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An Elimination Diet Approach for Conditions Like Hidradentis Suppurativa and Autoimmune Disease

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
September 30, 2013
An Elimination Diet Approach for Conditions Like Hidradentis Suppurativa and Autoimmune Disease image

Dear Professor Cordain,

I read very useful information on your website regarding the importance of nutrition for health, therefore I have a few questions and hope you will find time to provide the answers.

My fiance have been struggling with Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) for about 12 years. Doctors and antibiotics did not provide much help. The only thing that helped him about 10 years ago was his trip to Malaysia that resulted in total change of food (no bread, no meat - except fish, no diary, but a lot of turmeric).

Unfortunately, the illness returned about two years ago and has been getting worse. As a psychologist, and Ph.D. candidate in psychology, I know how stress can be related to this disease.

But, I also read on Internet (Primagirl Blog, more precisely), that The Paleo Diet can heal this disease, because it is always certain types of food that triggers it. I also found your name and information on your book there, therefore I decided to contact you.

I would really appreciate if you could help me with your advice. If you know what kind of food can trigger this disease, or if you can recommend something, I would strongly appreciate.

Thank you in advance.



Dr. Cordain's Response:

Hi Alma,

Abundant scientific evidence exists in Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) patients showing that pro-inflammatory cytokines (local hormones) are elevated in the blood are almost certainly involved in the skin lesions presenting in HS patients. Two major categories of circulating white blood cells (macrophages and dendritic cells) likely have become activated (sensitized) in the gut to specific gut proteins (either bacteria or food or both) and these gut borne cells then initiate an immune response which affects cells lining either the hair follicle or apocrine sweat glands in other parts of the body, particularly the groin and armpit areas. Hence, it seems likely that HS, although it presents clinically as a single disease, is actually at least two diseases, one in the hair follicle and one in the apocrine sweat glands, both likely to be autoimmune in nature. Women are more likely to have the form of HS involving the cells lining the hair follicle. To date, it has not been conclusively demonstrated that HS is autoimmune in nature. Nevertheless, work from our group as far back as 2002 and from Alessio Fasano's group at the University of Maryland suggest that a key triggering event in most autoimmune diseases is a leaky gut.

My suggestion for all autoimmune patients is to restrict foods which are known to increase intestinal permeability. These food restrictions form the basis for the contemporary Paleo Diet, however for autoimmune patients a few more restrictions should be included.

General food restrictions for all Paleo Dieters include:

  1. All cereal grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, corn, sorghum and millet). Wheat is probably the grain which should be avoided strictly because of its combination of antinutrients (wheat germ agglutinin, gliadin, thaumatin like proteins, and phytic acid) which have varying degrees of toxicity in humans.
  2. All dairy products. The rationale for this food group restriction can be found in my new book, The Paleo Answer, in a single chapter I have written with hundreds of scientific references to support these conclusions.
  3. All beans, legumes (including, green beans, soy, peas and peanuts). Again, I have extensively documented the rationale for these restrictions in The Paleo Answer.
  4. All processed foods containing refined sugars, grains, vegetable oils and salt. The rationale for these restrictions can be found in all of my popular books and in my scientific writings which are available across the website.

An Elimination Diet

For Autoimmune patients including those with HS, I suggest restricting the following foods for a 30 day period to determine if symptoms improve. This strategy is called an "elimination diet" in which foods are removed from the diet and then added back in to determine if they are problematic.

  1. All nightshades (potatotes, tomatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, tobacco and all capsaicin containing peppers [cayenne, serrano, jalapeno, paprika, habanera and all foods made with these- salsa, hot sauce, tomato pastes & sauces etc.]. The nightshade family of plants contain a variety of compounds which increase intestinal permeability. In potatoes, it is the glycoalkaloids (alpha solanine and alpha chaconine); in tomatoes it is alpha tomatine; in spicy peppers it is capsaicin. The scientific references showing how nightshade compounds increase intestinal permeability can be found in my new book, The Paleo Answer. In HS patients, smoking tobacco (a nightshade plant) has been shown to aggravate the disease symptoms in HS patients.
  2. Alcohol (ethanol) found in beer wine and all alcoholic beverages increases intestinal permeability.
  3. Aluminum hydroxide (alum) in antacids increases intestinal permeability.
  4. Alfalfa sprouts contain high concentrations of compounds called saponins which increase intestinal permeability.
  5. Psuedo grains (quinoa, amaranth) contain saponins which increase intestinal permeability in a dose dependent manner - meaning the more you consume the leakier the gut becomes. Chia seeds also likely increase intestinal permeability.
  6. Oral contraceptives
  7. NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin and ibuprofen.
  8. Egg whites contain a substance called lysozyme which increases intestinal permeability.
  9. A foaming agent called Quillaja found in many brands of root beer increases intestinal permeability and potently stimulates the immune system.
  10. In addition to peanuts, which are not a not at all, but a legume, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, etc.) are one of the most common allergenic foods. To date, tree nuts have been poorly studied for antinutrient content, and it is unclear if they increase intestinal permeability or adversely affect the immune system. This would be one of the last foods I suggest restricting.


Zinc supplementation (90 mg/day for 3 months) has been shown to reduce inflammation in HS patients. Supplements which improve intestinal integrity and which may reduce intestinal permeability include:

  1. Probiotics
  2. Prebiotics
  3. Viamin D3
  4. Fish oil (EPA and DHA)
  5. Zinc
  6. Medium chain triglycerides (Coconut Oil)

There are no guarantees that these food restrictions will improve symptoms or cure autoimmune diseases.

Nevertheless, I know of hundreds of anecdotal cases worldwide which demonstrate contemporary Paleo diets to be therapeutic in autoimmune patients. Together with my graduate students we are currently writing up a large case study involving nearly 100 autoimmune patients who have reported varying degrees of success in managing their conditions following The Paleo Diet.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus


1. Rambhatla PV, Lim HW, Hamzavi I. A systematic review of treatments for hidradenitis suppurativa. Arch
Dermatol. 2012 Apr;148(4):439-46 Epub 2011 Dec 19.

2. Nazary M, van der Zee HH, Prens EP, Folkerts G, Boer J. Pathogenesis and pharmacotherapy of
Hidradenitis suppurativa. Eur J Pharmacal. 2011 Dec 15;672(1-3):1-8. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

3.Dreno B, Khammari A, Brocard A, Moyse D, Blouin E, Guillet G, Leonard F, Knol AC. Hidradenitis
suppurativa: the role of deficient cutaneous innate immunity. Arch Dermatol. 2012 Feb;148(2):182-6.
Epub 2011 Oct 17.

4.Brocard A, Dreno B. Innate immunity: a crucial target for zinc in the treatment of inflammatory dermatosis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereal. 2011 Oct;25(10):1146-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-
3083.2010.03934.x. Epub 2011 Jan 24.

5. van der Zee HH, de Ruiter L, van den Broecke DG, Dik WA, Laman JD, Prens EP. Elevated levels of tumour necrosis factor (TN F)-a, interleukin (IL)-1[3 and IL-10 in hidradenitis suppurativa skin: a rationale for targeting TN F-a and IL-1[3. Br J Dermatol. 2011 Jun;164(6):1292-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-
2133.2011.10254.x. Epub 2011 May 17.

6. van der Zee HH, van der Woude CJ, Florencia EF, Prens EP. Hidradenitis suppurativa and inflammatory bowel disease: are they associated? Results of a pilot study. Br J Dermatol. 2010 Jan;162{1):195-7. Epub
2009 Aug 14.

7. van der Zee HH, Laman JD, de Ruiter L, Dik WA, Prens EP. Adalimumab (antitumour necrosis factor-a) treatment of hidradenitis suppurativa ameliorates skin inflammation: an in situ and ex vivo study. Br J
Dermatol. 2012 Feb;166(2):298-305.

8. Giamarellos-Bourboulis EJ, Antonopoulou A, Petropoulou C, Mouktaroudi M, Spyridaki E, Baziaka F,
Pelekanou A, Giamarellou H, Stavrianeas NG. Altered innate and adaptive immune responses in patients with hidradenitis suppurativa. Br J Dermatol. 2007 Jan;156(1):51-6.

9. Hunger RE, Surovy AM, Hassan AS, Braathen LR, Yawalkar N. Toll-like receptor 2 is highly expressed in lesions of acne inversa and colocalizes with C-type lectin receptor. Br J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;158(4) :691-7. Epub 2008 Jan 30.

10. Schlapbach C, Hanni T, Yawalkar N, Hunger RE. Expression ofthe IL-23/Th17 pathway in lesions of hidradenitis suppurativa. JAm Acad Dermatol. 2011 Oct;65(4):790-8.

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