Small changes worth trying if eczema is getting you down
By Sally Temple
Eczema is a condition that can be miserable to live with. It is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that can leave you with red, dry, itchy, scaly skin. Sometimes there are tiny blisters and often the skin can split, causing pain. It’s common for children, with up to 12 percent of children suffering with the condition. But it can affect adults too.
While eczema can be persistent, it is possible to improve symptoms, and adapting your diet can make a huge difference for some people with the skin condition – though you should always consult your GP before making any big changes. Here are five ways changing your diet might help your skin:
- Eliminate allergens
Over 80 percent of eczema sufferers have higher than normal antibodies in their system. Effectively, they are having an allergic reaction. Many also suffer from allergic rhinitis, hayfever and/or asthma.
The most common sources of allergic reactions are milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, soy, wheat, gluten, citrus and chocolate.
An elimination diet, (cutting out these foods one at a time) can be a good way to identify if they are contributing to your eczema. This should be done with guidance from your GP or nutritional therapist who can provide guidance about replacement foods and ensure that you are not missing out on any important nutrients.
You can also try a rotation diet, where you only eat some of these highlighted foods once every four days. This is sometimes useful in improving symptoms.
- Try probiotics
The health of the digestive tract can have an effect on eczema sufferers by supporting your immune system. The development of a healthy immune system depends on having a diverse range of bacteria in the gut from birth and specific strains of probiotics (healthy bacteria you can take in supplement form) have been found particularly helpful for building a strong immune system, these include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus species.
Pregnant women with eczema in the family might be interested in the Swansea baby trial, which found that when a probiotic blend was given to mothers during pregnancy and again to the babies after birth there was a 57 percent reduction in the development of eczema and 44 percent reduction in allergies.
- Choose anti-inflammatory foods
Inflammation is a key component in the development of eczema, so following an anti-inflammatory diet can be beneficial.
Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates result in elevated insulin levels, which in turn promotes inflammation. Try instead to eat wholegrain carbohydrate, protein and plenty of vegetables.
Getting the right balance of fats (particularly those high in omega-3) in the diet can also have an anti-inflammatory effect. If you don’t have allergies, it can be beneficial to eat plenty of oily fish, seafood, nuts, seeds and flax oil.
It is worth noting that people with eczema often have an altered ability to metabolise essential fats. Essential fats and in particular omega-3 fatty acids are required for skin health and for their roles in reducing inflammation. The most readily absorbed form of omega 3 for people with eczema is found in oily fish. If it is not possible to eat oily fish three times a week, consider supplementing with a marine algae omega 3 supplement.
A hemp hand cream (containing omega-3 fatty acids) can also be useful for relieving symptoms. Primrose oil or borage oil may also reduce the itching associated with eczema.
- Sweeten with honey
Some skincare products can make things worse if you have eczema. Avoid products with ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate, talc, lanolin, propylene glycol, phthalates or any other substance that you react to.
If you’re struggling to find something to put on your sensitive skin, honey (particularly Manuka), can be a helpful alternative because it naturally contains antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties so can help support the immune system. You can either eat a small amount each day or apply topically.
- Eat your vitamins
Ensuring you have a good balance of vitamins, minerals and flavonoids in your diet can help your skin’s condition. The following vitamins and minerals are particularly relevant for eczema:
- Zinc – found in seafood, pumpkin seeds, dark choc, lean red meat
- Vitamin C – found in brightly coloured fruit, veg, and rosehip.
- Vitamin E – found in sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, avocado and dried apricots
- Vitamin D – is absorbed from sunlight in the summer months. You can also supplement vitamin D throughout the winter months.
Emerging research suggests that flavonoids (chemicals found in fruits and vegetables) could be beneficial for people with eczema. They have many health benefits but in this instance they appear to help by reducing histamine release and boosting the skin’s ability to fight infection. Research on this area has focused on many different flavonoids but quercetin appears to be especially effective.