From sunburn to psoriasis, acne to eczema, inflammation is often the common thread in most skin conditions. As nutritional medicine advances, it is becoming increasingly clear that a diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids from fish can influence inflammation and promote healthy skin.
The skin inflammation-fighting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids were originally discovered when lower incidences of psoriasis and acne were observed in populations that traditionally eat a lot of fish. Furthermore, numerous case reports by physicians have since shown that these skin conditions increase when the traditional diet changes and consumption of omega-3s from fish is reduced.
It is the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in fish oil that makes it so effective in regulating inflammation. Specifically, EPA lowers the levels of inflammation-modulating chemicals called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and leukotriene B4 (LTB4). When these chemicals become elevated, a variety of skin conditions result. Over-consumption of omega-6 rich oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean) can elevate PGE2 and LTB4 levels and promote inflammation.
While we await a clinical trial of fish oils in acne, two new studies have shown that oral synthetic LTB4 blockers are effective in treating inflammation and promoting healthy skin.
What’s more, a large study published in 2000 in Nutrition and Cancer has shown that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids (relative to omega-6) is associated with a decreased risk of skin cancer. A study published in 2003 in Carcinogenesis showed that oral EPA can reduce the redness of sunburn in humans and potentially reduce the risk of skin cancer based on its ability to prevent DNA damage. As most of our ultraviolet damage comes not from the occasional vacation in the sun but from daily exposure without sunscreen protection, dietary considerations such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids become all the more relevant and important for our long-term health and well-being.
Healthy Skin, Healthy Mind
Omega-3s were shown to improve mental health during extensive review of their effects at the Integrative Care Centre of Toronto. It is wonderful to find an overlap relating to skin health, too. According to research reported at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, those with allergic skin conditions are nearly three times more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or depression later on.
Fish oils are no substitute for medical treatment of dermatological conditions. Nor can they replace sunscreen. However, the exciting research we have today provides enough reason to include a daily intake of between 500 and 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy, glowing skin.
For Healthy Skin, Balance Your Omega-6 Intake
Most North Americans eat more omega-6s than omega-3s. A diet particularly high in omega-6 rich oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean) can put us anywhere from 10:1 up to 20:1 in favour of omega-6. No wonder we have higher incidence of acne, psoriasis, and other inflammatory skin conditions. A 2:1 ratio of omega-3 fatty acids relative to omega-6 fatty acids has been recommended by an international panel of lipid experts.