Hidradenitis Suppurativa – Is there a link between the disease and your diet?

Since I hit puberty, I have been plagued with Hidradenitis Suppurativa, ‘a painful, long-term skin disease that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin – usually around the groin, buttocks, breasts and armpits.’[1] I only found out the name of my condition when I was around seventeen years old, after years of being given different antibiotics from GP and seeing numerous dermatologists. As you can imagine, this disease brought me not only pain and suffering, but also the feeling of shame and embarrassment, and I had developed a profound hatred for my body. I couldn’t understand why some girls got to be beautiful and could enjoy running about and taking part in physical activities, while I had to be covered in ugly lumps and scars that would leak foul-smelling discharge if I attempted to try and work-out. In short, my HS affected my mind and my body; I recoiled into myself, thinking that it would be easier if I could just fade away and not be the centre of any attention. However, at the age of fourteen I met a boy, and I fell in love with him. He didn’t care about my HS – he thought I was beautiful. He often told me so, which made me feel great about myself. I felt comfortable in my own skin. But, as all modern fairy tales go, that t*** broke my heart in the summer after I left Sixth Form, and I again recoiled into myself.

It was in my first year of university that I first thought that I may be sensitive to gluten. I noticed that my stomach would make strange noises and bloat after I ate bread, pasta or Weetabix – basically any of my favourite food group, carbohydrates. For Lent that year, the girls I was living with decided that we should give up carbs. I thought this would be impossible, as it made up most of my diet. To make it a little easier, we decided that we could eat carbs on a Sunday – it is the day of rest, after all. It was a tricky few weeks, and the cravings were horrendous, but I did it! Not only did I feel great that I’d managed to change my diet for the better, but I also felt less bloated, and I hadn’t had a HS flare-up during the month! I was feeling on top of the world…but, being a student who loved her cheap Lidl beer..it wasn’t going to last.

I ended up going to see my new GP in my new city, who conveniently had an interest in HS – I was in awe that I had finally found a doctor who knew more about my disease than just the basics that anyone can find off the NHS website! He took a look at my armpits, and told me that he thought it would be a good idea for me to try surgical excision of the area, as I had various scars in one area. I agreed, and a few weeks later I went back to see him for my minor surgery. It took around half an hour to three quarters of an hour, and besides the sharp sting I felt from the local anaesthetic,  the procedure was pain free. A week later I returned to the surgery to get my stitches removed, and a few months later my wound was completely healed, and a long reddish-pink scar was all that was left. I had no further problems with that arm, which made me decide to have my other armpit done. I was HS free in both my underarms..until I decided to go on holiday to Germany in the summer of my second year of university.

If anyone tells you that German weather is the same as British weather – THEY’RE LYING. My friend was on an internship in Germany, hence why myself and two of my other friends decided to go out there, so luckily I had a heads up that the weather was going to be hot and humid. I packed appropriate clothes, and I was excited to be getting away from the rain at last! We had limited time in Germany, so we had to fit in a lot of travelling and walking into the days we could, not allowing the weather to control us. Unfortunately, on the second day of my holiday I felt the all-too-familiar dull ache in my armpit which historically announced an oncoming HS episode. Naturally, I was devastated. After several months of being pain free in one armpit, and around a year and a half free in the other, I was not prepared for my old feelings of anger, annoyance and misery to come flooding back to me during my longed-for holiday with the girls. I didn’t have any of my usual supplies with me either, such as my Tegaderm, Iodine pads or turmeric capsules. I had no choice but to carry on. The girls know about my HS, as one of them has a mild stage 1 case of the disease, so they were kind enough to let me walk a little slower when the pain got a little too unbearable, especially after my HS started to flare-up in my groin area too. However, despite this setback, I had a good holiday regardless.

I started to research HS online after my holiday, hoping that there had been some new breakthrough since I’d last looked. After a while of searching the internet aimlessly, I came across various articles that claimed that diet was the key to getting the horrendous HS to go into remission. Firstly, I found evidence supporting the idea that the Paleo Diet was the answer, as HS was an autoimmune disease, thus indicating that eating the ‘caveman diet’ resets your body and alleviates the symptoms.[2]  Another theory was that ‘nightshade foods’ were responsible for HS, such as peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.[3] Thus, after some thought, I have decided to take up the challenge and go not only Paelo, but also nightshade free.

I know what you’re thinking. Paelo and nightshade free?! What am I going to eat, right? Well, the way I see it is this – if I want to be pain free and happy, I’m going to have to suck it up. After all, my mother always told me that if you eat a food you dislike ten times, you’ll like it (if there’s any truth in her wisdom, I am yet to discover it..).  So, if you’re a fellow HS sufferer like me, or if you’re just interested, please check back here in a few weeks time. I’ve decided to eliminate all nightshades from my diet from the off (thankfully I don’t start back at work until mid-August, so the lack of caffeine won’t be too bad for the time being!) and then I’ll start to reintroduce foods after 30 days. I am sick to death of being a prisoner in my own body, so I think it’s time that I take control of my life and be happy again.

I’ll keep you all updated! If you want to try the Paleo diet too, but feel like it’s too difficult, just ask yourself – what do you want more, that pizza, or a healthy, pain-free body? I’ll let you all know what type of meals I’ve been eating too, you never know – it might just tempt you to join me!

Good luck!

HollisAL.

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hidradenitis-suppurativa/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://thepaleodiet.com/part-i-hidradenitis-suppurativa-and-the-paleo-diet/

[3] http://www.curehidradenitis.com/hidradenitis-diet/

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