Optimal Seborrheic Dermatitis Diet

This article attempts to determine the optimal diet for seborrheic dermatitis. Medical literature on the subject is evaluated, analyzed, and blended together to form an action based approach to help jumpstart your transformation from within.

The goal is to shift away from the pitfalls of anecdotal dietary advice often encountered while searching online and instead evaluate the topics in a more methodological and critical approach.

Throughout the writing attempts are made to stick to reputable sources of information, the general lack of this sort of information requires certain assumptions to be made. Try to stick to rules of critical thinking and feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comments section.

Thank you for reading and hope this article proves useful for you.

What the Internet and Online Forums Commonly Suggest

Looking online for the answer is going to bring up a vast amount of conflicting advice and evidence. From this advice, the items that come up most often include:

  • Avoid
    • Dairy
    • Gluten
    • Nightshades
    • Simple sugars
  • Consume
    • Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats (oils such as hemp seed, borage, etc)
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Coconut oil

But can it really be that simple? And if that was the case, why are there so many people that continue to struggle despite the availability of the above information?

The Vast Array of Specific Diets for Seborrheic Dermatitis

In addition to the above advice, you’re also likely to find a variety of specific diets that claim to be able to cure seborrheic as fast as a Japanese bullet train. And during my time research seborrheic dermatitis, the following diets seemed to come up on numerous occasions:

  • Ketogenic diet
  • Low carbohydrate diet
  • Specific carbohydrate diet
  • Lectin avoidance diet
  • Anti-candida diet

Unfortunately, just looking at the list reveals that these diets can contradict one another and this makes it highly unlikely that there is a simple answer for all of us in this area.

Instead of searching for a single answer, perhaps our time is best spent evaluating each option, understanding the principles behind it, and then making the decision whether or not we should even be considering it.

Previous writing on this topic
A previous article presented several specific examples of individual cases where people were able to reduce the severity of their seborrheic dermatitis symptoms through diet. However, it’s questionable if this type of analysis is really all that beneficial for individuals as it could simply add to the confusion.

What the Research and Medical Literature Says on This Subject

Moving away from anecdotal evidence and digging through the medical literature on the relationship between diet and seborrheic dermatitis does leave a lot to be desired.

First, there are two papers that are well aged and primarily theoretical/speculative in nature. While they do not come to any specific conclusions, these papers do shed some light on what considerations and theories researches from the past decade have had.

Then, there are two more recent questionnaire-based papers that attempted to determine if there are any specific dietary patterns associated with seborrheic dermatitis. One of these studies was quite large and did make some potential associations, while the other was relatively small and was unable to establish any relationship.

All four of these papers are briefly outlined for your reference:

Blood Levels of Vitamin E, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids of Phospholipids, Lipoperoxides and Glutathione Peroxidase in Patients Affected with Seborrheic Dermatitis [1]

  • Published in 1991 by a group of researchers from Italy
  • Studied a total of 90 people, broken down into three groups: 30 healthy volunteers, 30 HIV positive seborrheic dermatitis sufferers, and 30 HIV negative seborrheic dermatitis sufferers
  • Examined the level of fatty acids, vitamin E (antioxidant), lipoperoxides (oxidized fatty acids), and erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase (antioxidant) in the blood each participant
  • Both seborrheic dermatitis groups showed:
    • Decreased antioxidants: Vitamin E and erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase levels both lower
    • Decreased PUFA: dihomo-γ-linolenic acid, arachidonic acid, and docosahexaneoic acid
    • Increased saturated fatty acids and monosaturated fatty acids: palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid
  • No difference in the amount of lipoperoxides was noted
  • Researches concluded that:
    – There appear to be clear abnormalities in PUFA synthesis among individuals affected by seborrheic dermatitis
  • These abnormalities are unlikely related to diet, but to the desaturase enzymes responsible for conversion
    • Reduced level of the two major antioxidants measured could be due to the lower of PUFA, but also possibly related to the diminished output of pancreatic enzymes, selenium deficiency, excessive breakdown, or excretion
  • Replacement of the deficient PUFA by saturated fatty acids in the epidermis could very well be the underlying issue leading to the symptoms collectively known as seborrheic dermatitis

Possible Nutrient Mediators in Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis [2, 3]

  • A two-part paper published in 1988 by a group of researches from Israel
  • The first part provides a general introduction to both conditions and describes the primary treatments that existed at that time
  • The second part focuses on the possible nutrients that may be involved in the pathogenesis (progression) of the two conditions
  • Researches noted the following:
    – Striking similarity is seen between general EFA deficiencies and these two skin conditions

    • Supplementation with EFA has not yielded favorable results and hints that either this deficiency is not substantial enough or other related issues are more important
    • While individuals affected by psoriasis do not appear to be deficient in Vitamin A, their blood and skin have reduced beta carotene levels
    • Other vitamins (E, D, B1, C) could potentially play a role, but the authors did not provide any specific evidence or data
    • While Biotin (B6) deficiency is known to play a role in infantile seborrheic dermatitis, its role in adult cases has not been proven
      • Importance of B6 and B2 in the desaturation of PUFAs could be an area for future research, but a deficiency in neither seborrheic or psoriasis has been demonstrated
      • Iron and zinc have an impact on PGEs concentration (raising it) and could also have a role, but again specific evidence of their role is lacking
  • In the end, the paper did not arrive at any specific conclusions or insights that. Instead, it alluded to the need for further research in the areas mentioned above

Association between Diet and Seborrheic Dermatitis: A Cross-Sectional Study [4]

  • A paper published in 2018 by a group of researchers from the Netherlands
  • Reviewed data from the Rotterdam Study (a long term study established in 1990)
  • Total of 4,379 participants evaluated, 636 of which faced seborrheic dermatitis
  • Attempted to establish dietary patterns most associated with seborrheic dermatitis in the middle-aged and elderly populations (average age as 68.9 years)
  • Dietary patterns were categorized into four groups based on the primary food staples; western diet (meat, potatoes, alcohol), fruit, vegetable, and high fat
  • The following insights were made:
    • No relationship between dietary antioxidants and seborrheic dermatitis could be established; a relationship researchers anticipated to find
    • Females consuming a western diet showed a higher incidence of seborrheic dermatitis
    • Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits showed a lower incidence of seborrheic dermatitis
    • Neither a high-fat diet nor a vegetable-rich diet showed any relationship to seborrheic dermatitis rates

Relationship Between Diet and Seborrheic Dermatitis [5]

  • A paper published in 2018 by a group of researchers from Turkey
  • 101 total participants, 51 with seborrheic dermatitis issues
  • Dietary intake was separated into 21 categories: meat, processed meat, chicken, fish, egg, legume, milk, dairy products, fruit, vegetable, bread, tea, coffee, coke, fast food, sugar, pasta, rice, chocolate, cake, cookies and pie
  • Surprisingly, vegetable intake was associated with high rates of seborrheic dermatitis
  • Since the study recruited individuals who were already affected by seborrheic dermatitis, it’s hard to determine the direction of the relationship (possible that those affected by seborrheic dermatitis attempted to improve their diet by eating healthier)

The Reality of Diets and Eating Plans – My Experience

Truth be told, my own issues with seborrheic led me down many of the approaches and dietary habits laid out in the first section of this article. When your skin is breaking apart right before your eyes and you find yourself spending your weekends at home by yourself, your usually willing to try just about anything to get things under control. Falling into this trap, my adventures trying to solve my seborrheic dermatitis issues were long and painful.

The only diet that consistently cleared my seborrheic was simple: eat only raw carrots and apples (or fast altogether). Nearly a day-in, my skin stabilized and inflammation cleared. The issue is that this was far from a sustainable diet.

In comparison, many of the options above seem significantly easier as they incorporate a wider variety of food choices. But unfortunately for me, none of the other diets had any impact. And while the carrot and apple diet is not sustainable, for me it solidified the idea that seborrheic dermatitis can be in-fact be controlled through dietary intervention.

Because of this and even after several years of being able to successfully control my skin issues with a combination of lifestyle tweaks and a consistent topical regimen; the idea of completely abolishing seborrheic dermatitis (for the remainder of my life) through a deep understanding of which aspects of dietary intervention are most important has stuck with me.

Developing a More Systematic Approach

Since the connection between seborrheic dermatitis and diet remains theoretical and there are no clear answers, the best way to approach things is probably through a deliberate self-analysis.

First, let’s highlight the 3 primary components (in order) that appear to have the most weight (as suggested by the research on the subject):

  1. Essential fatty acid availability and synthesis
  2. Lipid oxidation and antioxidant availability
  3. Mineral and vitamin disbalances

Next, let’s focus on each of these in more thorough detail and look for ways we can either improve or at least get a better understanding if that factor may in-fact play a role for us on an individual level.

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Essential Fatty Acids

This topic has already been discussed earlier in significant detail. You can refer to the corresponding sections to get a more robust understanding of the role essential fatty acids play in controlling inflammation and healthy skin function:

If you just want the short version, then the key takeaways from this area are:

  • Essential fatty acids are specific fats that we need to obtain from our diet. While insufficiency in the Western World is rare, the balance between Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids has been severely distrusted in recent decades (from a historical perspective) and this is now known to cause abnormal levels of systemic inflammation [6, 7].
  • Our bodies absorb the essential fatty acids found in our food and then internally synthesis other specific fatty acids required for various body functions through several unique enzyme dependent reactions [8, 8, 9]. Abnormalities in any part of this process have been linked to a variety of skin disorders [10].

Despite the lack of concrete evidence in this area for seborrheic dermatitis, the conditions close relationship to sebum output [11] and the direct ability of these factors influence both sebum output and quality [12, 13, 14] results in a high probability of their significance. Plus the fact that these are two factors we can (more-or-less) easily influence through our diet, presents an attractive area of intervention.

Improving the ratio of omega 3s to omega 6

First, we should address the disbalance between omega 3 and omega 6 intakes that is far too prevalent in today’s society.

To take care of the disbalance, the most straightforward advice is to limit the number of vegetable oils and increase the quantity of fresh fatty fish you consume.

The results of this change are not likely to be evident right away [15], but given enough time you should see overall improvements in the level of inflammation. And as overall levels of inflammation die down, the areas of skin affected by seborrheic dermatitis should also begin to show signs of improvement.

If you need some more specific advice/ideas on how to improve your omega 3 to omega 6, please refer to the previously written sections that deal specifically with this topic:

Improve essential fatty acid synthesis

Next, we should ensure that our bodies are able to properly metabolize the lipids obtained from o diet and convert them to the individual fatty acids required for optimal health (both in the immune response and stable nervous system activity).

Plus, improving our bodies ability to metabolize lipids and synthesize specific fatty acids has a direct relationship to the sebum produced by our skin [16, 17]. However, determining which specific lipids and fatty acids are most important, is an area of immense complexity and is not an exact science yet.

As a general rule, the following advice appears to have the most weight:

  • Increase intake of vitamin A, fiber, and polyphenols [18, 19, 20]
  • Eliminate the intake of processed foods [21]
  • Improve your relationship with stress [22]
  • Improve balance between omega 3s and 6s [23]
  • Increase physical activity [24]
  • Evaluate thyroid function [25, 26]
  • Reduce alcohol consumption [27, 28]

Again, these topics have been already been discussed in earlier writing that dealt solely with this topic: . So, you may want to read through there as well for additional clues and insights.

Fatty acid metabolism likely deserves the most attentionThe breakdown of lipids into individual fatty acids and the conversion of these fatty acids to others could very well be the fundamental issue driving seborrheic dermatitis symptoms.

Antioxidant Availability

When it comes to antioxidants, most of the literature suggests that a diet high in fruits and vegetables generally provides sufficient amounts of antioxidants [29].

Supplementing is also an option, but you probably don’t want to go overboard here. Healthy immune system functioning does require free radicals in certain defense strategies and this process depends on deliberate oxidation by the immune system cells [30, 31]. Additionally, antioxidants such as Vitamin E and Vitamin A are defined as fat-soluble vitamins and too much of these can lead to toxicity and a myriad of associated issues [32, 33].

The best strategy is probably to combine a sensible approach of improving your diet and taking a combination of antioxidants supplements with low risks of toxicity:

  • Vitamin C
  • Grape seed extract
  • Turmeric

But again, I’m going to limit this list to the three above. Expanding the list further is likely to just add to the complexity. If you feel you know of a specific antioxidant that deserves the attention of others, feel free to mention it in the comments section.

Reduce External Sources of Free Radicals

As you improve the amount of antioxidants in your diet, you should also focus on limiting sources of oxidized fats and foods with a high glycemic index (which can lead to unnecessary oxidation within the body).

This includes:

  • Fried and deep fried foods
  • Packaged/processed foods
  • Old nuts and seeds (check the production date)
  • Refined vegetable oils (usually devoid of vitamin E that is naturally present in the whole food)
  • Sugar, soda, and confectionary goods

By following this general advice, your body should begin to improve your bodies antioxidant stores and be able to effectively deal with unwanted free radicals that happen to arise.

Mineral and Vitamin Availability

As already stated, supplementing with vitamins without the guidance of a medical practitioner is ill-advised. This same warning goes for minerals which could lead to toxicity and problems such as kidney stones [34].

If you suspect you might be deficient in specific vitamins or minerals, don’t hesitate, voice this concern to your doctor. Demanding the appropriate medical testing to confirm your hypothesis before you start supplementing.

Limiting our discussion to whole foods, the limited evidence that exists (between specific minerals and seborrheic dermatitis) does suggest that increasing intake of the following foods could be helpful:

  • Fresh fatty fish – Selenium + Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Selenium
  • Carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens – vitamin A
  • Quality fresh nuts and seeds (small amounts) – vitamin E, selenium
  • Bone broth – an assortment of minerals [35]

Again, the above is just general advice that is likely to apply to the larger majority of readers. But you should really take the time to review your own dietary habits and look for areas where you have the most room for improvement.

Another Area to Consider

Diet and nutrition are very much evolving topics and what we know today may be proven wrong tomorrow. This, in my opinion, is what makes this topic both attractive (an infinite amount of potential to improve) and controversial (how do you know which advice is really the best).

Despite this and my own frustration with nutritional advice for seborrheic dermatitis that lacks scientific evidence, there is one item that I believe deserves your attention: short-chain fatty acids.

What are Short Chain Fatty Acids

Short chain fatty acids are defined as fatty acids with a carbon chain length below six. While small quantities of these fatty acids are present in some foods, the large majority are obtained as a by-product of microbial fermentation of dietary fiber in the colon (large intestine) [36].

While these fatty acids do not have a clear role in skin disease, they do play a critical role in immune function, neurological regulation, metabolism, inflammation, and antioxidant pathways [37, 28, 29]. And in my opinion, short chain fatty acids may have a direct impact on seborrheic dermatitis specifically through their ability to influence T cells and modulate a hyperactive immune response [30].

Essentially, my hypothesis is that for some of us who are suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, certain aspects of our lifestyle (whether it’s diet, mental health, infection, medication, or something else) has disrupted the microflora in our large intestine. This disruption, in turn, has resulted in a reduced amount of beneficial short-chain fatty acids and an increased amount of inflammatory counter-parts. The end outcome of this is an immune response that favors inflammation and activation of the second phase of the immune response.

Increasing Availability of Short Chain Fatty Acids and Potential Benefits

In line with this theory, it’s possible that if we can improve the state of our digestive system by increasing the amount of fiber in our diet (with specific attention to the types of fiber that are known to have the best impact), we can drastically increase the production of short-chain fatty acids and stabilize are our overactive immune response.

Unfortunately, this is just a theory and there is no specific evidence that would suggest a lack of short-chain fatty acids could explain seborrheic dermatitis issues at-least for some of us.

There are, however, some more recent studies that suggest that short-chain fatty acids could very well play a significant role in modulating the skin’s immune response:

  • Sodium butyrate exerts a powerful regulatory effect on the skin’s immune response and has the ability to reduce sensitivity to offending antigens [31]
  • A combination of sodium butyrate and lactic acid bacteria was shown to alleviate the majority of atopic dermatitis symptoms in the murine (mouse) model [32]

Despite this evidence, it’s still difficult to assume that increasing the production of short chain fatty acids in the colon will have the indirect effect of increasing their availability in the epidermis. Whatever the case, it’s a possibility that should still be considered for some; even if it does not do any good for your skin, at least you’ll have a better functioning digestive system.

Suspected Food Allergies/Sensitivities Issues

The relationship between possible food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances and seborrheic dermatitis was briefly mentioned at the beginning of this article. And while the relationship lacks concrete evidence and solely based on anecdotal reports, it could still be worth considering for some readers (particularly if you have skin symptoms that you’ve personally correlated with food intake).

In my opinion, due to the nature of this topic and it’s variation from person to person, jumping to conclusions and going off of anecdotal advice is likely to do more harm than good.

For example, consider the following chain of events and how it may impact you in the end:

  • You come across a convincing success story of someone solving their seborrheic dermatitis by avoiding gluten
  • You decide that this could very well be the key to your symptoms and decide to go down the path of gluten avoidance
  • You make a radical change in your eating habits and you stock your fridge with gluten-free alternatives
  • Your skin symptoms improve and seborrheic dermatitis subsides; it feels like a monumental moment in your journey and you’re full of joy
  • You continue with your gluten-free diet, but a week later – despite your best efforts – your skin issues return once again
  • You convince yourself that you must’ve missed some gluten somewhere and attribute your recent flare-up to this
  • You continue in your path to complete elimination of glute, but your skin continues to act-up sporadically and your no longer sure that gluten was really the answer to your issues
  • You bring gluten back to your diet, but you can’t help to second guess yourself if this was the right choice and continue to experience some anxiety each time you consume gluten-containing products

The result is that your left in a much worse position then you were before. First, your skin symptoms still remain. Second, you have now developed eating anxiety that is going to stick around for a while.

Worst of all, is that research suggests that self-conceived food intolerances are real and can become just as critical as actual food allergies [33, 34, 35]. This works similar to a placebo effect, but with negative consequences instead. It’s literally your mind that activates the defensive immune response instead of your stomach.

A more reasonable way to approach this area is through a combination of:

  • Medical testing – schedule an appointment with your doctor, mention your suspicions and request that you undergo appropriate lab work
  • Food journal – keep a detailed journal of everything you eat and the severity of your symptoms that day for 4-5 weeks

The data obtained from these approaches will remove all the unnecessary guesswork and allow to your reach more accurate conclusions. Plus, these accurate conclusions are likely to help resolve any potential food anxiety you may have already developed.

Implementing the Proposed Seborrheic Dermatitis Dietary Strategy

So far, this post primarily took an information and research evaluation approach. There wasn’t much in the way of providing actionable advice you can implement moving forward.

This final section attempts to bring the discussion together and give you a basic plan that you can follow over the coming days, week, and months. Hopefully leading to gradual progress and eventual remission of your skin issues.

Dietary objectives

  • Minimum of 2 meals consisting of fresh fatty fish as a primary protein source per week
    Provides an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids
  • Drastically reduce or completely eliminate all sources of refined carbohydrates
    Reduces insulin spikes and can help regulate sebum output
  • Drastically reduce or completely eliminate added vegetable oils (flaxseed oil could be the exception, but even then fresh flaxseeds are preferred)
    Removes unnecessary omega 6 fatty acids
  • Reduce consumption of lactose-rich products (milk fits this definition, but butter and cream have much less lactose and likely to not cause any issues)
    This overlaps with the refined carbohydrate objective and has similar benefits
  • Eat 3-4 portions of foods rich in beta carotene per day (can be reduced to 2-3 portions after 3-4 weeks)
    Helps ensure lipids are properly metabolized
  • Eat 3-4 portions of fiber-rich vegetables per day (the benefits of fiber from grains is usually not as pronounced)
    Improves gut health and leads to increased short-chain fatty acid availability

Supplementary lifestyle objectives

  • Introduce an activity tracker to ensure you stay moving throughout your day
    Helps stabilize hormone production, metabolic function, and insulin control
  • Develop stress coping strategies (lots of resources online, but don’t overthink things; the goal is to find ways to turn stress into a positive emotion instead of avoiding stress altogether)
    Helps stabilize immune function and improves levels of systemic inflammation
  • Reconsider anecdotal reports that may be influencing your thoughts
    Misconceptions abound and these may be contributing to your level of anxiety
  • Obtain adequate sun exposure (don’t overdo it)
    While prolonged sun exposure can cause issues, sunshine is a natural way to not only ensure adequate Vitamin D availability (which plays a role in hormone stabilize) but also influences your circadian rhythm

For those who are convinced food intolerance has a role in their symptoms

  • Keep a daily food journal for 4-6 weeks and analyze for symptom correlation
    Only a detailed food log can help you uncover true triggers
  • Visit your health care practitioner and undergo prove medical testing
    Medical testing in this area has come along way and there is no reason to continue guessing

Adjustment This Action Plan According to Your Own Unique Needs

In the end, we are all different and only you are truly in control of your decisions and progress. Feel free to make adjustments to the plan as you see fit.

As some of these topics have already been covered in great detail in previous sections of this website, you are likely to find the following reading helpful:

And if you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.

Section update on its way
This section will be expanded and additional worksheets will be added for your reference (which types of fish contain the most omega 3, good sources of beta carotene, stress reduction strategies, etc.)

Summary and Key Points

This article reviewed the potential role of diet in reducing and possibly even resolving seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. For the most part, the article has attempted to stick to reputable literature on the subject and avoid the immense amount of anecdotal reports found online.

The key points include:

  1. Reports of people curing their seborrheic dermatitis through diet are spread throughout the internet, but many of these lack sufficient evidence
  2. The most common suggestions are to avoid dairy, gluten, nightshades, and sugar, while also increasing the consumption of healthy oils, apple cider vinegar
  3. Medical literature on the topic is sparse and the studies that do examine the possible relationship are primarily theoretical in nature
  4. Dietary lipids, antioxidants, and vitamins & minerals known to influence the metabolism and synthesis of dietary lipids are likely to exert the most influential effects
  5. For dietary lipids, balancing the ratio of omega 3s to 6s is the first step to getting things back on track
  6. Vitamin A, fiber, polyphenols, clean diet, stress management, physical activity, thyroid function, and alcohol consumption help our bodies properly utilize these dietary lipids
  7. Sufficient amounts of antioxidants can be obtained from a fruit and vegetable rich diet; this helps ensure lipids and fatty acids remain beneficial and help reduce inflammation
  8. Specific types of dietary fiber can help sustain the good bacteria in our digestive system; increasing short-chain fatty acid production, stabilizing immune function, and helping further reduce levels of inflammation
  9. If you believe you have food sensitivities, take up a food journal and undergo a medical examination, don’t fall into the trap of trying to self diagnose based on popular opinion

Thank you for reading through this article examining the potential role of diet in seborrheic dermatitis treatment. It is my hope that you have found the discussion both relevant and useful. If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or questions you would like to share with either me or other readers, please use the comments section below.

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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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  1. Have you experimented with/what are you thoughts on FMT to re-balance the microflora?

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