Eczema is an umbrella label for several inflammatory skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. Eczema causes the skin to become red, dry, and itchy and damages skin’s moisture barrier. It makes your skin more prone to infection as well as more sensitive, which can lead to further dryness and itchiness. Babies are especially likely to develop eczema, though most grow out of it before they reach school age.
The itchy rash is common on the hands, the inner elbows, the ankles, the feet, the knees, and around the neck and eyes, though it can appear anywhere on the skin. What specifically causes eczema is debated; it can be attributed to any number of things, including an overactive immune system, genetics, stress levels, and a range of environmental factors. But eczema isn’t contagious, nor is it a sign of poor hygiene.
Six Foods That Can Treat and Prevent Eczema
While there’s no specific food or diet that will cure eczema, modifying your diet to include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods may help keep symptoms at bay. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent new outbreaks and keep your skin hydrated. If you think your diet may be the cause of your eczema flare-ups, speak with your primary doctor, dietitian, and/or dermatologist.
Elimination diets are another way to remove potentially triggering foods without limiting your diet all at once. When starting a new eating plan, consider working with a nutritionist or nutrition-focused Health Coach; they can be exceptional resources and help guide you in making lifestyle changes.
Nuts and seeds
Many nuts and seeds are naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies need but don’t produce on their own. Omega-3s are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, and flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and peanuts are all high in omega-3s. Opt for unsalted nut varieties, and note that some seeds – like flaxseeds – need to be ground for any nutritional benefits to be absorbed.
Fish (specifically, salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, and mackerel) are a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation. Fatty fish are also a great source of fat-soluble vitamin D, which helps the body’s immune system to function properly (i.e., not overreact or respond inappropriately, which is the case in autoimmune conditions).
Foods rich in vitamin D
Vitamin D has a direct impact on the strength of the immune system, and vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies around the globe. Much of the vitamin D we get comes from the sun, but the UVA and UVB rays from the sun pose their own risk. Incorporating foods high in vitamin D into your diet can get you the benefit of this nutrient without the risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Foods rich in vitamin D include eggs, salmon, yogurt, beef liver, and mushrooms.
Probiotic foods are beneficial for the gut, as they aid with digestion and regulate the levels of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Studies assert that more than 70% of immune system function is determined by gut health and prioritizing nutrition is key to maintaining this function. When your gut is healthy, it radiates out to almost every other area of your health, including that of your skin! Probiotics-rich foods include fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha as well as pickles and yogurt.
Eating cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower provides anti-inflammatory benefits. One study found that participants who ate more cruciferous vegetables per day showed significantly less inflammation and averaged between 13% and 25% lower levels of certain inflammatory markers in their blood.
Berries and cherries
Blueberries, elderberries, blackberries, and cherries all contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants like anthocyanins (which give berries their blue and purple hues) and polyphenols. These fruits are also rich in flavonoids – beneficial antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to disease.
Common Eczema Triggers
Some people may find that their eczema is triggered by an overactive immune system. Other causes can include food allergies or sensitivities and reactions to environmental factors like fragranced laundry detergent, soaps, and cleaning or beauty products.
When it comes to the connection between food allergy or sensitivity and eczema, it really depends on the individual. The National Eczema Foundation says that “food allergies are considered an official comorbidity (related health condition) of [eczema] alongside asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and depression. Researchers have found that up to 30% of people with [eczema] also have food allergies.”
One 2017 study reported that up to 81% of people with eczema also reported having food allergies or sensitivities. The general opinion is that eczema is not caused by food allergies, just exacerbated by them.
The Bottom Line
Eczema can be frustrating to deal with, and less-than-perfect skin can leave you feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed about your appearance. Although not all causes of eczema can be controlled, adjusting your diet, altering your environment, and even managing your stress levels can help prevent and manage flare-ups.
While not all ailments can be managed or treated with diet, at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), we approach food as a means to help heal the body, and it’s one of the many core concepts that make up our holistic nutritional approach. If you’re dealing with eczema or another inflammatory condition, try to incorporate specific foods that nourish your unique body and are part of a holistic and integrated way to take care of your well-being.