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Kitava – An Island Where Acne Does Not Exist

In westernized societies such as the United States, the UK and Australia, acne vulgaris afflicts about 79% to 95% of the adolescent population. In these countries, also adult acne is extremely common, particularly among pre-menopausal women. In less developed countries acne is usually less common, and researchers have even idenitified a few apparently acne-free regions in world. One such a region is Kitava, a Pacific island located off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea. The genetic makeup of the Kitavans does not seem to be particularly special; however, the nutritional habits of the Kitavans are virtually uninfluenced by Western dietary habits and resemble a lot those of the cavemen that populated the world during the Paleolithic era — a pre-historic period of 2.5 million years that ended a about 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture.

Kitavan Diet

During a seven-week study period, Dr Staffan Lindeberg visited nearly 500 houses in Kitava and performed a general health check-up in 1200 Kitavans 10 years or older, including 300 subjects between 15 and 25 years old. As part of the examination, Dr Lindeberg evaluated whether the subjects showed signs of acne papulopustulosa, acne comedonica or acne conglobata. As a practicing physician in Europe, Dr Lindeberg is experienced in examining European patients with skin disorders, including both mild and severe cases of acne. Dr Lindeberg examined all subjects in daylight and at a close distance to ensure he would detect any signs of acne or scarring. Dr Lindeberg used the following classification to differentiate between different levels of acne:

Grade 1 acne: Open or closed comedones are present, few papules are present
Grade 2 acne: Comedones and papules are present, few pustules are present
Grade 3 acne: Comedones, papules and pustules are present, few nodules are present
Grade 4 acne: Comedones, papules, pustules, nodules and cysts are present

The results of the Kitava study were shocking: not a single papule, pustule, or open comedone was observed in the entire sample consisting of 1200 Kitavans!

The Kitavan Anti-Acne Diet

Scientists believe that the virtual absence of acne on Kitava is largely attributable to the diet native Kitavans follow. The Kitavan diet is rich in fresh, natural foods such as tubers, fruit, coconut and fish. The consumption of coffee, tea, alcohol and dairy products is close to nil. The following paragraphs describe some aspects of the Kitavan diet that may be responsible for the absence of acne on this tropical island:

Kitavans follow a low GI diet
Sample foods: sweet potatoes, yams, cassava

Commonly consumed tubers include cassava (aka manioc or yuca), sweet potato and yam, all of which rank low on the Glycemic Index (GI). As explained in's Guide to Acne-Free Skin, foods that have a low GI rating help prevent rapid spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels. Avoiding excess insulin in the bloodstream is important for anyone battling with acne as large amounts of insulin can lead to sharp increases in the levels of circulating androgen. Androgen is a male hormone that is associated with acne in both men and women as well as with PCOS and hirsutism in women.

Kitavans get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids
Sample foods: tuna, fish eggs

Another aspect of the Kitavan diet that may be responsible for the absence of acne on Kitava is the high consumption of fish and other seafood. Fatty fish and especially fish eggs are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which decrease IGF-1 levels and prevent hyperkeratinization of sebaceous follicles, thereby fighting acne. Several studies conducted to date around the world have shown a direct link between a high consumption of fish or omega-3 fats and a low incidence of acne.

Dairy products are not eaten on Kitava

The consumption of milk and dairy products is close to nil on Kitava. There is strong evidence suggesting that dairy (except for yoghurt) can induce or worsen acne symptoms in some individuals. The apparent acne-causing properties of dairy may be linked to the hormones contained in milk. These hormones include IGF-1, 5a-reduced steroids, and a-lactalbumin which may cause acne by affecting the pilosebaceous units, better known as pores. The fat content of milk does not appear to play a role as observational studies show that also skimmed milk was consistently associated with acne.

Related Articles

The Kitavan Diet — a Paleolithic Diet With a Multitude of Health Benefits

External Sources: Cordain, Lindeberg, Hurtado et al.; Acne Vulgaris – A Disease of Western Civilization; Vol. 138 No. 12, December 2002; Archives of Dermatology