What do fish oil and cod liver oil have to do with acne, anyway?
In a nutshell, fish oil – or rather, omega-3 fatty acids – appears to help some people clear up their skin faster. This is because omega-3s reduce inflammation in a few different ways. At our Acne Clinic we suggest clients get on a high quality Omega 3 fatty acid when treating their skin problems. You may wonder why and how fish oil can aid in clearing acne so let's take a closer look.
Inflammation is a major contributor to acne, so it’s tempting to think it’s a good idea to start taking fish oil. Fish oil contains a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, which interact with omega-6 fatty acids to reduce or end your body’s inflammatory response.
When you have a really skewed omega-3:6 ratio in your diet – as in, way too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 – your inflammation levels skyrocket.
And for some years now, people have been using large doses of fish oil to treat inflammation by balancing out those pesky omega-6s.
How does inflammation relate to acne? Well, It’s responsible for the redness and swelling that makes acne so embarrassing. Reduce inflammation, and your acne won’t swell up so much (or get so cherry-red).
Cod liver oil, on the other hand, works to heal acne mainly because it gives you a big boost of vitamins A and D. While it also contains some omega-3s, the dosage is far smaller than what you’d get in a dose of fish oil.
Fish oil is basically oil that’s extracted from fish bodies, while cod liver oil is taken from the livers of codfish. Pretty simple.
And like we said above, fish oil is a powerful source of omega-3s, and omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects.
What’s the big deal with inflammation?
You see, these days, most of the common Western diet is highly
What does that mean, exactly?
Well, it means that most people are eating way too many foods loaded with omega-6 fats, sugar, trans fats, and gluten, all of which are pro-inflammatory.
These inflammatory foods drive your immune system to do insane things, like causing swelling where you least want it – arthritis, for example, and of course, acne.
When your immune system is on constant red alert, and it stumbles across a clogged pore on that lovely face of yours, it dives in for the attack! The clogged pore becomes inflamed, red, and swollen.
You see, if your immune system were healthy and normal, a clogged pore wouldn’t cause a big fuss. Your body would heal the ruptured pore pretty quickly and then go on functioning normally. No big deal! But when your body is in a constant state of hyper-immune-activation and inflammation, any little thing sets off your immune system.
How do omega-3s affect inflammation?
Before we get to that, let us explain a few things about the essential fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s. While there are many different fatty acids in the omega-3 and omega-6 families, only a couple are actually really useful and needed in the body. These are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3, and arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6.
Arachidonic acid is critical to the initiation of an inflammatory response, which is why it gets a bad rap. However, AA also turns on the cellular machinery that activates DHA, which helps to bring that inflammatory response to an end.
Together, these two fatty acids are a part of an intricate chemical dance in the body that starts an inflammatory response when it’s needed and then stops it when it isn’t needed anymore.
(Another omega-3 found in fish and fish oils, eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, reduces inflammation mostly by interfering with AA… and therefore with the whole process of inflammation and its resolution.
As you can see, omega-3 fats – namely DHA – have an incredibly powerful role in quickly helping inflammation.
The key here is your ratio of these omega-3s to pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats. The rub is that if the inflammation-initiating omega-6 fats aren’t balanced by sufficient omega-3s, your immune system can get vigilant.
Now, if you were eating like a hunter-gatherer of yesteryear – e.g. wild game, nuts, vegetables, the odd beehive – you’d have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of around 1:1.
But in this day and age, omega-6 fats are in everything – canola oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, corn, soy, wheat – basically most of the JFBBs (Junk Food Building Blocks) in today’s fast-food world. Most cookies, crackers, snacks, breakfast cereals, and granola bars are made primarily with these JFBBs, which, again, are highly inflammatory.
That’s bad news for acne!
In short, you’ve got to optimize your omega-3 to -6 ratio if you want clearer healthier skin.
The common wisdom goes like this: fish oil gives you a huge blast of omega-3s (EPA and DHA), which is good because it balances out your omega-6 intake, reducing inflammation.
And if you’re not convinced already, here’s a roundup of the key benefits to improving your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (by reducing omega-6 consumption):
Improving this fatty acid ratio can help…
- Reduce redness and puffiness of acne lesions.
- Moisturize your skin naturally, making your skin softer.
- Reduce stress, preventing excess acne-causing sebum production.
- Slow down skin cell over-production, keeping your pores open and free.
- Balance hormone production, making your skin less oily.
In addition to helping clear your skin, a healthier omega-3 to -6 ratio can also provide the following benefits:
- Reduced joint pain.
- Improved mood.
- Improved brain performance.
- Stronger hair.
- More energy.
- Improved cholesterol levels.
Taking fish oil can definitely help with inflammation in the body and skin. However, just taking a high quality Omega 3 fish oil will not cure your acne. If you need help with getting your acne under control our Clinic can do just that. Visit us a UtahAcneclinic.com to see how.