Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) is a debilitating chronic skin condition that causes boils, lesions and nodules to occur most commonly in areas of the body where skin rubs against itself such as the underarm, under the breast, groin, and thighs. The affected areas can get very swollen and inflamed during flare-ups. It can be very sore and uncomfortable for the person.
HS usually develops after puberty and is more common in women than men. Some studies show HS to be genetic but no one fully knows the cause of it.
There is no cure for HS. Unfortunately, all doctors can do is offer patients treatments to ease the discomfort and try to prevent flare-ups. This can be a long process as what works for one HS patient may not work for another. There can be a long trial and error process before the patient finds a solution that works for them. Some of the treatments can include antibiotics, steroid injections or even surgery.
Many believe that obesity or weight gain can worsen the condition and it is therefore advised that HS patients try to live a healthy life by eating a balanced diet and exercising. However, during flare-ups when the slightest of movements can be very painful, exercise is simply not an option, therefore, a diet will be important to a HS patient. In the rest of this blog post, we are going to concentrate on how your diet may help your HS. We advise you trial and error different mixes until you figure out your own HS diet.
Foods that may cause flare-ups
Some foods are known to cause inflammation. Here are some of the foods you should consider limiting:
- Cow’s milk
Foods high in sugar
- Fizzy drinks
- White flour including bread, rice and pasta made from white flour
- Biscuits and cookies
- Cakes and pastries
- Crackers and crisps
- Sweets and chocolate
- Protein bars
Foods that may help flare-ups
Foods with lots of fibre
Fibre can help balance your blood sugars and hormone levels. Eating a high fibre diet can help you to feel fuller faster and this should reduce your cravings for unhealthy foods. To help maintain a healthy weight it is recommended to replace sugary carbohydrates with some of the whole foods listed below:
- Fruit – Fresh, dried or frozen
- Vegetables – Fresh or frozen
- Lentils and beans
- Whole-wheat bread
- Whole-grain pasta
- Brown rice
- Couscous and quinoa
Foods rich in Omega-3
Foods rich in Omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation and is very good for your heart and brain.
- Fish – specifically salmon and sardines
- Flax seeds or flaxseed oil
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin or chia seeds
Diets and HS
Diets that are specifically for HS have become popular. Some HS patients have seen positive results following these diets while others report no change. Many of the diets restrict the foods we have listed as possible to cause flare-ups. It really is trial and error as everybody is different.
Many of the ‘HS’ diets can be very strict and extreme. We would suggest avoiding making drastic changes as it will be harder to sustain in the long term. To start, don’t eliminate all the food listed in ‘food that may cause flare-ups’. Start slowly and look at limiting a few while trying to introduce more from the ‘foods that may help flare-ups’ list. Over time, you can limit and add more. The key is to do it in a way that will work for you in the long term.
How to know if changing my diet is working for me?
Everyone, HS patient or not, has certain foods that do not necessarily agree with them. In your case, you may find there is a certain food that can trigger a flare-up. To find out what this food is we suggest an elimination diet. To do an elimination diet you should remove one type of food at a time, for example, dairy or simple carbs, for a period of a month or longer. Record any changes in symptoms and then when you are ready, slowly add it back into your diet. Again, record any symptoms. It would be a good idea to work with a dietician for this.
It is important to remember that you won’t see an improvement overnight. It can take a few months for improvements to show.
To make the process a little more sustainable, think of it as a lifestyle choice instead of a diet.