Fish oil can help bad acne
Capsules containing EPA-rich fish oil don't help mild acne, but may well be effective against serious forms of this skin problem. A small human study that nutritionists at California State Polytechnic University published in Lipids in Health and Disease has prompted this cautious conclusion.
Acne, fatty acids & fish oil
A few centuries ago acne was a rare skin condition, but since the food industry has been stuffing us with polyunsaturated n-6 fatty acids acne has become widespread. One obvious theory is therefore that the balance between polyunsaturated n-3 and n-6 fatty acids in our diet has gone haywire.
The excessive amounts of n-6 fatty acids in our food have led to excessive production of inflammatory factors such as the arachidonic acid metabolites prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4. Both of these encourage acne, which is a consequence of inflammatory reactions.
If this theory is correct, then supplementation with n-3 fatty acids could improve the fatty acid balance and thus reduce acne. And indeed – in 2008 Canadian researchers published the results of a study in which they had given test subjects with acne a daily supplement containing 1 g EPA, 200 mg EGCG, 15 mg zinc, 200 mcg selenium and 200 mcg chrome, and after which they observed improvement. [Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Oct 13;7:36.]
The tested supplement was one available on the market and yes, the manufacturer sponsored the study.
The researchers at California State Polytechnic University decided to see for themselves what the effects of fish oil are, and so gave 13 acne sufferers 3 g fish oil every day for 12 weeks. The supplement contained 930 mg EPA [structural formula shown below]. The supplement was produced by Cyvex Nutrition [cyvex.com] but Cyvex did not sponsor the study.
At the end of the supplementation period all subjects had experienced a reduction in their acne, as shown in the table below. The effects were not statistically significant, but the table makes it clear that we'd do best not to ignore the effect of EPA.
When the researchers split up the data according to the severity of the acne before supplementation started, their results became more convincing. Fish oil did not work for light forms of acne, or actually made it worse. But fish oil did have a positive effect on more serious forms.
"Although we cannot draw any firm conclusions from our study with a small sample size and no placebo group, there is some promising evidence that fish oil supplementation is associated with an improvement in ratings of overall acne severity, especially for individuals with moderate and severe acne", the researchers write.
"It is possible that increasing the dose of EPA from 930 mg to 3–6 grams daily, as recommended for arthritis patients, would reveal more significant results. In addition, effects of n-3 fatty acids should be examined in cohorts of subjects with the same acne severity grades or lesion counts in order to isolate the potential effect on different types of acne severity."
Lipids Health Dis. 2012 Dec 3;11:165.
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