Possible Benefits of Fish Oil for Seborrheic Dermatitis

Numerous sources suggest fish oil can be used as a complementary treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. This article reviews the evidence for its use and highlights the relevant research findings from related skin conditions.

Literature review takeaway: Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, increasing the consumption of omega 3 sources, such as fish oil, can help combat inflammation and in-turn may help reduce the severity of seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. If utilizing fish oil, the importance of selecting a high-quality product must be emphasized.

What is fish oil

Fish is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids; specifically DHA and EPA. These fatty acids are what are known as essential fatty acids. Meaning they are required for health, but can not be synthesized by the body. Thus, they need to be obtained from the diet.

Thanks to modern production techniques, you can now either obtain your requirement the good old fashion way by eating whole fish or by taking purified fish oil.

Fish oil typically comes from small fatty fish such as capelin, Norway pout, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies [1]. However, advances in fish farming have also resulted in a rise in fish oil production from large species such as salmon.

Being derived from different varieties of fish, the oil itself can have distinct properties and fatty acids profiles (corresponding to the fish it was derived from). Additionally, differences in the production and quality control processes can impact the final product.

For example, 2.5 grams of herring oil contains roughly the same quantity of omega 3 fatty acids as does 1 gram of anchovy oil [1].

Banner stating that omega 3 concentrations differ among fish oils - image shows a small 1 gram capsule of anchovy oil in comparison to a 2.5 gram capsule of herring oil

Ideally, quality fish oil should have a high relative omega 3 content, come from a healthy fish source, and be produced in a production process that reduces the amount of oxidation. The worst thing you want is to be taking fish oil capsules that have gone rancid, as this would greatly offset and potential benefits.

One way to ensure you’ve obtained a quality fish oil is by sticking to reputable producers. Another method is to taste the fish oil. If the fish oil is of high quality, it shouldn’t taste overly bitter or acidic.

Benefits of fish oil

The numerous benefits of omega 3 fatty acids are well documented throughout the medical literature. Detailed discussion regarding the effect of omega 3s can be found in the dedicated article on omega 3 fatty acids.

The most established of these benefits relates to omega 3s beneficial impact on inflammation. And this benefit specifically, has noted to aid a variety of health conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disorders) [2].

A few of the other specific benefits include:

  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Reduced blood pressure

But if you want to delve further into this topic, please see the article linked above.

Fish oil use in seborrheic dermatitis

When it comes to seborrheic dermatitis, there aren’t any specific studies examining how increasing omega 3s can impact the condition.

Benefits for many related skin conditions

However, there are several studies which have shown increasing omega 3 consumption can benefit a variety of other commonly related skin conditions.

While many of these studies are relatively small in scale and the evidence isn’t conclusive, the consensus seems to be that omega 3 supplementation benefit most inflammation-driven skin conditions.

Atopic dermatitis

  • Daily supplementation with fish oil containing 3.7 grams worth of omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy can reduce the risk of atopic (allergic) conditions in infants [3]
  • Daily supplementation with 10 grams of fish oil (containing 3 grams of omega 3 fatty acids) can improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis [4]
  • A lipid infusion containing 10ml of fish oil showed a significant beneficial impact on the clinical severity of atopic dermatitis (interestingly, omega 6 showed a more sustained benefit for study participants) [5]

Acne

  • In an animal model (mice), fermented fish oil showed a superior ability to suppress skin inflammation [6]
  • Daily consumption with fish oil containing roughly 2 grams worth of omega 3 fatty acids showed significant benefit in individuals with moderate to severe acne (small study) [7]
  • Daily consumption of fish oil containing 2 grams worth of omega 3 fatty acids over 10 weeks, showed significant improvement in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne [8]

Psoriasis

  • Daily consumption of 10 fish capsules (containing 1.8 worth of EPA) for 12 weeks lead to an improvement in skin redness, plaque formation, and itch [9]
  • Daily consumption of a lipid infusion containing 4.2g worth of omega 3 fatty acids produced a benefit in roughly 40% of study participants after 6 weeks [10]

Proposed benefits for seborrheic

The primary symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis are understood to be the result of a heightened immune response to the by-products of Malassezia yeasts residing on the skin surface.

More specifically, our skin produces sebum for its protection. Malassezia yeast are a natural part of these sebum rich areas and present on the skin of practically all humans. For those of us unfortunate enough, some of the by-products of these yeasts cause an immune response (similar to an allergic response) and create the symptoms we collectively know as seborrheic dermatitis.

And while the above explanation is the most common, there is still much debate and uncertainty that remains, with several alternative/conflicting theories put forward (these are all discussed in the more thorough article reviewing the possible causes of seborrheic dermatitis).

Despite the lack of consensus, one feature common among all explanations is that seborrheic dermatitis is characterized by a heightened inflammatory response.

Since we’ve seen that a general benefit exists for most skin conditions featured run-away inflammation, it’s reasonable to presume fish oil would benefit seborrheic dermatitis. Even if fish oil doesn’t necessarily tackle the issue head-on, there is a good chance that by reducing overall inflammation, the severity of symptoms could be reduced.

Banner stating that inflammation is a major part of seborrheic dermatitis that stands to benefit from increased omega 3s - image shows a diagram of seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp and the inflammation present together with a small circle that contains fish oil capsules in the shape of a small fish

Based on this argument, it’s difficult to understand why fish oil hasn’t been evaluated in greater detail for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis.

The only vague hints we have come from to earlier studies evaluating the blood levels of overall essential fatty acids in affected individuals [11, 12]. And even though clear differences were noted in affected individuals (both adults and in children), there were no follow-up studies to examine the potential benefits of supplementation (in the children study, it was noted that remission of symptoms coinciding with an improvement of essential fatty acid levels).

Diagram noting that increasing consumption of fresh fatty fish may be of greater benefit than fish oil supplementation - primary image shows a blob of fish oil in the shape of a fish

Additional notes

  • Some evidence suggests that fish oil consumption together with rich sources of omega 6 fatty acids can increase inflammation [13]
  • Most research from the past several decades has highlighted the importance of maintaining a good ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s is the most important factor [14]
  • Recent research suggests that the ratio may not be as critical as simply maintaining adequate omega 3 fatty acids [15]
  • Consumption of fresh fatty fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids may be a better strategy then supplementation with fish oil capsules; as it replaces other less favorable sources of protein in the diet and also provides a wide variety of other micronutrients
  • Depression is often an integral part of seborrheic dermatitis and omega 3 fatty acids are known to benefit mood and mental health [7, 16]
Banner indicating that the mental health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids can be helpful in depression related to seborrheic dermatitis - image shows a doctor holding a plastic white brain in one hand and a fish oil capsule in the other

Conclusion

There is no direct evidence to support the use of fish oil in seborrheic dermatitis. Nonetheless, individuals with the condition are likely to benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of increasing their omega 3 fatty acid intake.

References

  1. Ian H. Pike, Andrew Jackson "Fish oil: production and use now and in the future" Wiley 22.3 (2010): 59-61. doi.org
  2. Trevor A. Mori, Lawrence J. Beilin "Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation" Springer Science and Business Media LLC 6.6 (2007): 461-467. doi.org
  3. Janet A Dunstan, Trevor A Mori, Anne Barden, Lawrence J Beilin, Angie L Taylor, Patrick G Holt, Susan L Prescott "Fish oil supplementation in pregnancy modifies neonatal allergen-specific immune responses and clinical outcomes in infants at high risk of atopy" Elsevier BV 112.6 (2003): 1178-1184. doi.org
  4. A. BJudRNEBOE, E. SudYLAND, G-E A. BJudRNEBOE, G. RAJKA, C. A. DREVON "Effect of n-3 fatty acid supplement to patients with atopic dermatitis" Wiley 225.S731 (2014): 233-236. doi.org
  5. A Schmoldt, H F Benthe, G Haberland "Digitoxin metabolism by rat liver microsomes." Biochemical pharmacology 24.17 (1976): 1639-41. PubMed
  6. Sang-Chul Han, Gyeoung-Jin Kang, Yeong-Jong Ko, Hee-Kyoung Kang, Sang-Wook Moon, Yong-Seok Ann, Eun-Sook Yoo "Fermented fish oil suppresses T helper 1/2 cell response in a mouse model of atopic dermatitis via generation of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T cells" Springer Science and Business Media LLC 13.1 (2012): 44. doi.org
  7. Golandam Khayef, Julia Young, Bonny Burns-Whitmore, Thomas Spalding "Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne" Springer Science and Business Media LLC 11.1 (2012): 165. doi.org
  8. A Schmoldt, H F Benthe, G Haberland "Digitoxin metabolism by rat liver microsomes." Biochemical pharmacology 24.17 (1976): 1639-41. PubMed
  9. S BITTINER "A DOUBLE-BLIND, RANDOMISED, PLACEBO-CONTROLLED TRIAL OF FISH OIL IN PSORIASIS" Elsevier BV 331.8582 (2003): 378-380. doi.org
  10. A Schmoldt, H F Benthe, G Haberland "Digitoxin metabolism by rat liver microsomes." Biochemical pharmacology 24.17 (1976): 1639-41. PubMed
  11. A Tollesson, A Frithz, A Berg, G Karlman "Essential fatty acids in infantile seborrheic dermatitis." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 28.6 (1993): 957-61. PubMed
  12. S Passi, A Morrone, C De Luca, M Picardo, F Ippolito "Blood levels of vitamin E, polyunsaturated fatty acids of phospholipids, lipoperoxides and glutathione peroxidase in patients affected with seborrheic dermatitis." Journal of dermatological science 2.3 (1991): 171-8. PubMed
  13. Sanjoy Ghosh, Elizabeth M. Novak, Sheila M. Innis "Cardiac proinflammatory pathways are altered with different dietary n-6 linoleic to n-3 α-linolenic acid ratios in normal, fat-fed pigs" American Physiological Society 293.5 (2007): H2919-H2927. doi.org
  14. Artemis P. Simopoulos "Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Ratio and Chronic Diseases" Informa UK Limited 20.1 (2004): 77-90. doi.org
  15. A Schmoldt, H F Benthe, G Haberland "Digitoxin metabolism by rat liver microsomes." Biochemical pharmacology 24.17 (1976): 1639-41. PubMed
  16. Fereidoon Shahidi, Homan Miraliakbari "Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Health and Disease: Part 2—Health Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Autoimmune Diseases, Mental Health, and Gene Expression" Mary Ann Liebert Inc 8.2 (2005): 133-148. doi.org
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About Michael Anders

After being affected by seborrheic dermatitis, I have made it my goal to gather and organize all the information that has helped me in my journey.

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