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Hidradenitis Suppurativa Diet: Foods To Eat To Feel Better

Updated on March 31, 2023

Living with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) can sometimes mean looking for answers that aren’t easy to find. For instance, some people notice their HS symptoms tend to flare when they eat certain foods, while others believe they are symptom-free when they choose to avoid specific ingredients.

“I have been able to determine my major food trigger — will be staying away from potatoes and pork,” one myHSteam member wrote. Another said, “It will be good to share our experiences regarding food we either avoid or consume more of to manage our symptoms. My triggers are dairy, artificial sweeteners, honey, cashews, peanuts, pizza, peppers, and alcohol.”

While there is no specific diet to follow for HS, and very limited evidence1 shows that dietary modifications can assist in treatment, some researchers believe following a Mediterranean diet can reduce inflammation and HS severity.2

A Mediterranean diet typically includes lean proteins such as fish, a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Equally important as consuming these foods is reducing how much fried and processed food you consume, including sugary beverages, bacon, hot dogs, cold cuts, and diet sodas.3

Foods That May Benefit People With HS

To maintain your overall health, consider the following foods that may be beneficial when living with HS. The nutrients and foods mentioned below can be obtained via supplements. Always talk to your doctor before adding vitamins and supplements to your diet.

What are your favorite recipes? Share in the comments below.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important component of an anti-inflammatory diet. Research shows they may offer special benefits for autoimmune diseases as well.4 Many types of fish, including salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and canola oil.5

Salmon is a popular and simple fish to cook. You can roast it in the oven with lemon, salt, and pepper — or get more creative with a salmon and asparagus sheet pan recipe.6

Canned fish like sardines can be an economical alternative to fresh fish while still providing omega-3 fatty acids. Canned sardines can be added to pasta dishes and salads or even used in fish tacos.7

Walnuts make a good snack on their own and also are tasty in salads, oatmeal, pasta dishes, and baked goods.8

A tablespoon of flaxseed or chia seeds added to your favorite smoothie recipes or stirred into oatmeal or yogurt can help you get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.9,10 Chia seeds can also be used to make pudding or jam.10

Turmeric

Turmeric and its active component, curcumin, can promote anti-inflammatory benefits,11 but little is known about a direct link between turmeric and HS. However, one review of current studies showed that curcumin can be beneficial for skin diseases in general,12 so it may help protect individuals with HS from inflammation.

Turmeric can be incorporated into many recipes. You can use this spice in main dishes such as tandoori chicken with brown rice13 or cauliflower turmeric stew14 or in sides and snacks like roasted turmeric chickpeas.15 Some people enjoy drinking golden milk — a hot drink made with turmeric and milk (including nondairy milk).16 Golden milk recipes tend to call for a sweetener, but you can leave it out if you want to minimize sweetened beverages or foods.

Zinc and Vitamin D

Some small studies have found that HS symptoms improved with zinc and vitamin D supplementation, although more research on the subject is needed.17

“I take vitamin D, zinc, and turmeric with black pepper,” a myHSteam member commented. You can discuss your nutrient levels with your doctor if you are concerned. Don’t start supplementing with these nutrients before consulting a health care provider.

Vitamin D deficiency can be diagnosed with a routine blood test.18 Diagnosing a zinc deficiency is more challenging. Your doctor may order a blood or urine test if they suspect a zinc deficiency, but the results of these tests are not always conclusive.19

If you’d like to increase your zinc intake via your diet, oysters and beef will pack the biggest punch. Zinc is also found in dairy, eggs, and fortified cereals.20

The same fatty fish like salmon and sardines that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are also good sources of vitamin D. Many products are also fortified with vitamin D, such as milk — including plant-based types — and whole-grain cereals.21

Foods That May Worsen HS Symptoms

Foods that may trigger or worsen HS symptoms will vary from person to person. The best way to identify food triggers is to keep a food journal and track your symptoms.

Comment below to let others know which foods have
triggered your HS symptoms.

Some people with HS can benefit from eliminating foods like dairy, brewer’s yeast, or sugar from their diets. Always talk to a dietitian or your doctor before making major dietary changes. It’s especially important to speak with a trusted provider before trying an elimination diet or adopting a popular diet trend like the ketogenic (keto) diet or the paleo diet.

Dairy Products

One review of observational studies concluded that eliminating dairy may improve symptoms of HS for some people, but more conclusive research is needed.17 One myHSteam member shared, “My worst triggers are meat and dairy and stress mixed with heat and humidity.”

If dairy is eliminated from the diet, it’s important to consume foods with calcium and vitamin D, such as leafy green vegetables and fortified beverages like soy milk.22

Dairy alternatives are increasingly available in mainstream supermarkets. When choosing a dairy-free product, check the nutritional label for nutrients you may want to incorporate into your diet, such as vitamin D and calcium, and for ingredients you may want to limit, such as sugar or sodium.23

Brewer’s Yeast

This ingredient, found in beer and bread, may trigger worsening of HS symptoms in some individuals. One study that included 12 participants found that eliminating brewer’s yeast and wheat helped with symptoms. However, the 2019 North American Clinical Management Guidelines for Hidradenitis Suppurativa stated that there was insufficient evidence for doctors to recommend a diet excluding brewer’s yeast.17

Sugar

Higher insulin levels have been connected to HS flares, and consuming sugar can boost your insulin levels. Therefore, consuming less sugar could be helpful for people with HS.3 One member commented, “My trigger is diet, specifically sugar. If I eat too much sugar in one day, then I will get painful flare-ups the following day. It never fails.”

Reducing your sugar intake can be difficult. The American Heart Association provides several tips, including avoiding sweetened beverages like soda, checking labels for added sugars, and sweetening cereal with fruit instead of table sugar.24

Nightshade Vegetables

There are many claims that nightshade vegetables — tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers — cause inflammation and should be avoided by people with inflammatory conditions. However, there is no evidence that nightshade vegetables promote inflammation in the body.25 Nevertheless, some members of myHSteam report that nightshade vegetables aggravate their condition. “Tomatoes and peppers cause killer flares for me,” one member shared.

Food sensitivities are highly individual, so it’s worth noting if certain foods — whether they are nightshade vegetables or others — trigger worse HS symptoms. If you choose to avoid certain foods, be sure you are getting necessary nutrients through other means.26

Alcohol

Some members of myHSteam report that alcohol negatively affects their skin condition. “If I drink any alcohol, it’s worse,” one member shared. Another member wrote, “It’s been a process of coming to terms that I have to cut out alcoholic drinks at 25 years old.”

It’s possible that the brewer’s yeast found in alcoholic beverages like beer and wine may be a reason alcohol triggers HS symptoms for some people.3 However, there’s not a lot of research regarding alcohol’s effect on HS symptoms or flares.

In general, drinking too much alcohol can have negative health effects, including increasing the risk of high blood pressure and weakening the immune system. You may find that reducing or cutting out alcohol benefits your health even if it doesn’t directly affect your HS.27

Managing Weight To Improve HS Symptoms

Researchers have demonstrated a connection between HS disease severity and higher body mass index (BMI).28 In fact, one study showed that losing weight caused HS symptoms to decrease by 35 percent, with fewer sites on the body affected as well. The researchers noted that losing more than 15 percent of body weight resulted in a significant reduction in the severity of HS.29

Weight loss diets may help improve HS symptoms. If you are interested in losing weight, talk to your physician or a dietitian about which foods and meal plans might work best for you.

References
  1. Silfvast-Kaiser A, Youssef R, Paek SY. Diet in hidradenitis suppurativa: a review of published and lay literature. Int J Dermatol. 2019;58(11):1225-1230. doi:10.1111/ijd.14465
  2. Collier E, Shi VY, Parvataneni RK, Lowes MA, Hsiao JL. Special considerations for women with hidradenitis suppurativa. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2020;6(2):85-88. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.02.005
  3. Is there a diet for hidradenitis suppurativa? American Academy of Dermatology Association. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/hidradenitis-suppurativa-diet
  4. Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002;21(6):495-505. doi:10.1080/07315724.2002.10719248
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17290-omega-3-fatty-acids
  6. Sheet pan salmon and asparagus. American Diabetes Association. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/recipes/sheet-pan-salmon-and-asparagus.html
  7. Foster K. 8 easy recipes that turn a can of sardines into dinner. Kitchn. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.thekitchn.com/14-reasons-you-should-always-have-a-can-of-sardines-in-your-pantry-224570
  8. Healthy walnut recipes. EatingWell. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/19249/ingredients/nuts-seeds/walnuts/
  9. Zeratsky K. Does ground flaxseed have more health benefits than whole flaxseed? Mayo Clinic. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/flaxseed/faq-20058354
  10. Berg F, White DA. How to eat chia seeds. January 14, 2022. Food Network. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/healthy-tips/2019/07/benefits-chia-seeds
  11. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A review of its effects on human health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92. doi:10.3390/foods6100092
  12. Mantzorou M, Pavlidou E, Vasios G, Tsagalioti E, Giaginis C. Effects of curcumin consumption on human chronic diseases: a narrative review of the most recent clinical data. Phytother Res. 2018;32(6):957-975. doi:10.1002/ptr.6037
  13. Tandoori chicken with brown rice. American Heart Association. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://recipes.heart.org/en/recipes/tandoori-chicken-with-brown-rice
  14. Cauliflower, coconut oil, ginger & turmeric stew. HS Connect. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.hsconnect.org/cauliflower-coconut-oil-ginger-turm
  15. Turmeric roasted chickpeas. HS Connect. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.hsconnect.org/turmeric-roasted-chickpeas
  16. 5-minute vegan golden milk. Minimalist Baker. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://minimalistbaker.com/5-minute-vegan-golden-milk/#wprm-recipe-container-34854
  17. Sivanand A, Gulliver WP, Josan CK, Alhusayen R, Fleming PJ. Weight loss and dietary interventions for hidradenitis suppurativa: a systematic review. J Cutan Med Surg. 2020;24(1):64-72. doi:10.1177/1203475419874412
  18. Vitamin D deficiency. Cleveland Clinic. Updated August 8, 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15050-vitamin-d-vitamin-d-deficiency#diagnosis-and-tests
  19. Johnson LE. Zinc Deficiency. Merck Manuals. December 2021. Updated September 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/disorders-of-nutrition/minerals/zinc-deficiency
  20. Zinc: fact sheet for health professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated September 28, 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional
  21. Vitamin D. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Updated November 2022. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
  22. Vegan diet: how to get the nutrients you need. Familydoctor.org. Updated July 31, 2020. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://familydoctor.org/vegan-diet-how-to-get-the-nutrients-you-need/
  23. What you need to know when choosing milk and milk alternatives. Cleveland Clinic. November 11, 2021. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-you-need-to-know-when-choosing-milk-and-milk-alternatives/
  24. Tips for cutting down on sugar. American Heart Association. Updated April 17, 2018. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/tips-for-cutting-down-on-sugar
  25. Waldbieser J. Nightshade vegetables: are they bad for arthritis? CreakyJoints. October 17, 2019. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://creakyjoints.org/diet-exercise/nightshade-vegetables-inflammation-arthritis/
  26. What’s the deal with nightshade vegetables? Cleveland Clinic. September 20, 2019. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-the-deal-with-nightshade-vegetables/
  27. 6 surprising ways alcohol affects your health — not just your liver. Cleveland Clinic. March 24, 2020. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-surprising-ways-alcohol-affects-health-not-just-liver/
  28. Theut Riis P, Saunte DM, Benhadou F, et al. Low and high body mass index in hidradenitis suppurativa patients — different subtypes? J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018;32(2):307-312. doi:10.1111/jdv.14599
  29. Kromann CB, Ibler KS, Kristiansen VB, Jemec GB. The influence of body weight on the prevalence and severity of hidradenitis suppurativa. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014;94(5):553-557. doi:10.2340/00015555-1800
    Updated on March 31, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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    Alison Channon has nearly a decade of experience writing about chronic health conditions, mental health, and women's health. Learn more about her here
    Kimberly McCloskey, R.D.N., L.D.N. is a Philadelphia-based registered and licensed dietitian who specializes in weight management and behavioral change. Learn more about her here
    myHSteam My hidradenitis suppurativa Team

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