DIET AND ECZEMA
Are there foods or supplements that can help eczema?
Are there foods that should be avoided?
While some dietary approaches may help, there's a lot of misinformation out there
Many of my eczema patients ask me about their diet. What do I think about the latest detox diet? Are there any diets or nutritional supplements that can help improve eczema? Are any of these actually supported by research?
The answer is yes, some dietary approaches have shown promise for eczema patients. BUT (and this is a big disclaimer), this is an area that's fraught with misinformation. You have to be very, very careful. One of my patients had a friend try to sell her on a detox diet. This particular diet included consuming lots of Epsom salts-which is outright dangerous!
Food Allergies and Eczema: A Complicated Relationship
Let's start with foods that may make eczema worse. This is an area that's very complicated and very challenging. For some patients with eczema, food allergies may play a role. For other patients, foods have no effect at all. This page summarizes what we know at this time, while this article, published in a medical journal, summarizes the research studies.
Foods and Supplements That May Help: What We Know
What about the other side of the equation? Are there any diets or supplements that can help eczema patients? The answer is that while some have shown promise, we need far more research in this area.
Here's the summary on foods:
Research supports a gut-skin link. What this means is that foods that help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract may have some benefit on the skin barrier. That's why we encourage plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (as long as you're not allergic, of course). That natural fiber is called a "prebiotic", because it encourages the growth of good gut microbes. It's possible that probiotic foods may help also, which means foods with live, active cultures of microbes. This includes foods such as yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, miso, certain vinegars, and others.
Making sure your diet contains healthy fats may also help the skin barrier. This includes foods rich in omega-3s, such as walnuts, ground flaxseeds, and salmon.
Here's the summary on supplements:
When it comes to supplements, the most promising results have been from studies of probiotics taken with prebiotics (see this link for study details).
Fish oil supplements haven't been studied enough to draw any definite conclusions, but with some promising preliminary results, more research is warranted.
There have been multiple studies of evening primrose oil and borage seed oil. Based on these studies, they do not appear to improve eczema. (Although research on their effects on skin barrier function is ongoing.)
Vitamin D supplements are still being studied. They are probably NOT helpful for most eczema patients. However, some researchers have suggested that it may be worthwhile to perform further research in eczema patients with very low levels of serum Vitamin D or eczema patients who have frequent bacterial skin infections or food allergies.
The studies on Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) have NOT been convincing so far. Research has found that while CHM may indeed make use of herbs, these preparations may also include minerals or animal products. To complicate matters, the different recipes for CHM and doses vary quite a bit. That makes it very difficult to study and compare these supplements. Based on the research to date, differing formulations and doses of CHM, and multiple unanswered questions, at this time we do NOT recommend CHM as a treatment for eczema, although more research may be warranted.