Role of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris


Prof. Dr. med. Bodo C. Melnik, Eickhoffstrasse 20, D-33330 Gütersloh, Germany, Tel.: +49 5241-988060, Fax: +49 5241-25801, e-mail:


Abstract:  It is the purpose of this viewpoint article to delineate the regulatory network of growth hormone (GH), insulin, and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) signalling during puberty, associated hormonal changes in adrenal and gonadal androgen metabolism, and the impact of dietary factors and smoking involved in the pathogenesis of acne. The key regulator IGF-1 rises during puberty by the action of increased GH secretion and correlates well with the clinical course of acne. In acne patients, associations between serum levels of IGF-1, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate, dihydrotestosterone, acne lesion counts and facial sebum secretion rate have been reported. IGF-1 stimulates 5α-reductase, adrenal and gonadal androgen synthesis, androgen receptor signal transduction, sebocyte proliferation and lipogenesis. Milk consumption results in a significant increase in insulin and IGF-1 serum levels comparable with high glycaemic food. Insulin induces hepatic IGF-1 secretion, and both hormones amplify the stimulatory effect of GH on sebocytes and augment mitogenic downstream signalling pathways of insulin receptors, IGF-1 receptor and fibroblast growth factor receptor-2b. Acne is proposed to be an IGF-1-mediated disease, modified by diets and smoking increasing insulin/IGF1-signalling. Metformin treatment, and diets low in milk protein content and glycaemic index reduce increased IGF-1 signalling. Persistent acne in adulthood with high IGF-1 levels may be considered as an indicator for increased risk of cancer, which may require appropriate dietary intervention as well as treatment with insulin-sensitizing agents.