Last Updated on August 7th, 2019
January is the biggest month of the year for weight loss diets. Hundreds of millions of holiday party goers around the world pack in extra calories in December and pack around extra pounds in January. Hundreds of millions of people go on calorie-restricted diets to get the extra weight off. But what about weight loss diets and acne?
It turns out that losing weight by short-term fasting is also a good way to get the everyday form of mild to moderate acne known as acne vulgaris under control. And the reason dieters sometimes clear up their skin overnight has less to do with fewer fats in the diet than it has to do with the production of more growth1 hormone in the brain.
Growth hormone, also known as GH, is a protein produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. It is well known as a stimulant to muscle growth. Bodybuilders often attempt to use (illegal) growth hormone injections. Growth hormone stimulates the production of muscle by “forcing its way in” to a muscle by activating receptors in cartilage. Once inside the cartilage, it helps the muscles respond to insulin-like growth factors (note, “insulin-like,” these growth factors are not insulin itself) and absorb the amino acids, sugar, and water they need to make themselves larger and stronger.
Growth hormone also stimulates the growth of the skin. Because it rejuvenates tissues underneath the skin at the same time, the skin smooths itself out and assumes a more youthful texture and tone.
For acne, stimulating the skin’s sensitivity to insulin-like growth factors is not by itself a good thing. These hormones stimulate the production2 of the skin oil known as sebum. If stimulating the production of sebum was all that was going on the skin, growth hormone might make acne worse instead of better. But since growth hormone also opens up pores as stimulates the production of this lubricating oil of the skin, it makes the skin smoother, softer, and more nearly blemish-free.
It’s not that hard to increase your body’s growth hormone. Just take a shot of recombinant growth hormone. You’ll need a doctor’s prescription (or you may find yourself the object of scrutiny by the authorities), and that can cost up to US $10,000 per week. Sorry, the homeopathic growth hormone won’t work for this purpose.
But you can also stimulate your body to make more growth hormone. One way is to work out. Working your muscles hard enough that they hurt—something you not do more often than every 48 hours if you are less than 50 years old or every 72 hours if you are over 50—will stimulate the pituitary gland in your brain to release more growth hormone3.
Another way to stimulate your body to make more growth hormone is to get deep sleep4. This usually means six to seven hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to allow your pituitary gland to make the growth hormone your body needs and for your body to use it. Growth hormone production plummets as soon as you wake up.
It can help to take the B-vitamin nicotinamide, although you have to be careful about taking nicotinamide if you have rosacea (it can cause flare-ups), or you can make very sure that you do not let your blood sugar levels go too high. No candy bars, no desserts, no sugar-sweetened soft drinks, and no stuffing yourself with anything.
Or you can fast.
Your brain releases growth hormone to protect your muscles when you fast5. This same growth hormone can rejuvenate your skin.
You don’t have to fast for weeks or even days to activate the pituitary gland inside your brain to make more growth hormone. About 18 hours does the trick. Assuming you don’t sleep walk in the middle of the night to make giant sandwiches or drive yourself to the all-night doughnut shop, you are already fasting 8 or 9 hours a day without even trying. Skip just one meal and it’s easy to fast for 18 hours in a row.
Unless you have a glycogen storage disease (and you’re likely to know about that already if you do) or you follow a rigid schedule for treating diabetes (rather than taking your blood sugar levels with a glucometer and using medication or insulin on a sliding scale tied to your blood sugar readings), fasting for 18 hours won’t do you any harm. It certainly won’t hurt your muscles. Your pituitary releases growth hormone to ensure that they absorb amino acids rather than releasing them.
The effects of very short-term fasting are very positive for most people. A fast of 18 hours is long enough for your body to start burning fat instead of sugar released by your liver. It’s long enough for your body to re-regulate its responses to the hormones that control your appetite. And it’s long enough for your body to make growth hormone that stimulates new muscle and rejuvenates your skin.
Unless you have a metabolic disease such as those mentioned above, you probably can fast for up to 48 hours without doing yourself any harm. The maximum benefits for your body and for your skin, however, occur after 18 hours of fasting. That’s nothing more than skipping dinner or breakfast once or twice a week.
Even if you eat more than you missed at the meal you skipped while you were fasting, by the way, eating food forces your body to make digestive enzymes all over again. This more than offsets the extra food you eat if you are hungry after skipping a meal. (Don’t eat double portions at the next meal!) You will lose more weight if you eat normally when you break your fast—and your body will be more able to process foods of all sorts.
If you put on a few pounds over the holidays and you’re having trouble with acne, too, try short-term fasting. Skipping just two meals a week may help you take off the pounds painlessly and clear up your complexion at the same time6.
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