Fish Oil or GLA to Treat Acne Vulgaris? Controlled Human Trial Confirms: 2g EPA + DHA or 400mg GLA do the Trick!

If you want to know how to get of pubertal acne, you got to ask professional pubescents ;-)
The study at hand is not only the first experimental verification of the efficacy of omega-3 + gamma linoleic acid supplementation in acne treatment, it's also "paleo approved", because it cites a study by no one else but Loraine Cordaine himself ;-) Don't worry, I am just kiddin' around. In spite of the fact that Cordain's study "Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization" (Cordain. 2002) is in fact the #1 on the reference list, the scientists from the Seoul National University College of Medicine refrain from (paleolithic) dairy bashing in their evaluation of "the clinical efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids and of GLA for the treatment of mild to moderate facial acne." (Jung. 2014)

If you google "natural acne treatment" it will usually not take long until you find a reference to fish oil and gamma linoleic acid (as in borage or starflower oil). Against that background it is surprising that the Korean scientist are obviously the first to scrutinize the efficacy of 2,000 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid and 400 mg γ-linoleic acid (from borage oil) in a parallel design dietary intervention study.

Long-standing "natural acne cure" now scientifically proven

The 45 participants with mild to moderate acne, were allocated to either of the intervention groups for 10 weeks, after which the effect on their skin was evaluated visually and via heamatoxylin, eosin and immunohistochemical staining of the lesions.
DHA + EPA vs. GLA + X: I am not sure if this may have skewed the results, but it is imho worth mentioning that the DHA + EPA group received their 2g of long-chain omega-3s in form of two caps of pure EPA + DHA. The GLA group, on the other hand, had to take 2 caps with 1,000mg of borage oil, which contains 200mg GLA per gram, but also up to 420mg of "regular" linoleic acid, of which scientists believe that it is an acne vulgaris promoter (Wolf. 2004).
And what the scientists observed was ... positive, at least in the omega-3 group, the mean inflammatory acne lesion count was significantly reduced (from 10.1 ± 3.2 in week 0 to 5.8 ± 3.4 in week 10; p < 0.05).
Figure 1: Changes in inflammatory acne lesion counts with time (left, top), noninflammatory acne lesion counts with time (left, bottom), and changes in patients' subjective assessment (VAS) with time (right; Jung. 2014)
As you can see in Figure 1, a similar change was observed in the GLA (9.8 ± 5.2 before vs. 8.0 ± 4.6 after 5 weeks vs. 6.6 ± 3.7 after 10 weeks, p < 0.05), but not in the control group (9.9 ± 4.3 before to 10.2 ± 6.2 after 10 weeks).
Figure 2: Before (top) and after (bottom) photos (Jung. 2014)
"Mean non-inflammatory acne lesion counts were also reduced by omega-3 and GLA supplementation (23.5 ± 9.2 to 18.9 ± 8.3, p < 0.05, and 22.8 ± 8.4 to 19.2 ± 7.2, p < 0.05, respectively) at final visits, whereas mean lesion count in the control group was unchanged (from 21.8 ± 9.7 to 22.0 ± 8.6). Significant differences were evident between the treatment groups and the control group after 10 weeks (p < 0.05)." (Jung. 2014)
In the end, there was no no significant difference between the two treatments for any of the measured parameters, so that it is probably up to you, whether you try to control the "fire within your skin" with GLA or DHA + EPA supplements.
GLA, EPA & Co play an important role in thyroid disorders, as well | learn more
"Where Bro- and Pro-Science Unite in the Spirit of True Wisdom": The study at hand exemplifies this simple principle almost perfectly. DHA + EPA and GLA have been used to manage acne vulgaris for years.

It was thus high time for the "pro-science" to catch up with what "bro-scientists" all around the world knew all along. Fish oil and borage oil help with acne vulgaris.

Why? Well, in both cases it's probably the reduction of the production of arachidonic acid-derived pro-inflammatory eicosanoids.
  • Cordain, Loren, et al. "Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization." Archives of Dermatology 138.12 (2002): 1584-1590.
  • Jung, Jae Yoon, et al. "Effect of Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acid and gamma-linolenic Acid on Acne Vulgaris: A Randomised, Double-blind, Controlled Trial." (2014).
  • Wolf, Ronni, Hagit Matz, and Edith Orion. "Acne and diet." Clinics in dermatology 22.5 (2004): 387-393.
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