Rosacea is an inflammatory disorder of the skin, so it makes sense that consuming foods that increase inflammation only aggravates the condition.  Yet, consumption of inflammatory foods (inflammatory diets) is increasingly common today for several reasons, including the ease of eating out at fast food restaurants, the growing number of processed foods at grocery stores, the general cultural shift towards over-eating and ultimately the lack of awareness about the havoc that inflammatory foods wreak on every cell in the body.  Even those that attempt to eat the right foods by conducting their own research are often confused by the frequently subjective, contradictory or just plain misleading information they find on the internet.  As mentioned, this can be particularly frustrating for rosacea sufferers, since inflammatory diets have a direct impact on the intensity of rosacea flares, cause damage to facial blood vessels, aggravate existing skin inflammation, and compromise the skin’s immune response.

Inflammatory elements in your diet: How they effect you and your rosacea.

1. Sugar (Glucose)

Glucose is a sugar found in many foods and beverages.  It is necessary for energy production in all cells throughout the body, but in excess, it is an inflammatory powerhouse.  It adversely affects the physiology and function of the entire gastrointestinal tract including the stomach, intestines and bowels while simultaneously interfering with the absorption of good, “anti-inflammatory” foods.  It negatively affects all the major organs in the body such as the liver, kidneys, heart and even neurotransmitters in the brain… it has been associated with many disorders due to it’s ability to block the production of brain serotonin and dopamine, our feel-good transmitters.  As such, glucose intake must be controlled and is at the very top of the list of inflammatory foods rosacea sufferers should minimize in their diets.

Glucose has a profound affect on rosacea. 

Keep in mind that glucose is a blood vessel dilator that naturally causes flushing.  Moreover, glucose is fast acting: within 20 minutes of drinking one can of soda, the inflammatory effects of glucose can reach the facial skin.  That’s 50 to 90 grams of glucose that can reach rosacea affected areas within minutes and cause facial redness, flushing and skin inflammation.  In fact, glucose remains one of the most unrecognized and confounding rosacea triggers.  If you are eating a meal with friends and start flushing within minutes of drinking a beverage, the main culprit may be the soda in your hand.  To test your own sensitivity to glucose, you can ask your physician to perform a Glucose-Challenge Test, which simply involves drinking a solution with 70 grams of glucose and then monitoring your response every 30 minutes for two hours.  This monitoring involves not only visually inspecting changes in your rosacea, but also conducting blood tests to measure changes in your glucose and insulin levels (insulin is the hormone required to help glucose enter cells).

Chronic excess glucose can also cause substantial blood vessel damage by binding onto blood vessel cells and rendering them inactive or killing them.  This is called glycation and can lead to vascular hyper-reactivity and physical damage (telangiectasia).  In turn, sugar can play a primary role in rosacea progression.

Glucose also causes red blood cells and platelets to become “sticky” and clump together in the blood stream.  This directly affects the severity of rosacea because these large clumps of red blood cells can enlarge blood vessels, push them closer to the surface, and eventually cause vessels to rupture.  In addition, sticky-clumped red blood cells increase the degree of facial redness because there is much more “red” flowing through superficial skin blood vessels under normal conditions and during flushing reactions.

2. Carbohydrates, you and your skin.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and fruits. They also come in a variety of forms.

The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.

The basic building block of every carbohydrate is a sugar molecule, a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Starches and fibers are essentially chains of sugar molecules.

Not all carbohydrates are bad for the body or rosacea. 

Fiber and starches are broken down into two classes of carbohydrates — easily-digested, low-value carbohydrates and slowly-digested, high-value carbohydrates.

  • Easily digested, refined carbohydrates also called simple carbohydrates.  These break down quickly into sugar, which as discussed is bad for rosacea.
    Poor diets rich in processed foods and low quality carbs such as sugary cereals, white breads, white rice and (white flour) pastas, soda’s and sugary drinks and other  produce chronic low grade inflammation and not only exacerbate rosacea symptoms but also are thought to be contributes of other chronic illnesses and diseases.
  • Slowly digested high value complex carbohydrates.  Whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and other sources of intact carbohydrates do just the opposite—they are digested slowly, help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels,  promote good health, and are anti-inflammatory, which helps to reduce rosacea symptoms.

The quickly-digested, low-value carbohydrates create similar rosacea side effects as those listed for glucose.  Diets rich in low value carbs and processed foods cause dilation and flushing, damage blood vessel walls through glycation, and increase facial redness through clumping of red blood cells.

You do need carbohydrates in your diet…just the right kind and in the right proportion.

Carbohydrates help fuel your body and as previously mentioned, complex carbohydrates help to control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and provide the necessary fiber to help with your digestive system. Consumed in the right proportions for your body type, size and activity, complex carbs can help you to not only maintain and regulate consistent glucose levels but also encourage a healthy vascular system.

3. Fats and Cholesterol: How they contribute to rosacea

Good Fats: Monounsaturated  and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, your heart and help you to maintain good cholesterol.
Examples of good fat sources: Olive, canola, sunflower and sesame oils, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds and fatty fish like salmon, tuna and yes sardines are good sources of healthy fats.

Bad Fats: Saturated and trans fats contribute to artery blocking bad cholesterol
Examples of bad fat sources: High fat meat (beef, pork, lamb), whole fat dairy, fried foods, candy bars or processed foods like bakery items and snack foods.

What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a steroid lipid (fat) found in the blood of all animals and is necessary for proper functioning of our cell membranes and production of hormones, brain function, moods and energy.

Basically, our -bodies naturally produce some of the cholesterol that we need to function while the remaining is consumed though the foods that we eat.

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • HDL:  the “good cholesterol”  which help to keep your arteries clear and working properly.
  • LDL:   the “bad cholesterol” which clogs the arteries and leads to a multitude of health issues.

How do fats and cholesterol contribute to rosacea

Excessive consumption of bad fats results in elevated bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, which has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, arteriosclerosis, degenerative disorders and many inflammatory conditions including skin disorders.  While food-based cholesterol from saturated and trans fats  does not have an immediate impact on rosacea symptoms, it does have a cumulative effect on blood vessel health and skin inflammation.

Excess cholesterol builds up inside the blood vessel wall and causes blood vessels to become inflamed, alter function, and damage important cells — all leading to vascular hyper-reactivity and blood vessel damage (telangiectasia).

Bad cholesterol has a strong affinity for skin cells, especially inflamed skin cells in the face.  Cholesterol build up in inflamed rosacea skin triggers an inflammatory immune cell response which worsen’s the condition.  Rosacea sufferers should stay well below the daily recommended intake of cholesterol for general health and to help reverse the inflammatory state of their rosacea.

cholesterol buildup under the eyes

The image to the left shows build up of cholesterol under the eyes.  They yellow bumps are caused by cholesterol-induced skin inflammation.  This is one obvious form showing cholesterol’s negative impact on facial skin.  Most of the damage and micro-inflammation happens below the surface of the skin, perpetuating the rosacea inflammatory cycle.

Saturated fats:  How they trigger inflammatory response in your skin and join forces with cholesterol to make matters worse.

While you should always be cautious of your total fat intake given fat’s inflammatory attributes, rosacea sufferers should pay particular attention to their intake of “saturated” and “trans” fat — these types of fats are the worst inflammatory offenders for general health and rosacea symptoms.

If you truly want to turn your diet from an inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory one, choose foods that contain zero trans fat (most products and restaurant meals will emphasize this fact on the front label or menu) and reduce your saturated fat to less than 10% of the RDA during each meal.  Saturated fat and trans fat are not only the most invasive forms of fat that cause inflammation in blood vessels, skin cells and trigger a chronic inflammatory immune response, but they stimulate the release of cholesterol from the liver… making these a double whammy for rosacea sufferers.

These two forms of cholesterol migrate up to the epidermis and can trigger the release of nearly a dozen pro-inflammatory substances if the fat levels are too high.  When this occurs, breakouts and skin redness are almost assured the following days.  As such, ditch the prime rib and lobster with butter for a nice baked or grilled salmon with lemon and roasted vegi’s.

Inflammation and rosacea

Given the impact an inflammatory diet can have on your rosacea and health, it is vital to strive for a healthy and balanced diet that is rich in high quality foods as opposed to just reaching for the closest bag of high fat potato chips.  After all, 90% of your effort in addressing rosacea, be it taking the right medications or supplements, can be quickly undermined by the 10% of actions, such as eating a poor diet.  Ultimately, it can be this minority of actions that leads to sub-optimal results.

So with this article, we begin the journey of  learning how and why the dietary choices we make contribute to our overall health and also directly influence the severity of our rosacea.