Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) is an inflammatory disease that affects the skin, causing boil-like lesions and abscesses to form in delicate areas of the body. It can be very debilitating and has a high impact on your quality of life. The exact cause is unknown, but HS is more than skin deep. Inflammation and the immune system play a role, although, it is not very well researched. It is suggested in research that diet may contribute to inflammation and HS symptoms in some cases, it is just not fully understood how or why.
Everybody is different, and what works for one person, may not work for another. However, when you look at the most common dietary changes made by people with hidradenitis suppurativa, you will see a lot of similarities.
The most commonly used diets are:
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Focuses on removing known pro inflammatory foods such as refined sugars and carbs, processed meat and trans fats. And including known anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean white meat and fish, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds.
The Paleo Diet
Which is based on eating only foods that were available to “cavemen”. For example, fresh meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and offal. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and removing grains, dairy, refined sugar, and oils.
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet
Which is like a super strict version of the paleo diet. It focuses on eliminating all processed foods and a lot of others. You can include meat, offal, fish, poultry, vegetables, and small amounts of fruit. Refined products, eggs, dairy, grains, certain spices, and sugars are all avoided. Gradually, certain foods can be reintroduced into the diet.
The Plant-Based Diet
Removes all animal-based products from the diet – no eggs, dairy, meat fish or poultry. Lots of wholesome plant-based food is included: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and pulses make up the plant-based diet.
The Mediterranean Diet
This is similar to the anti – inflammatory diet and there is some research to show that this diet is effective in reducing HS symptoms. It includes health fats like olive oil, avocados, and fish. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, grains, and pulses.
The Yeast Elimination Diet
Also grounded in research, has shown to improve HS symptoms. It was shown that eliminating Brewer’s yeast from the diet improved HS in a small study. Yeast is found in all bakery products, vinegar, black tea, beer and wine, and fermented cheese. It is also found in lots of snack foods, so make sure to read the labels.
There is so much to take in here, I know. But there are lots of similarities in each of these diets that you can apply to your own diet at a pace that suits you. The main points are:
- Increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat. If you typically eat 3-4 portions, see if you can increase it by 1 or 2. Substitute one processed item, like potato fries, for a healthier option, like some apple wedges and peanut butter, or a piece of fruit. Or swap a readymade lunch, for some chunky vegetable soup. Gradually increase your fruit and vegetable intake and your body will thank you for it!
- Eat whole foods – swap white bread, rice, and pasta for whole grain options. You will barely notice the difference, but your digestion will!
- Reduce the amount of red meat you eat. Even once or twice a week, try going veggie, or swap out a burger / steak for a piece of fish or lean meat. Also try to choose fresh meat and avoid heavily processed meat products.
- Try to reduce the amount of dairy products you eat. Again, even a simple sway, like using oat milk instead of dairy, or olive oil instead of butter can make a difference.
- Reduce processed sugar. The simplest way to do this is to avoid sugary drinks and snacks. Or reduce the amount of sugar you take in your coffee. It all adds up and little changes can add up to a bid difference.
- Try to reduce the amount of processed food you eat. Avoid convenience foods like ready meals and “instant” dinners. There are so many nutritious dishes that can be cooked just as quickly, like an omelette, or some grilled fish with vegetables. Healthy food can be convenient too if you are organised and most importantly CHOOSE to buy them. It is up to you the kind of foods you buy. And even frozen vegetables are great quality these days. There really is no reason to choose convenience food or ready-made dinners.
- Finally, get to know your triggers – this might be dairy, or sugar. It could be potatoes or coffee, or maybe stress or smoking. Keep a diary or your flare up and try to write down what you had eaten or other factors that you think might be contributing to the flare up. Over time, you may notice a trend and be able to eliminate that trigger from your diet or manage it better.
If even this is too much to think about right now, there are some very simple swaps you can make to get you started:
- Once a week, swap regular potatoes for sweet potatoes. Oven bake instead of frying.
- In the morning, swap sugary cereals and juices for wholesome overnight oats.
- Increase the amount of water you drink – People with HS have wounds that constantly drain, and we need to stay hydrated.
- If you are getting take-out, order steamed rice instead of fried rice, noodles, or fries.
- Swap potato chips for homemade popcorn or nuts
- Swap fruit yoghurt, to natural yoghurt and add your own fruit
- Batch cook some healthy stews, soup or a curry and freeze a few portions, so you have them ready to go.
Small adjustments like this will gradually lead to bigger changes and an improvement in your health. You will begin to look at your diet and see what other changes you can make for the better, and like I said earlier, your body will thank you for it!