Easing Eczema Naturally through Diet
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry, reddened patches that can sometimes ooze, weep, blister, and crust over, leaving sufferers itchy and uncomfortable. While topical creams may help temporarily, often the inflammation comes back with a vengeance. Understanding what’s happening inside the body is key to diagnosing the root of the flare ups as eczema has been linked to genetics, allergies and immune dysregulation, poor digestion, toxic load, and food and environmental sensitivities. With such diverse roots it means there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the symptoms but going deeper than the skin’s surface is essential for finding the root cause of inflammation.
Digestion’s role in skin health
Did you know that 1–3 bowel movements per day is an ideal marker of good digestive health? If we aren’t properly digesting, absorbing, and eliminating, we are predisposing ourselves to a host of unpleasant symptoms. Hippocrates famously purported, “All disease begins in the gut,” and he was very likely on to something. We now know that the human microbiota has a profound influence on our health and it must maintain a delicate balance for the body to perform optimally. Our microbiome is also intricately linked to our digestive and immune systems, which makes sense when we consider that a large portion (some sources say up to 80%!) of our immune system resides in our gut. In fact, the composition of gut microbiota can distinguish between healthy children and those who will go on to develop eczema. And since eczema is often considered to be allergic in nature, it necessarily signals a disharmony in the immune system, making the health of our digestive tract and its resident microorganisms a top priority in eczema’s treatment.
Supportive first steps
- Eat well by including a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and feed friendly gut bacteria with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and pickles. Limit or exclude processed foods and sugars.
- Remove triggers and hidden food sensitivities that may be contributing to skin flare ups with an elimination diet. This may be particularly useful if you also experience digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Several studies have shown improvements in children with atopic dermatitis when elimination of food allergens was implemented.
- Hydrate to help keep the skin moisturized. Dryness compromises the skin barrier function.
- Soothe skin (and avoid silicone) with natural ingredients like coconut oil, chamomile, calendula, chickweed and oatmeal, and avoid harsh chemicals which may further irritate the skin.
- Probiotics have been shown to repair intestinal permeability in children with food allergies and eczema, as well as reduce both systemic and local inflammation.
- Essential fatty acids are not synthesized by the body and must be obtained from other sources. Both omega-3 (linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) are remarkably important for reducing inflammation and for supporting joint, heart, brain, and skin health. A 2010 study found that children who had fish (a source of omega-3) introduced into their diets by their first birthday were less likely to develop atopic dermatitis. Great food sources of omega-3 include fatty fish, flax, walnuts, and chia seeds, while omega-6 can be found in hemp, flax, safflower, and evening primrose oil.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has numerous functions in the body including the promotion of bone, immune, and mental health. There have been observational studies showing that lower serum vitamin D is related to an increase in incidence and severity of eczema. While vitamin D is best obtained by sun exposure (particularly UVB rays), it can also be acquired from beef, cod liver oil, and mushrooms.
- Zinc is an important mineral involved in many pathways in the body and plays a significant role in the immune system and wound healing. It is also an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Some trials suggest a correlation between children with atopic dermatitis and reduced zinc status. Great food sources of zinc are seafood, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and other legumes, spinach, and cashews.
Getting to the root of inflammation is key to easing the discomfort of eczema. Work with your healthcare provider to come up with a holistic strategy that includes a whole-body approach—one that goes deeper than that topical cream and comes right from your gut!