Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Eczema is such a multi-factorial health condition characterised by dry, red and itchy skin. It can be a tricky condition to get control of as so many factors play a role in triggering symptoms and what helps one person may not help another.
When eczema becomes severe it can be very debilitating, affecting almost every aspect of a person's life. The condition is often poorly understood by people and it can really take a toll on a person’s emotional health.
I myself was born with atopic eczema and have spent years trying to manage this condition. It took me a long time to realise that finding that ‘magic cream’ was never going to happen, some would help but they never really resolved my issues. It wasn’t until I learned about nutritional therapy and how to apply this to my life, that my symptoms resolved.
The typical therapies offered by conventional medicine include immunomodulators, corticosteroids, topical steroids and antihistamines. These medications, while effective for many, all come with some rather unappealing side effects.
Unfortunately, the connection between skin and diet is often discounted by conventional medicine. This is a shame because food can play a big role in eczema. If you have eczema, the only way to truly get a handle on it is to stop only treating the symptoms and start addressing some of the root causes.
If you or a loved one have eczema, it can often be very confusing and daunting, chances are you just don’t know where to start.
So here are just a few things that can trigger or worsen eczema symptoms -
Processed foods. This one probably goes without saying… but eating a diet high in heavily refined, processed foods will leave your body craving for the nutrients it needs in order to produce healthy skin cells. Processed foods not only tend to be nutrient poor, they also contain various chemicals and hydrogenated oils that can negatively impact our skin, and overall health. Adopting a wholefood, plant-based diet rich in colour and diversity can make a huge difference to our skin’s health, whether you have eczema or not.
Food allergies/Food Intolerances. If someone has eczema it’s not uncommon for food allergies and/or food intolerances to be playing a role. An elimination diet can be extremely useful in helping to determine which foods are inflaming the immune system. The most common food triggers are gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy and nuts.
Supporting intestinal barrier function. The greek physician, Hipocrates, really hit the nail on the head 2,000 years ago when he said ‘all disease begins in the gut’. The gut really is the gateway to health. Admittedly, genetics can also play a large role but about 80% of our immune system resides in the gut and supporting gut health can be beneficial in most health conditions. We all have trillions of bacteria residing in our guts and if you have eczema, it's not uncommon for the bacterial balance to be disrupted. Poor diet, antibiotics and stress are just a few factors that can impact our gut bacteria. Start supporting the gut by consuming both prebiotics (food for your good gut bacteria) and probiotics (good bacteria). Prebiotics rich sources include oats, bananas, asparagus, leeks, artichokes and garlic. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut.
Histamines - Eczema sufferers often find that foods high in histamines can trigger or worsen their eczema. This is known as histamine intolerance’. Some people are not able to process histamines as well as others and when they eat foods rich in these compounds, eczema symptoms can occur. A good analogy to help you understand this type of intolerance is to imagine a bucket, filling up with these histamines. If we are not able to eliminate histamines efficiently from the body, at some point the bucket will fill and the contents overspill and cause eczema symptoms. A low histamine for a period of time can really help to alleviate eczema for some.
Stress. Stress is a major factor for many with eczema and stress-busting methods such as mindfulness and meditation can often help reduce a person's symptoms. When we get stressed we release a hormone called ‘cortisol’. Cortisol not only can lead to blood sugar spikes therefore contributing to chronic inflammation, it also has the ability to increase the permeability if our gut lining causing a common condition often referred to as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.
Addressing nutrient insufficiency.
Vitamin D - ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’. Vitamin D is not simply a vitamin, it’s actually a steroidal hormone and nearly every cell in the body has a receptor for vitamin D. Vitamin D can help modulate inflammation and support the natural immunity of our skin by regulating antimicrobial proteins.Vitamin D can be obtained by foods but the best way to get healthy levels is through exposing your skin to the sun. I often recommend that people go out in the UK summer sun without sunscreen for about 10-15 minutes to top their vitamin D.
Zinc - This mineral is critical for proper immune function and can help to repair damaged skin tissue. Some top food sources for zinc include meat, seafood, especially oysters, spinach, cacao powder, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts and legumes.
The above is just a taster of what can be done to help support skin health and relieve eczema symptoms. As someone who has had atopic eczema most of my life, I know how powerful food and addressing certain imbalances within the body can be.
As a Nutritional Therapist I feel blessed to have so many tools in my toolkit in order to help people with skin conditions. If you need some support getting your eczema under control please contact me, I will be able to help you.