Metals for Acne (Pimples)

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Several metals play crucial roles in function of human body and are found to be linked with acne/pimples formation. The zinc, copper, selenium, cadmium, lead, and Iron are the metals worth considering here. Few metals like the zinc, the copper and the selenium are good and are helpful in relieving pimples. Whereas increased blood concentration of lead and cadmium may worsen the pimples.

The zinc holds top relevance in terms of beneficial effect in acne, as well as has the best scientific backup among others, for a possible role in pimple generation.

The mineral zinc is emerging as a vital nutrient for skin health and appearance. Zinc nutritional status is crucial for skin oil gland function, local skin hormone activation, wound healing, skin inflammation control and regeneration of skin cells. The action of zinc could be best understood as it being a good anti-inflammatory element, which may play a role in the genesis of acne / pimples. We know that inflammation plays a central role in formation and development of acne.

To understand further about the role of metals in acne, one has to understand how anti-oxidants works. At any point of time there are innumerable chemical reactions going on in our body, many of which produces ‘free radicals’.  Free radicals are very unstable and react quickly with other compounds, trying to capture the electron from them. Generally, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule, “stealing” its electron. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption of a living cell.

Anti-oxidants are the compounds which donate an electron and quenches these free radicals, thus protects the body tissues from free radical driven damages. Keratinocytes (skin cells) and oil gland contain high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids and also have an outstanding ability to generate free radicals. A damage made to the skin in such a fashion may lead to genesis of pimples.

Cadmium and lead generate free radicals and it is likely that it may promote the development of acne vulgaris. Toxic heavy metals like cadmium and lead, are found naturally in the earth and become concentrated as a result of human (mainly industrial) activities.

Another metal, the copper comes in picture here as a beneficial compound. Our bodies best antioxidants are enzymes known as superoxide dismutase and cytochrome c oxidase. Both of these requires copper to function properly. Thus copper prevents free radical formation, in turn prevents pimple formation.  Of note, copper is also a part of enzymes required for formation of new skin tissue. Logically a good scar correction requires a good new skin formation, hence copper could be crucial in prevention of scar also.

Selenium also works as good antioxidant and increased daily supplementation had been shown to be associated with clearance of acne. The role of iron is still not well understood in formation and development of acne, but low blood iron concentration has been observed in adolescent acne sufferers.

Dietary sources of Zinc

Recommended daily allowance of zinc in adolescence may range from 8 mg to 13 mg. However increased daily intake may be needed for therapy of acne.

A wide variety of foods contain zinc, oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Other good food sources include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.

Phytates—which are present in whole-grain breads, cereals, legumes, and other foods—bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Thus, the bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods, although many grain- and plant-based foods are still good sources of zinc.

Dietary sources of Copper

Requirement of copper in adolescents and adults of age 14 – 18 years is 890 mcg/day and age 19 and older is 900 mcg/day.

With the exception of shrimp and oyster, all of the very good or excellent sources of copper are plant foods. Top three sources of copper are sesame seeds, cashews, and soybeans. Mushrooms are also excellent copper sources and will provide 40 to 75% of your daily need. Many of the excellent food sources of copper are asparagus, leafy greens, including turnip greens, spinach, kale, and mustard greens.

Other sources include many legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. For example, flax seeds, walnuts.

Dietary sources of Selenium

Recommended daily allowance of selenium may range from 55 mcg to 70 mcg. Seafoods and organ meats are the richest food sources of selenium, other sources include muscle meats, cereals and other grains, dairy products and Brazil nuts. However, the selenium content of soil affects the amounts of selenium in the plants that animals eat, so the quantities of selenium in animal products also vary.

Dr Rahul Nagar
Dr Rahul Nagar
Consultant Acne Care Specialist at Acne Care Clinic and Assistant Professor at Department of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprosy, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College, Indore and Consultant Dermatologist at Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Hospital Indore

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