Is your diet making your skin itch?


Felicity Mann
Skin Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity


07 November 2018

Can your diet make your skin itch?

It’s not exactly a revelation to say that your diet can have an enormous impact on your on your skin, with certain foods influencing your susceptibility to skin conditions such as acne while other foods can help to support your skin, preventing problems such as dryness or oiliness. When it comes to itchy skin though, the role of your diet is more complex and to understand it better, it is best to first take a look at what can cause itchy skin in the first place. 

Itchy skin can be caused by a variety of factors but here are a few of the most common culprits:

As you can see, the list is quite long and as I’ve mentioned, these are just the most common issues. Hopefully though, you can start to see where your diet creeps into the equation as what you eat can definitely influence conditions such as eczema or allergies such as hayfever.  That’s why here I’m going to take a look at a few of these triggers, the role your diet can play in antagonising them and what you can eat to help beat the itch. 

Eczema and dry skin

Dry skin and eczema are closely linked so it makes sense to cover these issues together. Eczema is a dry skin condition that occurs as a result of a combination of factors and itchiness is often one of the most common and uncomfortable symptoms. It comes about when the nerve endings in your epidermis (your outer layer of skin) are stimulated, either by changes to your skin barrier or external irritants such as harsh chemicals or materials or even allergies. 

So where does your diet come into the picture here? 

Well, as I discuss in my blog, ‘Change your diet to help control eczema’ patients that suffer from eczema often tend to have weaker digestive secretions1 which can affect how they breakdown different foods, with some being harder than others. It’s also not unheard of for sufferers of eczema to be more prone to food allergies, which as I will discuss shortly, can influence your susceptibility to a flare-up and the dreaded itch. 

Here is the list of foods deemed to be most problematic for eczema sufferers:

  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Processed meat
  • Nuts – walnuts, cashews, peanuts etc.
  • Seeds

As you may have noticed, some of these foods are actually quite healthy and are often included as part of a balanced diet, which is a real shame. The good news though, is that if these foods can contribute to an eczema flare-up and consequently an eczema itch, then there are foods that you could include in your diet to help ease the problem. Oily fish, fresh fruit and leafy green veg are top of the list as these contain beneficial nutrients such as omega-3, vitamin D and vitamin E which can help to nourish eczema-prone skin, helping to strengthen your epidermis. 

Allergies

Allergies can be a major trigger of itchy skin, with substances such as pollen, dust, animal dander or even certain types of food all stimulating an inflammatory reaction from your skin. When this inflammatory reaction takes place, your body will be flooded with chemicals such as histamine, which can bring on that itchy sensation. How you go about tackling this can depend on the type of allergy that you suffer from.

HayfeverHayfever is a pollen allergy that is extremely common here in the UK. When it comes to that tell-tale itch, often histamine is responsible which is why you may wish to avoid foods that encourage the production of this chemical – dairy products, refined sugar, fermented foods and wheat are all common culprits. There are also foods that can inhibit your production of histamine that you may wish to include more of in your diet – garlic, ginger, oily fish and blueberries are good options here!

Allergic rhinitis – In her blog, ‘Could your diet be making your allergic rhinitis worse?’ our Allergy Advisor Louise discusses the types of food and drink you may wish to avoid and once again, histamine-rich foods are at the top of the list. I’ve already mentioned a few of these but Louise goes into more detail, bringing up drinks such as alcohol and caffeine. She also offers sensible alternatives that may help to ease your allergic rhinitis symptoms, including itchy skin, so I would definitely go and check her blog out.  

Food allergies – Food allergies occur when your immune system reacts to specific foods, sometimes bringing about an itchy red rash. This type of allergy is particularly prevalent in children, especially if they have experienced eczema in their infancy and usually foods such as dairy, eggs, peanuts or shellfish are the main suspects. However, if you suspect you have a food allergy the best thing you can do would be to speak to your doctor first to identify the underlying trigger foods. 

Stress

Itchy skin doesn’t just arise as a result of a physical trigger – sometimes it can be psychological. If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety, it can affect your body in a number of ways. When it comes to your skin, for example, you may find that your eczema starts to flare-up or you experience an outbreak of spots however, sometimes it can also make your skin feel itchier and cause an angry red rash to appear. This is because, when you feel stressed or anxious, it encourages the production if inflammatory chemicals, making your skin more sensitive and susceptible to irritation.

So where does your diet come into the picture here? 

Stress can have a noticeable impact on other areas of your body, such as your sleep patterns and immune function, which may indirectly influence your skin. You also have to consider that stress can affect your behaviour and habits, sometimes making you more prone to food cravings. Unfortunately, these cravings tend to be for unhealthy foods that only exacerbate the problem. 

Our Stress Advisor Marianna addresses this problem in her blog, ‘7 suggestions for changing stressful eating habits’ which is definitely worth a read if this is a concern for you. When it comes to the types of food you can eat to lower your stress levels, fruit and veg are unsurprisingly at the top of the list. Fruits such as bananas and vegetables such as beetroot and spinach are believed to encourage the production of dopamine, a happy hormone which can help to support your mood. 

Hormonal changes

When your levels of hormones such as oestrogen fluctuate it can have a knock-on effect on your skin. During menopause, for example, when your oestrogen levels start to fall it’s not unheard of for your skin to develop an itch. This is because oestrogen is important when it comes to regulating the moisture levels in your skin and your production of collagen thus when oestrogen declines, the strength and vitality of your skin can be affected, making it more prone to irritation. 

So where does your diet come into the picture here? 

Menopause can be a turbulent time which means that often your stress levels are elevated and important habits, such as drinking plenty of water, often get overlooked. Our Menopause Expert Eileen picks up on this in her Menopause Monday video, ‘Simple solutions to ease itchy skin.’ In this video, she also mentions that fluctuating blood sugar levels are another culprit which is why it’s important to prioritise healthy snacks. 

Sugary and carb-heavy foods might provide a quick release of energy but if you want a slow, steady release that’s not going to upset your blood sugar levels, fibre should be your go-to. Not only is fibre good for your energy levels, it can also keep your digestive system ticking over nicely, which is extremely important for the health of your skin. Good sources of fibre can include oats, beans, legumes and fruits such as bananas. 

What else can you do to combat the itch?

Okay, so aside from your diet how else can you tackle the issue of itchy skin? Well I actually cover this in more detail in my blog, ‘Why the sudden itch?’ so this might be a good read if you’re looking for more guidance on natural remedies.  You could also try our Soothing Neem Cream, which has been specially formulated for very dry, acne-prone skin. It’s excellent at calming irritation, taking the heat out of red rashes and quickly easing any itchiness. 

You can apply this cream directly to your skin but just be careful – it may not be suitable if you suffer from any ongoing nut allergies.

1https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/08/15/acne-eczema-psoriasis-you-need-to-look-at-your-gut-health_a_21451628/

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