5 ways changing your diet might help with eczema.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Sally Temple
Struggling with eczema and starting to lose hope? Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that can leave you with red, dry, itchy and scaly skin that makes daily life very difficult. Symptoms can include tiny blisters and often the skin can split, causing pain. Up to 20 per cent of children worldwide suffer with the condition, but it can affect adults too with up to 3 per cent affected.
While eczema can be persistent, it is possible to improve symptoms, and adapting your diet can make a huge difference for some – although you should always consult your GP before making any big changes.
Nutritional therapist Sally Temple recommends 5 ways changing your diet might help with eczema:
- 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 can be a good way to identify which foods are contributing to your eczema.
An elimination diet, which involves cutting out these foods one at a time, can be a good way to identify which foods 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.
Your first stop though should really be trying to include a good range of probiotics in your normal diet.
- 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.
✔️ The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for eczema
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.
⚠️ Omega -3 supplements can make bleeding more likely so if you have a bleeding condition or take medicines that increase bleeding you should talk to your doctor before starting such a 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. This might be a time when truly organic products really do help to not irritate the skin.
If you’re struggling to find something to put on your sensitive skin, honey can be a helpful alternative.
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.
✔️ The benefits of flavonoids for eczema
Emerging research suggests that flavonoids (chemicals found in fruits and vegetables) which are part of a group called polyphenols, 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.