Weight loss. More energy. A stronger immune system. In a recipe for good health, a nutritious diet is undeniably a main ingredient. Knowing this leads people with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS)—an inflammatory skin condition characterized by painful cysts and bumps—to wonder: Can diet help manage HS symptoms too?
“There’s no one food or diet that’s going to miraculously clear this condition,” says Hirshel Kahn, MD, a dermatologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital. However, in combination with other medical treatments, certain diet choices may help to keep HS under control, he says.
Here’s how you can help heal hidradenitis suppurativa through diet—plus, what foods to eat more of, and which ones you should kick to the curb.
1. Lose weight if you need to. “The most important thing about this condition is to eat a healthy diet and keep your weight down so it’s not contributing to the severity of the disease,” says Dr. Kahn. If you’re overweight, shedding 15% of your body weight can significantly reduce the severity of your symptoms. Reduce your calorie intake, control your portions, and eat a diet full of fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
2. Eat foods that help fight inflammation. “Because HS is an inflammatory disease, eating foods that are anti-inflammatory—like turmeric, kale, nuts and fatty fish like salmon—may help,” says Dr. Kahn. Some inflammation is good, since it helps your body fight off foreign invaders, but it becomes a problem when inflammation occurs day in and day out, because it keeps your body on constant high alert. This is called chronic inflammation, and it’s been linked to many serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's. Eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties is not only good for hidradenitis suppurativa, but key for your overall health too.
3. Avoid foods that inflame (and cause weight gain). Just as some foods help combat inflammation, some foods actually promote it and should be avoided. Nixing inflammation-promoting foods from your diet, like sodas and refined carbohydrates, as well as minimizing red meat and processed meats, may help with HS symptoms. “Especially since HS improves with loss of body weight, it may be a good idea to avoid those types of foods in general,” says Dr. Kahn.
4. Eat more foods with wound-healing properties. Pumping up your intake of certain nutrients may also help to heal HS wounds. Arginine, an amino acid found in lean proteins (chicken or turkey), peanuts and pumpkin seeds, improves collagen accumulation and may improve wound healing time. Vitamins A and C and the mineral selenium may benefit wound healing too, mostly due to their antioxidant properties.
A well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet can improve your overall health, hidradenitis suppurativa included. For patients with mild HS, dietary adjustments and home treatments may provide short-term relief for HS symptoms.
However: “If the disease gets worse or is on the worse end of the spectrum, it certainly requires medical intervention,” says Dr. Kahn. If you’re interested in helping your HS through diet, talk to your doctor first to make sure you find a plan that works with your lifestyle and treatment.