutrients, pistachios offer both advantages and disadvantages. And for those afflicted with acne or those individuals who are allergic to them, they can precipitate adverse effects.

Comparing Pistachios And Almonds

Although rich in nutrients, both pistachio and almonds have certain ingredients that have the potential of causing unwanted side effects. For instance, both these nuts have adequate amounts of a defensive toxin called lectin, but the amount of oxalates are more in almonds. But what is of more significance is the amount of certain specific fats in these nuts. While the presence of too much omega 6 can lead to an imbalance in the immune system1 and an increase in polyunsaturated fats can lead to more free radical activity in the skin. Hence, acne afflicted individuals are advised against consuming too many almonds, despite its high vitamin E content.

On a head to head comparison of the fat profile between 100 grams of these two nuts the following were observed. Almond contained 4 grams of saturated fat, while pistachio contained 5.6 grams; the monounsaturated fat content in almonds was 33.7 grams as against 24.2 grams in pistachio and the amount of polyunsaturated fat in almond was 12.7 grams while pistachio contained 13.9 grams.

Although pistachio scored over almonds where polyunsaturated fat was concerned, but the higher content of vitamin E gave almond the edge. Vitamin E is the body’s defense against polyunsaturated fats’ acne producing affect and prevents this by stopping the oxidation process.

When almonds are consumed, the 12.7 grams content of polyunsaturated fat is almost equally converted to the same amount of omega 6. And this is almost the same with pistachio. Although the vitamin E content in almonds is higher than pistachios, still it cannot provide any defense against increased levels of omega 6.

Though having an inferior fat profile compared to almonds, the consumption of pistachios can still provide acne benefits.

Nutritional Facts

It is important to understand the nutritional value of both almonds and pistachio, especially when this nutrition is related to acne. The following comparison is between 100 grams of these nuts taking into account the various vitamins and minerals.

  • Cleansing Skin Pores – the high content of vitamin E in almonds (130%) provides better skin pore cleaning than pistachio (10%).
  • Controlling Oily Skin – in this regard, pistachio with 5% vitamin A scores slightly better than almonds with 0%.
  • Improving Skin Tone – pistachio has a slight edge in improving skin tone with 4% vitamin C as compared to 0% with almonds.
  • Improving Sleep & Stress – with a higher amount of magnesium (72%), almonds are better in this regard when compared to pistachio (30%).
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties – again almonds with higher zinc concentration (24%) scores over pistachio (15%).
  •  Anti-oxidation Properties – pistachio with 13% concentration of selenium is better off in this context to almonds with 4%.

The above comparison proves the nutritional benefits with almonds over pistachio. But when looking at minerals, pistachios compare better. Although magnesium content is less than almonds, pistachio provides a worthy source2. Having better concentrations of zinc and selenium does not necessarily translate into huge benefits as only small quantities are sufficient to show results.

Considering phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of minerals into the body, pistachio has lower concentration of it compared to almonds. This translates into better mineral absorption into the body with the consumption of pistachios. Hence even with the lower concentration of minerals in pistachio nutrients will be better absorbed than the higher concentrations found in almonds.

The content of amino acids in almonds is glycine (1525mg), lysine (624mg) and proline (1006mg) and in pistachio it is 991mg, 1196mg and 844mg respectively. These amino acids are responsible for improving skin health by forming collagen; moreover, glysine also helps in the formation of the anti-oxidant glutathione.

The important thing to remember is that amino acids are necessary for the body3. And for those who do not eat meat, this has to be compensated from plant sources. Pistachio, although with a lower concentration of glycine but with higher concentration of lysine when compared to almonds, is a good enough source.

Oily Skin And Pistachio

Scientific studies have proved that high levels of insulin cause oily skin. In a study conducted4 on 48 patients who were given 25 grams of pistachio daily, it was found at the end of 12 weeks that the levels of fasting blood sugar came down drastically while at the same time there was no effect on the sensitivity to insulin. It was also concluded that increased levels of blood sugar not only resulted in excess skin cells production which blocked skin pores but also in increasing AGE free radicals.

In another study5, where only glucose levels were taken into account, it was observed that pistachio not only decreased these levels but also showed an anti-inflammatory property. In yet another 4 month study, pistachio was given daily to 54 patients. And at the end of the study, it was observed that the levels of insulin, resistance to insulin and glucose levels all came down. This confirmed the efficacy of pistachio in treating acne and bringing down blood sugar levels.

Pistachio And Intestinal Bacterial Flora

The intestinal bacterial flora is made up of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. And under normal circumstances there is delicate balanced between the two. But if for some reason the ‘bad’ bacteria increase in number, it could lead to a number of health problems including nutrient absorption, inflammation and general feeling of ill being.

A study was conducted6 to find out the effect of almonds and pistachio on intestinal bacterial flora. Eighteen subjects were given almonds and 16 were given pistachios. And after eighteen days it was observed that both these nuts increased the number of ‘good’ intestinal bacteria in the subjects. But pistachio on the other hand, showed a higher degree of increase with no adverse effect on a common sub-strain of ‘good’ bacteria found in yogurt called bifidobacterium while at the same time also having a positive effect on a butyrate producing bacterial strain.

Butyrate is a fatty acid with a short chain. It exhibits powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is found in butter and some other foods. It has shown to improve mood swings and also has weight reduction properties by decreasing appetite. This fatty acid also has proved to increase the sensitivity of cells to insulin.

Consuming pistachio regularly enhances the production of butyrate and the resulting improvement in the health of the intestine. A study found that butyrate enhanced the absorption of nutrients from the intestines and inhibited one of the ‘bad’ bacteria, namely, candida yeasts.

All these factors like, better absorption of nutrients from the intestines, reducing inflammation and other subtle changes are indicative of better acne control.

On the other hand, fiber plays an important role as a probiotic in maintaining desirable levels of ‘good’ intestinal bacteria by acting as its fuel. Although both almonds and pistachio are extremely beneficial for intestinal bacteria but the difference in their action is due to raffinose, a carbohydrate with a short chain or it could be some other compound.

In a study7, the anti-oxidative property of grapes due to polyphenols was shown to increase the levels of akkermansia muciniphila, a bacterial strain found in the intestine. In fact this particular bacterial strain is also being linked to weight loss and exhibiting anti-inflammatory properties.

Studies have proved that pistachio has a more favorable affect on the intestinal bacterial flora when compared to almonds.

Pistachios And FODMAP

Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols or FODMAP are typical plant carbohydrates with a short chain and raffinose being one of them. The digestion of these is extremely hampered by those with weakened intestinal bacteria flora or in some extreme cases genetic conditions. This lack of proper digestion leads to acne formation even with the consumption of healthy foods.

Asparagus, onions, cabbage and more importantly pistachios are sources where raffinose a FODMAP consisting of glucose, fructose and galactose, is commonly available. It is a carbohydrate storage form and when consumed the bacteria in the intestines cannot digest it because the enzyme α- galactosidase is not available in humans. As a result there is gas formation, feeling of fullness, allergic reactions and also the formation of acne. Moreover, raffinose damages the lining of the intestines and hampers with absorption of nutrients required for preventing acne. Intolerance to this FODMAP also increases the levels of leukotoxin or 9, 10-DiHOME in the blood which leads to increase in inflammation and decrease in antioxidants levels.

Although the correlation between acne and FODMAP is still not clear but with those who are sensitive, pistachios can precipitate this condition.

Studies have proved that as a food source, pistachios are not all that favorable. In a separate study conducted to ascertain this8, one group of 20 endurance cyclists were given three ounces of pistachio daily. They were then made to cycle 75km of mountainous route. At the end of the course, the scientists found that the group who were given pistachio showed a 4.8% decrease in performance and power output in spite of having extra calories as compared to the other control group. This led the scientists to believe the influence of raffinose as the contributing factor.

The content of FODMAP in almonds is quite high but it is much higher in pistachios and also cashew nuts.

Having a compromised digestive system or irritable bowel syndrome or having a sense of what is FODMAP sensitivity is all about; it is advisable to first get the problem fixed9. And during this period, pistachios need to be avoided. Once the problem is sorted out only then should the consumption of pistachio start again. Being vigilant to one’s tolerance level will help in finding out one’s ability to digest raffinose. This is because certain bacteria in the intestine will allow the digestion of raffinose from pistachios while at the same time making it difficult to digest other FODMAP.

Final Thoughts

The above write up has established that almonds are extremely rich sources of nutrients for the body. But pistachios on the other hand are extremely beneficial for the health of the intestines. And its minerals and amino acid content, although inferior to almonds, are very good for treating acne.

Consuming pistachios should be within normal limits just like almonds especially if there are high intake foods that are rich omega 6. Take care to avoid useless sources of omega 6 like sunflower oil and stick to pistachios or other food sources that beneficial to acne prevention.

On the other hand, being FODMAP sensitive, care should be taken to avoid consuming pistachio till the problem is controlled and the intestinal health is restored. Only when the proper balance between the bacterial floras in the intestines is achieved should the consumption of pistachios be resumed.

References:

  1. Patterson E., Wall R., Fitzgerald G.F., Ross R.P., Stanton C. Health Implications of High Dietary Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2012.
  2. Hernández-Alonso P., Bulló M., Salas-Salvadó J. Pistachios for Health. Nutrition Today. 2016;51(3):133-138.
  3. Wu G. Functional Amino Acids in Growth, Reproduction, and Health. Advances in Nutrition. 2010;1(1):31-7.
  4. Parham M., Heidari S., Khorramirad A., Hozoori M., Hosseinzadeh F., Bakhtyari L., Vafaeimanesh J. Effects of Pistachio Nut Supplementation on Blood Glucose in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Trial. The Review of Diabetic Studies. 2014;11(2):190-6.
  5. Hernández-Alonso P., Salas-Salvadó J., Baldrich-Mora M., Juanola-Falgarona M., Bulló M. Beneficial effect of pistachio consumption on glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, inflammation, and related metabolic risk markers: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes Care. 2014;37(11):3098-105.
  6. Ukhanova M., Wang X., Baer D.J., Novotny J.A., Fredborg M., Mai V. Effects of almond and pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition in a randomised cross-over human feeding study. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;111(12):2146-52.
  7. Naito Y., Uchiyama K., Takagi T. A next-generation beneficial microbe: Akkermansia muciniphila. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2018;63(1):33–35.
  8. Nieman D.C., Scherr J., Luo B., Meaney M.P., Dréau D., Sha W., Dew D.A., Henson D.A., Pappan K.L. Influence of Pistachios on Performance and Exercise-Induced Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, Immune Dysfunction, and Metabolite Shifts in Cyclists: A Randomized, Crossover Trial. PLoS One. 2013.
  9. Magge S., Lembo A. Low-FODMAP Diet for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2012;8(11):739–745.
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