Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), or acne inversa, is a chronic skin condition that causes painful lumps to develop under the skin. Those bumps can break open and cause lesions that weep or even get infected. There’s no cure, but your doctor can typically prescribe various types of medication to help you manage it. There are also some surgical options that may be appropriate.
Could your diet also help you manage your symptoms? You cannot magically cure your HS with your food choices. Nothing you eat is going to make the lesions clear up and disappear. That being said, altering your diet might help you keep some of the symptoms at bay or reduce the severity of symptoms when they do flare up.
Experts regularly recommend people with HS lose some weight. Why? If you carry around a few extra pounds, those pounds may be rubbing up against each other, causing friction in areas where painful lesions are more likely to develop like under the arms or in the groin.
One way to keep your weight down is by consuming fewer calories—and for many of us, that means cutting back on sugar. The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of added sugar every day—far beyond the recommended limit for women, which is six teaspoons, and for men, which is nine teaspoons. Sugar lurks in many foods that you might not even suspect (ketchup, anyone?), and sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks are notorious for containing eight or more teaspoons in a single serving. Start reading food labels and see if scaling back on your sugar intake helps you.
2. Cut back on the dairy.
You firmly believe you’re addicted to that bowl of ice cream you have before bedtime. Or you can’t imagine downing your morning cup of coffee without a liberal dash of creamer. Could you be convinced to cut back on your dairy consumption if the reduction also reduced your hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms?
Some research suggests limiting the amount of dairy you consume could have some positive benefits on HS. Dairy can raise your insulin levels, which can then lead to an increase in the production of androgens. Androgens are hormones that contribute to HS. By interrupting that cycle, you could potentially reduce the number and severity of lesions that you develop. You’ll have better sense of control over your condition if you are able to reduce or even prevent the number of new lesions that form.
3. Eliminate brewer’s yeast.
You probably know a few people who have sworn off breads and pastas. Some may have decided to go “gluten-free,” while others are just trying to cut back on their carb intake.
You might also want to take a good look at the breads and other baked goods that you eat. Many of them contain a type of yeast called brewer’s yeast that helps baked goods rise. Think: cake, pizza dough, bread, etc. It also makes an appearance in some fermented products like soy sauce, and yes, as you probably suspected from the name, beer typically contains brewer’s yeast.
There’s some evidence that reducing the amount of brewer’s yeast in your diet can also help with your HS. Proponents of a brewer’s yeast-free diet note that it’s noninvasive and could be useful as an adjunctive treatment alongside medication to help reduce or even prevent HS flares.
4. Meet your body’s specific needs.
Your own specific health history will of course help your doctor recommend the best course of treatment for you—including dietary recommendations.
For example, people with inflammatory bowel disorder are more prone to develop hidradenitis suppurativa than the rest of the general population. If you also have IBD in addition to HS, your dietary needs may be different from someone else’s. People with IBD usually need to make sure they’re meeting their bodies’ nutrient needs while minimizing the inflammation to their gastrointestinal tract. They may need to supplement their diets with additional vitamins and minerals, and some may also benefit from probiotics. Probiotics are tiny microorganisms in foods like yogurt that can help protect your intestinal tract from the “bad” bacteria that can cause harm to an already vulnerable area. Your doctors can advise you on which type of probiotic may be useful for you.