An introduction to eczema and diet
Research is still ongoing when it comes to analysing the relationship between your diet and eczema, but it curious how it persistently occurs in those that have food allergies. This is especially true in children, with around 37% of young children with eczema also suffering from a food allergy.
Interestingly, while some sufferers of food intolerance do have eczema, there is some evidence to suggest that children with eczema are more likely to develop food allergies.1
Research has indicated that an impaired skin barrier could play an integral role in developing food allergies. Nevertheless, more studies are still needed and while eczema may make you more prone to food allergies, it’s also true that certain food products can inflame pre-existing eczema symptoms.
The best nutrients for eczema
In addition to food allergies, eczema has been associated with quite a few nutritional deficiencies too and it’s been revealed that eczema patients are more predisposed to zinc-deficiency as well as low levels of vitamin A & D.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the immune system and for regulating the amount of calcium in the body, helping to keep bones and muscles healthy. Unfortunately, in countries like the UK, vitamin D deficiencies are all too common due to lack of sunlight and dietary issues. Now though, evidence is emerging that vitamin D may be useful for eczema symptoms.
It has been discovered that eczema sufferers are also more likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiencies. While there is no evidence yet to imply that vitamin D can be used to treat eczema, studies have uncovered that low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to severe eczema symptoms and that children are more likely to suffer from eczema if their mother’s had low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy.2
This could imply that there is a correlation between the nutrient and the skin condition. This in part could be because of vitamin D’s effect on the immune system, as the nutrient has been proven to reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines3, and as you may know, inflammation is a huge trigger for eczema.
So how can you increase your intake of vitamin D? Well, you can synthesise vitamin D naturally from sunlight so getting outside might be a good first step. You could also try to include more vitamin D rich foods in your diet and, perhaps during the darker winter months, consider a vitamin D supplement, though be careful you don’t inadvertently get too much!
Food sources: Sardines, salmon, mushrooms, fortified soy milk
Grilled Honey Lemon Sardines with Herbed Rice
Gluten Free Buckwheat & Mushroom Risotto
Omega fatty acids
Omega fatty acids are renowned for supporting healthy brain function and regulating inflammatory responses. When it comes to eczema, they are one of the first nutrients usually recommended to sufferers. One study found that taking fish oil (high in EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid) helped to significantly reduce the symptoms of eczema by moderating leukotriene B4, an inflammatory chemical.4
In addition to this, researchers also discovered that a diet rich in omega-3 can help eczema sufferers to reduce the severity of their symptoms!5 The benefits of omega fatty acids were also expounded in a 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal, which found that taking an omega-3 supplement during pregnancy could reduce the chances of the baby developing atopic eczema.6
Getting more omega fatty acids into your diet should be easy, even if you are vegetarian or vegan. There are still plenty of plant-based sources to choose from, although if you do feel like you could use an extra boost of omega, our friends over at Jan de Vries offer a range of supplements. I would personally recommend Vridian’s vegan-friendly organic Omega 3:6:9 Oil which contains vitamin E in addition to GLA and a range of carotenoids.
Food Sources: Salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, tuna, hemp seeds
Chocolate and Cherry Energy Bites
Coffee Chia Puddings
Zinc is a natural anti-inflammatory mineral that’s crucial for good skin health as well as your gut. This is because zinc can help to restore good gut flora, which is often imbalanced in sufferers of eczema. Since it’s estimated that over 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut, it can subsequently have a very beneficial effect on the immune system too, helping it work more efficiently, keeping pathogens and irritants from permeating your epidermal layer of skin.
Zinc also plays a key role in the production of certain proteins and enzymes, some of which are involved in the metabolism of essential fatty acids, another important nutrient for your skin. One study found that taking 60mg of zinc a day managed to relieve 73% of participant’s skin rashes.7 This implies that increasing your levels of zinc may be useful for certain eczema symptoms.
Fortunately, there are plenty of food sources of zinc to choose from!
Food sources: Pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cocoa powder, spinach, mushrooms
Chickpea and Oat Falafel Bites
Apple and Spinach Smoothie
Vitamin E is a fat soluble nutrient that possesses antioxidant qualities, helping to support the immune system and the production of red blood cells as well as strengthening the capillary walls. When it comes to eczema, topical vitamin E is often prescribed by doctors to ease inflammation, however, increasing your intake of vitamin E orally may also be useful.
According to a study conducted in Japan and published in the Paediatric Allergic and Immunology, children who high the highest levels of tocopherols (vitamin E compounds) in their blood were 67% less at risk of having eczema than children with lower levels.8
This evidence would seem to implicate that higher levels of vitamin E may be beneficial for skin conditions such as eczema. You can increase your intake of vitamin E in numerous ways, but ideally you should first try to seek out dietary sources before resorting to supplements. However, if you are looking for a supplement that’s high in vitamin E, you could try our Wheat Germ Oil Capsules!
Food sources: Avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, wheat germ
Sweet Potato and Kale Soup
Avocado Canapés with Gourmet Mix Sprouts
2Akan A, Azkur D, Ginis T, Toyran M, Kocabas CN. Vitamin D Level in Children Is Correlated with Severity of Atopic Dermatitis but Only in Patients with Allergic Sensitizations. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013;30(3):359–364. doi:10.1111/pde.12058.
Foods that may upset your symptoms
Unfortunately, since food allergies are so interlinked with eczema, many people find that their symptoms flare-up when they eat certain foods. These food products will vary from person to person so it’s always worth keeping a food diary to try and spot any patterns – the most common offenders are usually, wheat, gluten, dairy or nuts!
Here I’ll be taking a more general look at foods that may upset your eczema symptoms simply because of the affect they have on your body and how they can trigger inflammation. I’m not suggesting that you eliminate these foods completely from your diet, but it is important to remember that moderation is key, and to be aware of any habits that may be occurring!
Soybeans are normally a favoured food product here at A.Vogel because of their numerous health properties, forming the basis of vegan-friendly alternatives such as tofu. However, soy does seem to be a recurring allergen that can inspire a flare-up of eczema, particularly in the case of young children and teenagers.
One study, conducted again in Japan and published in the Journal of Dermatology, found that avoiding soy-based foods for three months significantly reduced eczema symptoms in the participating patients.9 Of course, as I mentioned earlier, food allergies can be subjective but if you do notice any symptoms emerging, it might be worthwhile considering your soy intake – just remember that this ingredient is in a variety of food products so remember to pay close attention to the labels!
Refined sugar seems to make it to the top of a variety of different skincare lists and for good reason! Although sugar can act as a fuel source for the entire body, our modern day diets contain far too much of the stuff and this is when things can start to go badly wrong for our bodies. As our sleep advisor Marianna details in her blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep causing you to overeat’ sugar can stimulate your nervous system, keeping you awake at night when your body should be doing maintenance work!
Sugar can also have an impact on your gut flora, causing an imbalance that could potentially trigger an episode of gut dysbiosis or leaky gut, which is thought to be one of the main causes of eczema, as I detail in my blog, ‘Can eczema be affected by stress.’ You also have to consider that over 70% of your immune cells reside in your gut so that’s definitely not good news for your immune function either.
And, last but certainly not least, sugar can definitely stimulate inflammation, promoting the spread of free-radical molecules that may damage your skin and irritate your eczema symptoms.
I talked quite a bit about dairy in relation to acne in my blog ‘Do dairy products really cause acne’ but as it turns out, this particular food group isn’t so good when it comes to eczema either. It’s one of the biggest culprits when it comes to food intolerances and many people have reported that a dairy-free diet has noticeably improved their eczema symptoms.
But why? How can dairy products trigger bouts of eczema? There is no definitive answer but some experts do seem to think that if you are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant, certain proteins will not be broken down correctly in the digestive system and that these partially digested proteins will leak from your gut to your bloodstream where they will be identified as ‘unfriendly’ inspiring an inflammatory reaction from your immune system.
While dairy may not be behind your eczema flare-up, it’s important to be aware of it as a potential trigger. Fortunately, there are a variety of dairy-free alternatives available as our nutritionist Emma explores in her blog ‘Our guide to dairy-free milk.’
Processed foods are unfortunately, everywhere and, while they do offer a certain level of convenience, they are also loaded with artificial preservatives, sweeteners and sugar, which are all capable of inflaming your eczema symptoms. While there is no conclusive evidence linking processed foods to eczema, the presence of all these synthetic ingredients is definitely not doing your body any good.
As I mentioned earlier, sugar can upset your digestive function and your immune system, while artificial flavours and dyes sometimes contain toxic components and certainly won’t be offering your body anything of nutritional value. I would try and cut down on these foods in favour of fresher alternatives that may contain more antioxidants and skin-boosting nutrients!