What to Eat When You Have Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Dietary Recommendations for Better Management

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), sometimes called acne inversa, is an inflammatory disease of the skin. It is a chronic condition that causes boil-like growths and abscesses in areas where skin may rub together. This includes areas like the armpits, genitals, and anal area.

Women are more likely to develop hidradenitis suppurativa than men. In the United States, Hispanics, African Americans, and biracial people are more likely to develop the condition than Whites.

The exact cause of hidradenitis suppurativa is unknown, but being overweight is a risk factor for developing the condition. It is believed that diet plays an important role in the severity of the condition, as well.

There is no singular diet recommended for people with hidradenitis suppurativa and research in this area remains limited. However, some studies suggest diets low in sugar, processed foods, and dairy and high in plants and anti-inflammatory foods may be beneficial. The Mediterranean diet is a diet that combines all of these health-promoting foods and may be helpful for those living with hidradenitis suppurativa.

In this article, we'll discuss how a Mediterranean diet may help manage hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms and ways to put the eating plan to work for you.

Mediterrean diet platter


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Benefits

Although there is no singular diet recommended for hidradenitis suppurativa, what you eat can influence the severity of your symptoms. Certain foods, including sugar, dairy products, and highly processed foods, have been shown to increase inflammation within the body, which may make symptoms worse.

On the other hand, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, has been shown to reduce inflammation, which may, in turn, lessen flare-ups of hidradenitis suppurative.

There is some limited evidence that the Mediterranean diet, which favors anti-inflammatory fish, olive oil, nuts, and fruits and vegetables, may be effective at managing hidradenitis suppurativa. One study found a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and disease responsiveness, with those eating the most anti-inflammatory foods having the fewest symptoms. More research is needed to confirm the results.

How It Works

On the Mediterranean diet, you'll avoid processed carbs and limit dairy products and red meat. Instead, you'll fill up on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (like farro, whole wheat berries, and multigrain bread), and healthy fat sources (such as olive oil, olive, almonds, walnuts, avocados, and fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, and cod). You'll also enjoy moderate amounts of lean sources of protein like chicken, fish, and eggs. Red wine and dark chocolate are also on the menu.

One-Day Meal Plan on the Mediterranean Diet

Following a Mediterranean diet may be easier and more delicious than you think. Here's a sample day to get you started:

  • Breakfast: Start your day with two slices of whole-grain toast; top with half an avocado, smashed, and a handful of chopped cherry tomatoes.
  • Lunch: Try a Greek-inspired salad with a base of mixed greens, tuna, chopped tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Snack: Cut up some veggie sticks and dip them in hummus.
  • Dinner: Try a shrimp stir-fry with mixed vegetables; serve on a bed of brown rice.

The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle change and should be followed daily. Eating a Mediterranean diet consistently every day may help reduce flare-ups in hidradenitis suppurativa.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods
  • Fresh fruit


  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Nuts

  • Legumes

  • Olive oil

  • Fish (in moderation)

  • Poultry (in moderation)

  • Cheese and yogurt (in low to moderate amounts)

  • Wine (in low to moderate amounts)

  • Eggs

Noncompliant Foods
  • Soda

  • Hot dogs

  • Chicken nuggets

  • Bacon

  • Lunch meat

  • Refined carbohydrates

  • Added sugar

  • Sodium

  • Candy

  • White bread

  • Sausages

Cooking Tips

Starting to eat a Mediterranean diet can be intimidating at first, especially if you're not used to cooking with lots of fresh produce, olive oil, and fish. But these tips can help you on your journey:

  • Drizzle on olive oil. Switch your cooking fats to olive oil whenever possible, and drizzle the oil on salads and steamed vegetables for extra flavor. This oil contains monounsaturated fat that helps dial down inflammation and improve satiety.
  • Prep produce in advance. Studies show having precut and washed fruits and veggies in the fridge helps people eat more of these antioxidant-rich foods. Consider spending an hour on Sunday chopping carrots, peppers, and celery for easy grab-and-go snacks, roasting your favorite vegetables to add to soups, salads, and omelets, and cleaning fruit for quick and healthy sweet treats.
  • Stick to whole grains: Swap out refined breads and pasta for hearty whole-wheat pasta and opt for whole-wheat multigrain bread and brown rice when possible. Also make a point to try other whole grains, such as farro, quinoa, barley, wheat berries, and oats. These grains are higher in fiber, which helps to slow the release of blood sugar into the blood.
  • Use meat as a condiment. Small amounts of bacon or beef can pack a lot of flavor. Use just a little to make stews, stir-fries, or sauces extra savory, and bulk up the meals with veggies and whole grains.
  • Experiment with flavor. Try a new vegetable every week, and switch up your spices and dressings to add variety and prevent boredom.

Supplements to consider

Research suggests that certain supplements may be helpful for people with hidradenitis suppurativa, but always check with your health care provider before taking a supplement. Supplements shown to help with hidredenitis suppurative include:

  • Zinc: This mineral may be beneficial in reducing flare-ups, but research in this area is limited. Too much zinc can cause harmful side effects, however, so it is important to talk with your doctor before taking this supplement.
  • Vitamin D: This nutrient is known to help modulate inflammation in the body. Studies show supplementation may be helpful for patients with hidradenitis suppurative, especially for those who have low levels of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin B12: Studies have shown a correlation between vitamin B12 intake and fewer hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms, but more research is needed to determine why this might be the case.

In addition to vitamins and minerals, there is some promising research being done to explore the role of probiotics (live microorganisms that may promote gut health) in managing symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions like hidradenitis suppurativa. However, more studies are needed to recommend probiotics.

Considerations

General Nutrition

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world by dietitians and health organizations.

As well as being potentially beneficial for those with hidradenitis suppuravita, the Mediterranean diet is also believed to improve heart health, balance blood sugar, foster better brain function, and promote weight loss.

Following a Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of:

  • Metabolic syndrome (a group of diseases leading to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke)
  • Some cancers
  • Depression
  • Frailty in older adults

Practicality

Implementing the Mediterranean diet doesn't need to mean spending lots of money or cooking complicated meals. The focus of the Mediterranean diet is on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, lean sources of protein and healthy fats.

A good place to start is making some simple swaps to include foods that are encourages on the Mediterranean diet, including:

  • Swapping out butter for olive oil on bread
  • Switching to whole grain bread
  • Swapping out beer for wine in moderation
  • Replacing soda with water
  • Beginning or ending every meal with a salad to increase your intake of vegetables

The Mediterranean Diet vs. Other Diets

There is no evidence to suggest a single diet, including the Mediterranean diet, will be beneficial for everyone with hidradenitis suppurativa. However, studies do show that the following diet strategies may be effective at reducing symptoms in people with the condition:

  • Reducing intake of sugar and high glycemic carbs
  • Avoiding or eliminating dairy
  • Cutting out brewer's yeast (found in beer and bread)
  • Increasing intake of plants, include fruits and vegetables

The Mediterranean diet makes it easy to incorporate these strategies while also increasing intake of other known anti-inflammatory foods, such as olive oil, fish, and whole grains. However, any other diet which also incorporates these strategies may also be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

Hidradenitis suppurativa can be an uncomfortable, painful, and potentially embarrassing condition. The exact cause of the disease is unknown, but a number of factors like body weight and diet may play a role.

If you or a loved one are struggling with hidradenitis suppurativa, adopting a Mediterranean diet may be a powerful step you can take in managing your symptoms and getting back to feeling more confident and comfortable in your own skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which foods trigger hidradenitis suppurativa?

    Every person with hidradenitis suppurativa is different and will react differently to foods. There is limited research into what exactly causes hidradenitis suppurativa or what contributes to flares. There is a growing body of evidence that diet does play a role, and dairy, processed foods and brewer's yeast may exacerbate the symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa.

  • What does turmeric do for hidradenitis suppurativa?

    Turmeric can be useful in reducing cellular inflammation. As such, it may reduce symptoms in people with hidradenitis suppurativa. However, the evidence is limited. More research is needed to determine turmeric's efficacy in treating or preventing hidradenitis suppurativa.

  • What’s the link between obesity and hidradenitis suppurativa?

    Hidradenitis suppurativa can affect anyone regardless of weight, and a number of factors may contribute to the development of the condition.

    However, being overweight is believed to be a potential trigger for the disease. A 2014 study found that hidradenitis suppurativa was more prevalent in people who are obese. The same study also found that weight loss of more than 15% body weight was associated with a lessening of severity of the disease.

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