Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can be difficult to control. To reduce flare-ups, your health care provider may recommend treatments like antibiotics, hormone treatments, retinoids, immunosuppressants, or anti-inflammatory medications.
However, many people with HS feel that lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can help manage their disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are a popular anti-inflammatory supplement, but there’s no research directly proving health benefits for people with HS. Nonetheless, getting more omega-3s in your diet can be a positive step for your general health. Continue reading to find out why.
Omega-3s are an essential type of “good fat” linked with better heart health. Sardines, salmon, and other seafood products are good sources of omega-3s. Although most people think of omega-3s in fish oil, you can also find them in vegetarian sources, like ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and soybeans. In addition, omega-3 fatty acid supplements are available over the counter.
Omega-3s are of particular interest to people with various health issues, like heart conditions, because they help reduce inflammation. However, the jury is still out on whether supplements offer an advantage or if the health benefits of omega-3s simply come from a healthy diet.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s best not to take more than 3 grams of omega-3s from supplements per day, unless prescribed by your physician. Overdoing it could increase your risk of side effects like bleeding, especially if you also take prescription blood thinners. Furthermore, high-dose omega-3 supplements might upset your stomach.
Because the dietary supplement industry is unregulated, you can’t be sure that the product you buy actually contains what’s listed on the label. Doses could be inaccurate, and there may be unknown contaminants or ingredients in the supplement. Instead, getting omega-3s from natural food sources is a safer (and potentially more beneficial) strategy. But if you’re still considering a supplement, you should weigh the current evidence on HS and omega-3s.
Although there are no specific studies of omega-3 supplements for HS symptoms, theoretically, omega-3s could help reduce systemic inflammation responsible for flare-ups or correct a nutrient deficiency that’s weakening the skin or immune system. Some research has found a high intake of omega-3s to be associated with reduced disease severity in other inflammatory health conditions.
Additionally, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that may help with depression. Many people with chronic conditions like HS experience depression because of the pain and social stigma of living with the disease. Good sources of ALA include pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soybean oil, and flaxseed oil.
There are multiple contributing factors to HS, including genetics, immune dysfunction, and lifestyle factors (like obesity and smoking). As a result, different treatments may work better for different people. Nonetheless, scientists are exploring how the immune system affects HS and have observed an inflammatory cycle that leads to pain, scarring, and other complications.
There are several anti-inflammatory medications under clinical review for more targeted treatment of HS and other chronic conditions. But whether omega-3 fatty acids affect the right pathways and have a strong enough effect to make a difference in the everyday lives of people with HS has yet to be seen.
Those who take certain medications or follow a strict low-fat diet may not be getting enough essential fatty acids. Fatty acid deficiencies can contribute to skin irritation and lower the body’s ability to fight off infections (both significant concerns for people with HS).
It’s possible that someone using fat blockers for weight loss, including the diet pill orlistat (Alli or Xenical), or adhering to a low-fat or vegan diet may need omega-3 supplements to avoid fatty acid deficiency symptoms that negatively affect their skin.
If you think you may be missing out on omega-3s or other vital fats in your diet, ask for personalized medical advice from a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help create a plan to correct the deficiency. Supplements might be part of the solution, or you could modify your diet and medications to improve nutrient absorption.
Although there’s no one specific diet to help HS, members of myHSteam have described how various dietary changes helped improve their condition. One member had a positive experience with the ketogenic diet (a high-fat meal plan), sharing: “I am on the keto diet, which seems to help my HS. I believe my HS flares from eating sugars and carbs, so giving them up has helped my HS.”
Others have had better luck avoiding specific trigger foods (like dairy products or Brewer’s yeast) or going vegetarian. One member wrote, “I am still trying a plant-based diet. Also, I eliminated gluten and nightshade vegetables and haven’t had HS in two years.”
Choosing a Mediterranean diet that avoids processed foods and incorporates natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids from plants and seafood may help you better manage HS symptoms.
Fortunately, you can find omega-3s in many different eating plans. Eating a variety of primarily unprocessed foods will help give your body the nutrients it needs. Although omega-3 fatty acids may have benefits for people with HS, it is important to discuss supplements with a health care provider to determine if they are right for you.
On myHSteam, the social network for people and their loved ones living with hidradenitis suppurativa, more than 31,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand.
Are you living with hidradenitis suppurativa? Have you tried omega-3s or other anti-inflammatory supplements to help reduce skin lesions or nodules from HS flare-ups? How have these changes affected your quality of life? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.