Eating For Eczema Foods to Avoid and Foods That May Help
Author: Vanessa Gagliardi
Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition typically characterised by redness, heat, itching and scaling of the skin. In more severe cases, thickening and hardening of the skin can occur, and small, raised bumps can appear that ooze fluid when scratched. It affects 10-12% of the population, predominantly in children under 5 years old.
There is a myriad of possible causative factors of eczema. Eczema can be caused by environmental factors like perfumes, detergents, synthetic fibres and dyes. It could be a result of a food allergy or intolerance, it can be provoked by stress, and it can also be genetic.
Foods That Can Help
Many nutrients are responsible for maintaining healthy skin, including vitamins A and C, zinc, iron and essential fatty acids. Even probiotics can help to support healthy skin! Here is a list of some nutrients that are essential for skin health, and the foods you can find them in:
Vitamin A maintains the health of epithelial cells in the body (epithelial cells are those that line the outer surfaces of organs and blood vessels throughout the body, including the epidermis – the outer layer of the skin). Vitamin A is important for skin integrity and health and supports wound healing.
Food sources of vitamin A: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, rockmelon, red capsicum, grapefruit, lamb and beef liver, cod liver oil.
Our skin contains collagen, a compound responsible for its elasticity and wound healing. Vitamin C promotes collagen synthesis, thus helping to support healthy skin. Low vitamin C levels have been linked with increased inflammatory markers in the blood, meaning not only is it great for skin elasticity and wound healing, but it also possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
Food sources of vitamin C: citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges, berries, kiwifruit, cherries, broccoli, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, tomatoes, capsicum.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are called ‘essential’ because the body cannot make them on its own – we need to consume them from our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular can promote healthy skin and have been studied for their anti-inflammatory actions in skin conditions including eczema. Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines and they help to improve skin integrity.
Iron is an essential mineral for human health, playing a role in the proliferation of all cells, including those of the skin. Iron also plays a role in the synthesis of collagen and elastin which keep our skin and connective tissue firm and tight. Interestingly, low levels of iron in umbilical cord blood are associated with an increased risk of childhood eczema.
Food sources of iron: red meat including lamb and beef, dried apricots, tofu, spinach, parsley, green peas, asparagus, quinoa, white button mushrooms.
When we think of probiotics, we usually relate them to digestive health. Probiotics can not only support our gut, but they have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects too! Studies have shown supplementation with probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus strains like L. rhamnosus, can reduce the incidence of eczema.
Food sources of Lactobacillus probiotics: yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut.
Did you know that zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the body? 11% of our body’s zinc stores is found in the skin. Zinc is essential for many processes in the body, including for tissue health and wound healing of the skin. Zinc also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, rendering it helpful in inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.
Food sources of zinc: oysters, beef, firm tofu, lentils, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds.
Foods to Avoid / Limit
Eating certain foods doesn’t appear to cause eczema, rather it can trigger a flare-up if you already have the condition. For example, some people find that eating probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt can be helpful for their skin, while for others, dairy of any kind can trigger a flare-up. Before cutting out any foods from your diet, it is important to establish if you do in fact have any food triggers – this is best done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
The most common food allergies associated with eczema include cow’s milk, eggs, soy, gluten, nuts and shellfish. If you have established you have any sensitivities or allergies to any of these foods, then it is recommended to avoid them.
As eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, reducing inflammation is a crucial step in helping to support the skin. Reducing inflammation starts with removing inflammatory foods from the diet, including:
- Sugar (including hidden sugars found in sauces, jams and other condiments)
- Processed and highly refined foods (such as sweets and pastries, fast food)
- Foods containing artificial colours and flavours
- Vegetable oils (i.e. canola, sunflower)
- Processed meat (i.e. cold meats, tinned meat)
If you have concerns regarding your skin or if you have been diagnosed with eczema, we recommend seeing your healthcare practitioner. Before including or eliminating any particular foods/food groups, we recommend you seek guidance from your healthcare practitioner.
- Hechtman, L. (2012), Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Chapter: The Dermatological System, pp. 631-652, Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
- Kogan, S., Sood, A., Granick, M.S. (2017), Zinc and Wound Healing: A Review of Zinc Physiology and Clinical Applications, 29(4): 102-106
- Olsen, N. (2018), How to Create an Eczema-Friendly Diet, Healthline, <https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-disorders/eczema-diet>
- Schmitt, J., Apfelbacher, C., Flohr, C. (2011), Eczema, BMJ Journal of Clinical Evidence, pii: 1716
- Sullivan, D. (2018), Eczema: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment, Healthline, <https://www.healthline.com/health/eczema>
|Written by Vanessa Gagliardi|
Vanessa (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for good food. She uses nutrition and herbal medicine to help people feel their best, from the inside out.
Vanessa enjoys nature walks and Pilates, and loves a good almond mocha.