When my seborrheic dermatitis first got severe, I spent about 6 months eliminating foods. I initially blamed chicken for the break outs. I then stopped gluten. But my SD flare ups continued. Then I realized that stress, lack of sleep and other triggers were causing my seborrheic dermatitis to worsen.
There is no evidence that food can directly trigger seborrheic dermatitis. However, diet plays an important role in managing and preventing seborrheic dermatitis. Processed foods, dairy, sugar and foods that promote inflammation and leaky gut worsen seborrheic dermatitis.
Hear me out:
Is there a connection between diet and seborrheic dermatitis?
There is no concrete evidence to support the idea that diet triggers seborrheic dermatitis. In fact, experts are still unsure about the cause of seborrheic dermatitis and its relation with diet.
Having said that, the link between foods and seborrheic dermatitis has hardly been studied. The only significant study that showed an association between food and SD found that a diet high in fruits was associated with a lower risk of SD while a ‘Western’ diet in women was associated with more SD.
Although diet and seborrheic are related in some way, it is still unclear if one causes the other. Scientists need more research in order to determine whether or not diet plays a role in triggering seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups.
In the meantime, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you are what you eat. Your diet might not be directly triggering an SD flare up but it certainly affects how often you get an SD flare and improving your diet might even be a ‘cure’ for SD.
While we don’t know exactly why seborrheic dermatitis occurs in some people but not others, the factors most linked to seborrheic dermatitis are:
- increased sebum production i.e oily skin or scalp
- high levels of Malassezia yeast
- an abnormal inflammatory reaction to Malassezia by-products
Let’s take a look at some problematic foods you should avoid if you have SD:
Foods that worsen oily skin
Have you ever noticed your skin gets oily and your nose starts to itch when you eat certain foods? Some foods can directly trigger sebum production.
There is no scientific evidence that eating oily foods and fried foods increase sebum production. However, frying food result in oxidized fat and high levels of omega 6. Fried foods also tend to be processed and filled with sugar and other bad stuff.
Having a few fries once in a while is fine but eating fried food every day can cause damage to your skin cells, damaging your skin barrier. This leads to dehydrated skin and overproduction of sebum as a result.
Touching your face while eating fried foods or being in a greasy environment while frying this foods introduces excess oil to your skin and can actually trigger a seborrheic dermatitis flare up!
Further reading:How to stop eating junk food?
We all love our cheeses and yoghurt. Unfortunately, our cows are now fed hormones to maximize milk production. When we eat or drink dairy products, we ingest this same hormones which wreak havoc on our systems, including sebum production.
Several studies have found that milk consumption increases levels of IGF-1 which may increase sebum production. Milk also contains high levels of estrogen and progesterone, both of which can affect our sebaceous glands. In fact, dairy is one of the biggest triggers for acne.
Check out Does dairy make seborrheic dermatitis worse? for more information.
Anecdotally, many SD sufferers have sworn to stopping their daily joe has helped them control seborrheic dermatitis. While caffeine can increase cortisol and therefore, increase sebum production, there is actually no evidence that coffee consumption affects seborrheic dermatitis, either negatively or postively.
However, if you are drinking high-sugar energy drinks with caffeine or Starbucks ice-blended frapuccinos, these are full of sugar, dairy and other bad stuff that can worsen SD.
Further reading: Is coffee good for seborrheic dermatitis?
Foods that promote yeast growth
Seborrheic dermatitis is not a fungal infection but a type of yeast, Malassezia is thought to play a major role in flare ups.
While there is some evidence that a candida diet helps lower some yeast growth, Malassezia actually feeds on fat rather than sugars. Malassezia also lives on your skin and not in your gut.
Having said that, some experts recommend you reduce consumption of foods high in yeast and mold. These same foods also often have a high glycemic index which definitely increases your risk of seborrheic dermatitis.
I’m not sure that there are any foods that will directly reduce Malassezia growth but reducing your intake of these foods will be beneficial for other reasons:
All breads contain yeast.There is no evidence that the yeast in bread causes Malassezia to proliferate. However, even multi-grain breads have a high glycemic index, meaning it all turns to sugar, fast.
Cutting down on bread is not only good for your skin but for your overall health.
Some soft cheeses have mold on them but more then the mold present, cheese is thought to be a trigger food in some people. It might be the dairy component that is more problematic rather than the mold component.
Yeast is used in brewing alcohol, but not Malassezia. However, beer, wine and champagne all have high glycemic index and disrupts our sugar balance, directly leading to increased sebum production and lower immunity.
Foods that weaken your immune system and promote inflammation
Of all the theories floating around about the cause of seborrheic dermatitis, a weak immune system that is hyper-activated and uncontrolled inflammation is at the heart of SD.
High sugar foods
There are so many studies out there proving sugar suppresses our immune system, causes aging and a host of other negative effects. Yet, because we love sugar and the high it gives us, we turn a blind eye to how damaging sugar can be.
Sugar is proven to cause inflammation in our bodies. When you eat sugar, your blood glucose spikes and activates your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response), raising pro-inflammatory sytokines throughout your body.
Sugar also worsens our immune system. This study showed that dietary sugars, especially fructose, down-regulates our immunity against viruses and bacteria.
There are a few different types of sugars and it gets a little bit complicated. The take home message with sugars are:
- Avoid processed foods high in sugar e.g cookies and lollies
- Avoid baked goods like cakes and pastries
- Reduce high-carb foods like pasta, rice and breads because these turn into sugar too
Although fruits have sugar, they also contain lots of other important nutrients. Eating fruits in moderation is OK.
Further reading: Does sugar affect seborrheic dermatitis?
Gluten is everywhere! And even if you don’t have diagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance, there is evidence that gluten increases gut permeability in everyone. Leaky gut is one of the biggest causes of inflammation in the body. Imagine all those proteins and substances that have no business being in our blood stream floating around. Our immune system would be in fighting mode 24/7!
Further reading: How to heal your leaky gut
Other than the fact that processed meats are classified by the WHO as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer), processed meats also contain harmful chemicals and high amounts of sugar and salt that worsen skin problems and cause inflammation.
If you’re wondering where egg fits into this, check out: Do eggs worsen seborrheic dermatitis?
To wrap up
Specific foods don’t generally trigger a flare of seborrheic dermatitis. However, foods are very important to maintain a good immune system and eating bad foods for a long period of time can cause chronic inflammation, which is one of the major reasons why some people get SD while others don’t.
Intermittent fasting is a very good way to allow your body to heal itself that anyone can do. Read my guide on how to start intermittent fasting if you are a beginner.