Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic skin condition that leads to painful lumps that can resemble acne or boils.
In addition to taking medications, making lifestyle changes may help a person manage their symptoms. Certain foods may help or worsen symptoms in people with HS.
“Dietary changes may help remove triggers and reduce HS symptoms,” Dr. Jennifer Hsiao, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told Medical News Today.
“There has been some research in the scientific literature to help guide diet recommendations for people with HS, [but] most studies have been small. More research is needed to know how diet affects HS.”
This article breaks down the research and investigates how making dietary changes can help manage HS symptoms.
Research is limited, but there are some foods that may be helpful for a person with HS to consume on a regular basis. For example, eating foods that are high in omega-3s may be beneficial.
Foods high in omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients present naturally in foods such as salmon. Although several studies have suggested the overall health benefits of omega-3s, information on how they relate to HS is lacking.
However, according to a study from 2014, omega-3s may help reduce inflammation throughout the body. Reducing inflammation may help a person with HS experience less severe symptoms and avoid flare-ups.
In addition to salmon, a person can consume the following foods that are high in omega-3s:
- flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- other seeds and nuts
Although some foods may help some people’s symptoms, others may not be as helpful. They may even cause a person’s HS to flare up or get worse. The following are a few foods that a person with HS may want to avoid.
Refined carbs and foods that contain a lot of sugar can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Some foods and beverages that a person may wish to avoid or limit include:
- white bread and pasta
- white flour
- breakfast cereals
Consuming dairy products — such as milk, cheese, and yogurt — may also cause HS symptoms to worsen.
Some products to avoid include:
- dairy milk
- ice cream or frozen yogurt
Although evidence is lacking, some research suggests that brewer’s yeast, which is the kind of yeast used in making beer, may aggravate a person’s HS symptoms.
In a small
However, not all research fully agrees with these findings. For example, in a later review of studies from 2019, the researchers found that people only had reactions to brewer’s yeast if they had intolerances to wheat. Others may not be affected at all.
Brewer’s yeast is present in beer as well as:
- some fermented foods
- some baked goods
- some dried soups, canned soups, and cube stocks
- certain supplements
- some dips, gravies, and sauces
There is not a single diet that works best for all people with HS, but some evidence suggests that certain diets can have an impact on a person’s symptoms.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some research-backed diets that may help a person with HS include:
- Mediterranean diet: This diet focuses on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and seafood.
- Weight loss diet: People with overweight or obesity may wish to consider adopting a diet that may help them lose weight. Obesity can make HS symptoms worse.
- Sugar-free diet: In this diet, a person avoids foods and beverages containing added sugars, such as soda, baked goods, candy, and other sugary foods.
- Plant-based diet: Although a person does not necessarily need to cut out all meats, eating a diet that focuses on vegetables, beans, legumes, and fruits may help improve their HS symptoms.
- Dairy-free diet: People who follow this diet avoid or strictly limit their consumption of dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Dr. Hsiao suggested starting with the Mediterranean diet because it “is high in antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory.”
In addition to diet, a person may find that making certain other lifestyle changes can help them avoid HS flare-ups or symptoms.
Some additional changes that a person can consider making include:
- avoiding or quitting smoking
- avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
- losing weight, if appropriate
- getting regular exercise
- avoiding known food triggers
- taking supplements, such as zinc or vitamin D
- using a food journal to log foods that may trigger symptoms
Dr. Hsiao also recommended that people with HS practice patience when trying to manage their symptoms with dietary changes. “It could take weeks or months to see improvements in HS symptoms from dietary changes, so it is helpful to set expectations accordingly,” she said.
She also suggested keeping a food diary in order to monitor one’s responses to dietary changes.
What a person eats may influence their HS symptoms, either by improving them or making them worse. People may wish to try different foods to see what works best for them. Keeping a food journal to track one’s triggers can also be helpful.
Making other lifestyle changes, such as avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, can also help reduce symptoms. People with overweight or obesity may also wish to consider losing weight to improve their symptoms.
A person should always talk with a healthcare professional before starting or stopping any new diets.