Foods that fight eczema

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This article was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated.

Winter is typically the time when eczema sufferers start complaining about their painful, dry, cracked skin. It’s when no amount of moisturizer alleviates the insatiable itch or the embarrassment of having less-than-perfect skin.

If you’re an eczema sufferer, I can sympathize. Mine is a severe condition that I’ve battled into adulthood. Interestingly, winter is my favourite time of the year — sweaters, scarves, socks and pants help me cover up my cracked scaly skin, scabby blisters and blotchy hyper-pigmentation.

To say the least I’m something of an expert when it comes to eczema — you name it, I’ve tried it. Topical steroids that thinned out my skin? Check. Tar soaps, oatmeal baths and natural detergents? Check, check and check. Nothing’s worked long-term. That is until one day a friend suggested I avoid foods high in histamine. It seemed obvious – why hadn’t I thought of that before? Foods high in histamine would naturally cause an allergic response and inflammation. So thus began the journey that eventually led me to The Eczema Diet. In the book, by nutritionist Karen Fischer, I discovered seven foods that help decrease inflammation, promote skin repair and are considered eczema-safe.

The top seven eczema-healthy foods are:

1. Banana: High in potassium.

2. Beef or chicken broth: Provides skin-repairing amino acid glycine.

3. Potato: Rich in fibre, potassium and vitamin C.

4. Green onions: Rich source of vitamin K, important for healthy skin.

5. Buckwheat: Gluten-free and has strong anti-inflammatory effect

6. Rice milk: Low allergy and low in chemicals and considered eczema safe

7. Mung bean sprouts: Strong alkalizing food

There are many more eczema-healthy foods (like fish, beans and loads of vegetables), but a good way to check if specific foods are causing your breakouts is by cutting out common culprits for 14 days then reintroducing them back into your diet one-by-one to see if they cause a reaction. Remember: sometimes it can take a few days for symptoms to appear.

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© Provided by IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd Eczema is an itchy inflammation of the skin that causes it to become patchy, red, itchy, cracked, inflamed and rough. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

Those who suffer from skin eczema must know that there are many things that can trigger and complicate it. For the uninitiated, eczema is an itchy inflammation of the skin that causes it to become patchy, red, itchy, cracked, inflamed and rough. Which is why, it is important for the affected person to know everything about food allergies, sensitivities and intolerance to keep the condition under control.

There are some foods that absolutely do not sit well, and must be avoided. Then there are some that can soothe the skin and provide relief. If you are seeking answers, here’s what we have for you.

What is eczema diet?

Simply put, the eczema diet refers to foods that one should consume to prevent the condition from flaring. This has to be done religiously because if ignored, the condition can worsen, leading to other problems as well.

As such, have foods that fight inflammation in the body. Consume plenty of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich in pro-biotics — like yogurt, miso soup, and other fermented foods and drinks — can also help. They promote gut health and facilitate digestion. Foods high in inflammation-fighting flavonoids such as apples, broccoli, cherries, spinach, etc., can also stop the condition from worsening.

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While these foods are not known to reverse the condition altogether, they can control the severity of the condition.

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Foods to avoid

Eliminate some common foods from your diet as these can trigger a flare-up, including foods that have a high content of added sugar, such as sweetened beverages and sweets. Experts say that the triggers happen a few hours after the food is consumed. If you are suffering from eczema, instead of eliminating foods totally, check with your doctor first. They might look at your medical history and prescribe a diet chart.

Other trigger foods may include: dairy products, eggs, some types of nuts, gluten or wheat, among others.

What causes eczema?

It should be known that eczema is not contagious. While specific causes are unknown, it is believed that the condition is a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

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Is What You’re Eating Making Your Eczema Worse?

You may already know that winter’s dry air, cranked-up heat, long hot showers, and multi-layered clothing can cause dry skin and eczema flare-ups. But did you know that certain foods can add to that annoying and uncomfortable itch? If you frequently suffer from red, itchy skin, there are some foods you should eat and others to avoid. Plus, there are other things you can do to be more comfortable.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is a medical condition that causes the skin to become dry, red, sensitive, raw, and extremely itchy. In some cases, eczema can result in raised bumps, and cracked, thickened, scaly skin. This condition typically appears on the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, neck, and upper chest. It can also occur inside the bend of the knees and elbows, and on the eyelids. Occasionally, an individual may develop hay fever or asthma at the same time.

Why Do I have Eczema?

First off, you’re not alone! Approximately 10.1% of Americans (31.6 million people) have some type of eczema, and atopic dermatitis. The most common type of eczema often develops in infants and young children.

Eczema is considered a chronic condition that suddenly flares up for various reasons and tends to be hereditary. But before you blame your parents for your itchy skin, you should know that it doesn’t always pass on directly to children. In fact, it’s still not known why some people develop eczema while others don’t. Research suggests that there is interplay between genetic disposition and environmental factors, referred to as triggers. These triggers can set off an eczema outbreak in those who are predisposed to the condition.

Eczema symptoms often appear in the winter, when cold, dry air sucks the moisture out of your body. Perspiration is also a trigger, which can occur in hot, humid weather or in bundle-up type of weather that’s cold and dry. It can surface with exercise or stress. Allergens such as pets, pollen, dust mites, and mold can also bring out eczema symptoms.

Chemical irritants also contribute to eczema attacks and there’s a mile-long lineup of possible culprits. These substances vary and make up the daily fabric of our modern lives. These include automobile exhaust fumes, industrial soot, pesticides, fertilizers, and secondhand tobacco smoke. Preservatives found in processed foods, drugs, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products can aggravate the condition along with fragrances, pigments, taste enhancers, surfactants, and chelating agents that act as irritants to activate eczema. Heavy metals that cause hypersensitivity reactions from jewelry and dental fillings, can also trigger this debilitating condition.

The Eczema and Food Allergy Connection

If that laundry list of eczema triggers isn’t discouraging enough, studies have recently found . Results show that up to 81% of people with eczema also have a food allergy. Researchers believe that an eczema rash and inflammation may weaken the skin’s barriers and allow contact between certain food proteins present in the environment and the skin’s immune cells. Once the body’s immune system is sensitized in this way, eating any of these foods can cause an allergic response. Researchers focus on filaggrin, an epidermal barrier protein, as it was found that a deficiency of filaggrin may lead to atopic dermatitis.

While most studies focus on children, adults face the same risk when it comes to eczema and resulting food sensitivities. This food/eczema link also goes in both directions. While it appears likely that eczema may cause food allergies, certain common food allergens can also trigger or worsen the condition.

Foods That Trigger Eczema Outbreaks

The top foods that get people itchy are those that frequently cause allergic symptoms, such as milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and peanuts. A milk allergy is different from being lactose intolerance. An allergy to wheat, which can be quite severe (as a soy allergy), is different from gluten intolerance. Certain individuals can be so allergic to peanuts that even being near someone eating them can cause a serious reaction. People who are allergic to these foods may have an eczema outbreak when they come upon one of these triggers.

Apart from these common food allergies, there are other items that can worsen eczema symptoms or act as a trigger for certain individuals. Nutritionist Karen Fischer’s ‘Itchy Dozen’ list includes dairy products, grapes, oranges, kiwi fruit, soy and tamari sauce, tomatoes, avocados, broccoli, dried fruits, deli meats, eggs, and various kinds of junk food. Three chemicals that naturally occur in many of these foods are salicylates, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and amines. These are all found to cause adverse reactions that include atopic eczema.

Food reactions and eczema triggers vary from person to person. If you’re not sure what makes your symptoms worse, an elimination diet may help to determine the problem foods.

Relieve Eczema Symptoms with the Right Foods

You might be wondering, “Are there any foods that won’t make my eczema worse?” Yes, there are! Since eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, foods that have anti-inflammatory properties help to alleviate eczema symptoms. Anti-inflammatory foods include fish and foods high in flavonoids and probiotics. Fish that contain the highest levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna. If you’re a vegan with eczema, consider a plant-based omega-3 supplement. Probiotic foods such as yogurt, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, and miso also help, along with flavonoid-rich foods such as kale, spinach, broccoli, apples, and cherries.

What Else Can You Do to Ditch That Itch?

Here are some other steps you can take to relieve eczema symptoms:

  • Drink lots of water to replenish your body’s moisture.
  • Take a vitamin D supplement daily, especially in winter months.
  • Use mild soaps, laundry detergents, and personal care products that are void of chemicals.
  • Apply topical lotions that reduce inflammation.
  • Take lukewarm rather than hot showers and baths that dry out your skin.
  • Take colloidal oatmeal baths to help moisturize your skin.
  • Don’t rub your skin, pat it dry, as scratching or rubbing can make your eczema worse.
  • Immediately follow every shower or bath with a thick moisturizer to protect the skin barrier.
  • Use a humidifier in the winter to keep the air moist.
  • Avoid wool and nylon clothing and bedding, as these fibers can irritate your skin. Cotton is recommended for those with eczema, as it allows the skin to breathe and will prevent overheating.
  • Manage stress with exercise, yoga, and meditation.

While there isn’t yet a definitive eczema cure, awareness of the possible triggers, beneficial foods, and smart personal habits can keep your itch at bay to make you feel comfortable in your own skin.

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The best ingredients for soothing eczema

If your fridge is looking a little bare without eggs and avocados, don’t stress—just replace them with alkalizing, anti-inflammatory, omega-packed ingredients to protect and rejuvenate your skin. Fischer suggests doubling down on the foods below for the first three months of your detox. Then, you can slowly start reintroducing your favorites from the eczema “Dirty Dozen” list and seeing if they cause a flare-up. (Only if you want to, of course!).

  • Flaxseed oil: “It literally moisturizes skin from the inside out,” says Fischer. “Eczema is dry skin. It drives people crazy, and it’s really part of the pain of eczema.” Just 1/2 teaspoon of flaxseed oil per day will give you your fill of omega-3s.
  • Red cabbage: This ingredient gets its vibrant color from anthocyanin—a skin-protecting pigment that’s also found in purple cauliflower. To boot, it’s also highly alkalizing and naturally anti-inflammatory.
  • Beets: When it comes to cultivating that otherworldly glow, nothing beats beets. They give your liver a hand in eliminating those pesky chemicals, and they’re even said to make your collagen supplements more effective.
  • Saffron: Fischer calls this “The world’s most expensive spice—but you don’t need much of it for it to have benefits.” She advises adding saffron to a warm cup of rice milk right before bed to promote better digestion while you sleep.
  • Carob: Reach for this caffeine-free cocoa alternative to soothe your digestive tract and curb your hunger.
  • Oats: Along with fiber, your overnight oats also contains vitamin E, zinc, and silica—a killer combo for strong skin.
  • Fish: Fischer recommends selecting a smaller fish that’s low in mercury, like salmon, sardines, or trout.
  • Pears: “Peeled pears are very low in natural chemicals. They’re wonderful for their soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps to reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases and diabetes,” says Fischer. For a super alkalizing juice, she recommends blending these beauties with beets and carrots—trust, you won’t even miss your a.m. glass of OJ.

Did you know the ketogenic diet has been linked to skin issues like facial redness? If you can relate, these are the 8 foods a nutritionist recommends for soothing your skin.

9 foods to help eczema from the inside out

When the number of people affected with skin condition eczema has steadily risen in the past decade, it’s worth taking note.

Like most allergies, a combination of prescribed medicines and a healthy, clearly defined long term diet can help manage the worst symptoms.

Dr Sarah Schenker, dietitian and Cetraben partner, says: “Healthy skin depends on a well-balanced diet that provides enough of all the nutrients to meet the body’s requirements.“

Here are some foods and nutrients that can help strengthen your body against eczema:

1. Boost Beta Carotene

Schenker says: “Beta carotene acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body and is especially important for healthy skin as it is able to scavenge and neutralise free radicals.”

Get it from where? “The richest sources of beta-carotene are colourful fruit and vegetables such as carrots, peppers, tomatoes, mangoes, apricots, and butternut squash. Green leafy veg such as watercress and spinach also provide plenty of beta carotene.”

Eat: Watercress

The green leaves of watercress have cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve inflamed patches of sore skin. Drink it as a juice, by boiling it in water for 10 minutes, or buy it fresh to add to salads and sandwiches.

Eat: Carrots

Carrots can help protect the skin and build its resistance against the dryness and peeling, common factors with dermatological conditions.

2. Top up Vitamin C

Schenker says: “Vitamin C is essential for healthy skin. One of its most important roles in the body is in the production of collagen, a protein needed for wound healing. It is also an important nutrient for the immune system which fights off invading bacteria and viruses and protects against disease. Healthy skin is dependent on good immunity.”

Get it from where? “The richest sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit (oranges and grapefruits) and their juices, peppers and kiwi fruit. Other good sources include broccoli, berries, melon, tomatoes and potatoes.”

Eat: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato root proteins and vitamin C content make it an excellent antioxidant which can protect the body from allergic responses. Its high levels of fibre and potassium can also improve the health of your skin.

Eat: Apples

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” might be a bit of a simplification for anyone aspiring to lead a healthy life, but it can be a tasty and vital source of Vitamin C and quercetin, a crucial flavonol in fighting eczema’s worst symptoms, such as dry skin and itching. Its also has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties that can helpalleviate skin inflammations.

3. Enjoy Vitamin D

Schenker says: “Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system and is essential for maintaining a good balance of healthy bacteria in the microbiota which in turn impacts the health of the skin.”

Get it from where? “Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the UK diet. Sources include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and mushrooms.”

Eat: Salmon

This fish is full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamin D, which can improve the health of our entire body, including your skin. It contains astaxanthin, another antioxidant that can decrease the potency allergic reactions such as eczema.

Eat: Fortified Yoghurt

Alongside calcium and ‘good’ gut bacteria that can improve the functioning of the immune system, and consequently reduce the potential for allergic reactions, fortified yoghurts (check the label) also contain Vitamin D.

4. Load up on Vitamin E

Schenker says: “Vitamin E works with vitamin C and beta carotene to prevent damage to skin cells from ultra violet light. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant crucial for preventing free radical damage.

Get it where? “Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin so it is found in nuts, seeds, avocados, healthy oils and wholegrains. It is also found in green leafy veg such as kale.”

Eat: Walnuts

Walnuts can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. They also possess rare forms of phytonutrients which can help battle the skin deterioration that commonly occurs with eczema.

5. Rely on fatty acids

Schenker says: “Essential fatty acids – linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid – are needed in our diets as they cannot be made in the body. They are present in skin cells and needed to maintain the structural integrity of the cell.

Get it where? “Essential fatty acids can be found in wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, rye, oats and barley. They are also found in nuts, seeds, avocados and healthy cooking oils such as rapeseed and olive oil. Long chain omega 3 fats are found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines and fresh tuna.”

Eat: Avocado

Mash it on toast, use it instead of butter or mayonnaise and feel the benefits in your skin.

Eat: Olive oil

Drizzle it on roasted vegetables, dunk chunks of bread in it, use it as a butter replacement, the anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil are fantastic for skin.

How to Treat Eczema from the Inside Out

December 28th, 2018

• Free eBook: 35 Gut Recovery Recipes

Is your skin or your child’s so dry and itchy that you sometimes scratch it until it bleeds? Are you tired of applying messy creams and ointments that don’t offer much relief? Have you been so desperate to stop the itching that you’ve even considered taking a powerful immunosuppressant drug such as prednisone? If so, you and your child are not alone. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from eczema.1

I frequently see patients in my clinic, particularly children, who are suffering from eczema and other skin issues, and they have tried everything their doctor has to offer and still nothing seems to permanently heal the eczema. The reason you cannot fully heal and reverse eczema and other skin issues this way is because conventional medicine is only trying to superficially suppress the outside symptom with medications. In order to completely heal and reverse your symptoms, you must dig deeper and address the underlying cause or causes!

What is Eczema?

Eczema comes in many forms, however it is mainly recognized by its red, itchy rash, known as atopic dermatitis. According to conventional medicine, the cause of eczema is unknown; yet functional medicine takes a different perspective. Functional medicine views eczema not as a “disease” in and of itself. Rather, eczema is considered an external symptom of an internal problem. While conventional medicine treats only the symptoms, functional medicine practitioners work toward addressing the underlying cause of eczema – a malfunctioning immune system.

You see, eczema occurs when you experience inflammation, which is your body’s response to a perceived threat. I will cover what those threats are in the case of eczema in a minute, however the bottom line is that your immune system is so stressed by these threats that it goes into overdrive and ends up attacking your skin. Many people who have eczema also have asthma and seasonal allergies, which are also caused by inflammation and an overactive immune system. In fact, this is so common that doctors refer to this as the “atopic triad.” Not surprisingly, another thing all three of these conditions have in common is that by treating the inflammation that triggers them, you can reverse their symptoms.

Let’s talk about how you can do that. Here are the most helpful tips I give my patients who are struggling with chronic eczema.

1) Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

If you are already eating a whole-foods diet based on organic fruits and vegetables and pasture-raised meats, yet are still experiencing eczema, you may have underlying food sensitivities. In fact, in children with eczema, this is the most common underlying cause that I see.

Try eliminating inflammatory foods such as gluten, corn, soy, and dairy. Focus on adding foods high in antioxidants (found mostly in fruits and vegetables) and anti-inflammatory compounds (found in fatty fish, nuts, avocados, and turmeric, to name a few). Some cases I have seen are so extreme they even need to remove meats that have been fed a corn and soy diet. To avoid this, look for grass-fed, wild and pasture-raised meats and poultry. Several studies have shown that diets high in fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish are associated with a lower risk for developing eczema, whereas diets high in processed foods increase the risk.2 You can find tons of free, anti-inflammatory and Elimination Diet-compliant recipes in the recipes section of my website.

2) Eat a Low-Histamine Diet

If you or your child are already following an anti-inflammatory diet and are still struggling from eczema, the next foods to look at are high-histamine foods. You might already be familiar with histamine in terms of seasonal allergies because antihistamine medications such as Zytrec, Allegra, or Benedryl provide quick relief of your symptoms. This is because histamine’s role in the body is to cause an immediate inflammatory response. It serves as a red flag in your immune system, notifying your body of any potential attackers. Because it travels throughout your bloodstream, histamine can affect your gut, lungs, skin, brain, and entire cardiovascular system, contributing to a wide range of symptoms, including eczema.

A number of healthy foods that you may be regularly eating, including avocados, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, bacon, and dried or citrus fruits, are high in histamine or release histamine in your body. I’ve seen many patients make a dramatic turnaround after removing these foods. To learn more about histamine intolerance, how to modify your diet to minimize your histamine levels, and supplements to relieve histamine exposure, check out this article.

3) Heal Your Gut

As you’ve seen by now, what’s going on in your gut has a huge effect on your immune system. In fact 80% of your immune system is housed in your gut. That’s why one of the major causes of autoimmune diseases, including eczema, is a poorly functioning intestinal tract.

A healthy GI tract serves as a barrier that prevents undigested food particles, microbes, toxins, and other undesirable substances from entering the body through the bloodstream. When the cells lining the intestinal wall become damaged, substances are able to “leak” into the body, where they are attacked by the immune system, which leads to inflammation. The inflammatory response triggered by an overactive immune system can be seen anywhere in the body. In the case of eczema, it is the skin that is affected. Gut inflammation caused by leaky gut can also impair the protective function of your skin, which can increase the severity of inflammation and worsen eczema symptoms.

Fortunately, leaky gut syndrome can be treated using functional medicine’s 4R program:

  • Remove the bad: inflammatory foods, yeast and bacterial overgrowth, parasites, and other irritants.
  • Replace the good: digestive enzymes, HCL, and other components for good digestion that may be deficient.
  • Reinoculate by adding beneficial bacteria back into your system.
  • Repair the gut lining by supplementing with nutrients to promote healing.

For a more detailed description of the 4R program, see my article here.

4) Restore Your Microbiome

There has been a lot of recent buzz in the medical community about how the gut microbiome (made up of the bacteria within your gut) can affect nearly every function in the body, from digestion to immunity to weight loss, and even mental health. We are learning more every day about the importance of keeping the gut bacteria in balance.

Tackle Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth

What we do know is that the trillions of bacteria in your gut operate in a delicate balance. When that balance is disrupted, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can occur, which is when your “bad” bacteria outnumber your “good” bacteria. Overrun by infection, your gut can no longer digest nutrients properly, and your inflammation rises, triggering eczema and other attacks on your own tissues.

Diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, and low in fermentable fibers (prebiotics) can contribute to this overgrowth. Avoiding these foods that feed the bad bacteria, and adding foods that feed the good bacteria can help restore the balance. Studies have shown that prebiotics and probiotics can effectively reduce the incidence of eczema.3 These can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, dairy-free yogurt (dairy is a common trigger for skin conditions), and water or coconut kefir, as well as in supplement form.

If you suspect that SIBO may be the underlying cause of your eczema, you can work with your functional medicine doctor to order testing. Or, if you don’t have access to a functional medicine doctor in your area, you can order an at-home breath test from the lab company Aerodiagnostics. To learn more about how you can treat SIBO naturally, check out this article.

Beat Yeast Overgrowth

A disruption in your gut bacteria can also allow yeast, commonly called Candida, to thrive. Candida colonizes your gut, causing it to become leaky, which in turn allows the yeast to escape via your bloodstream. Once escaped, this yeast can affect your mood, hair, nails, and you guessed it, skin. In fact, researchers have taken skin cultures of eczema patients and more often than not, yeast was found in the samples.4

Because good gut bacteria and your immune system usually keep yeast in check, two of the most common causes of yeast overgrowth are antibiotics and immunosuppressant drugs, both of which are commonly prescribed to eczema patients.

If you think Candida may be the cause of your eczema, you can take this simple quiz to find out. Effectively treating Candida involves stopping the yeast overgrowth, restoring the good bacteria that usually keep them in check, and healing your gut so that Candida can no longer enter your bloodstream.
If you have been frustrated by your doctor’s approach to your or your child’s eczema, I hope this article gives you hope that there is another solution, and the motivation to take action. I do understand that identifying these root causes and making dietary and lifestyle changes to overcome them is a longer term solution. That’s why in my follow-up article, I write about how you can ease eczema symptoms in the immediacy and address the environmental factors that contribute to them.

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Even though 19-year-old Brandon Hipps of Avon Park, Florida, loves to go fishing with friends and family, he can’t eat what he catches.

In addition to living with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis, Hipps is allergic to seafood, peanuts and dairy. These foods, along with eggs, sugar, alcohol or gluten, tend to top the “do not eat” list among people with AD, who swear that consuming certain foods will trigger their skin to break out in an eczema rash. But is there really a correlation between eczema and food allergies?

According to Dr. Peter Lio, assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University in Chicago, founding director of Chicago Integrative Eczema Center and member of NEA’s Scientific Advisory and Board of Directors, the answer is yes.

Food allergies are considered an official comorbidity (related health condition) of atopic dermatitis alongside asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and depression. Researchers have found that up to 30 percent of people with AD also have food allergies, Lio said.

For some people, exposure to a single peanut becomes a life-threatening emergency that can lead to anaphylaxis and death without the intervention of an EpiPen. For others, eating certain foods like sugar, eggs or dairy won’t necessarily kill them, but causes their skin to erupt in a raging eczema flare.

As a result, they believe that if they could just cut certain foods from their diet, such as gluten or dairy, their eczema will go away. Unfortunately, said Lio, it’s not that simple. “The No. 1 question my patients ask is ‘Could this be related to food?’ And my response is generally this: ‘I wish it were!’

“For patients who have dermatitis herpetiformis (the specific skin condition related to Celiac disease caused by a specific reaction to gluten), it’s often very straightforward. If they avoid the gluten, the skin generally stays clear. But we’re not that lucky for eczema patients as they, by definition, don’t have this condition.” Lio said.

Food allergies vs. food sensitivities

To better understand the relationship between eczema and diet, it is helpful to know the difference between food allergies vs. food sensitivities or intolerances.

A food sensitivity, or food intolerance, occurs when a person has trouble digesting certain foods. This can lead to gas, bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhea, for instance. A food allergy, on the other hand, provokes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body and can cause a range of symptoms, some of which are life-threatening.

“The key thing about bonafide food allergies is that they tend to be immediate (i.e., within minutes) of eating the food, and tend to be urticarial (hives) or anaphylaxis (swelling, vomiting, etc.),” Lio said.

However, that line between food allergies and food sensitives tends to blur a little bit for people with inflammatory diseases such as AD, Lio noted. Eating certain foods may not lead to anaphylaxis or organ failure, but it triggers an immune system reaction nonetheless, whether it’s eczema, asthma, allergies or arthritis.

“While there is no doubt a group who has an ‘eczematous’ food reaction that can take days to manifest, these seem to be pretty rare and are actually super hard to diagnose since there is such a time delay,” he said. “They tend to occur within hours (or at least within a day or two) of the food, and often seem to manifest as more of an eczematous flare-up rather than the specific hives.”

Adding to the mystery is the fact that there are some foods that seem to have an allergic-like effect but don’t show up on allergy tests, Lio said. “These triggers can be very tough to identify since sometimes patients report that when they are really flared up, almost anything they eat seems to make their eczema worse. I have seen cases in babies where it seems that the act of eating and digesting itself may have a triggering effect on the eczema, perhaps via some type of neuronal circuit.

“Interestingly, for many of these patients, once their inflammation goes down and their skin clears up, they can eat some or even all of the foods that were acting triggers before,” Lio continued “My thinking here is that when the skin is really inflamed, their threshold to flare is really low and many things can set them off. Once better, we can get a clearer picture of the more substantial triggers and continue to avoid them while other foods.”

The dangers of elimination diets

From Atkins, Paleo and Keto to vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free, people with AD are not afraid to explore the latest dietary trends in hopes this will bring relief to their itchy or painful eczema rashes—often to no avail, Lio said.

“The internet seems full of folks who seem to have ‘cured’ their eczema with dietary change, and I am so happy for those folks! But sadly, I can swear on a stack of bibles that it does not help everyone and, unfortunately, those tend to be the folks who come see me,” he said.

“I’ve seen people do extremely restrictive diets for many months—sometimes so restrictive that they have other health issues—and their eczema persisted. I’ve seen babies that were fed only rice milk and began to develop kwashiorkor protein deficiency and still scratch and rub their skin.”

So, are people with AD wasting their time if they wish to make changes to their diet? Not necessarily, according to Lio. “Despite what might sound like cynicism here, I truly believe that a healthy diet is critical to good health and can be transformative for some patients,” he said.

“I think that dairy products and simple carbs (including all the wonderful things that contain gluten) and sugars can contribute to inflammation in a lot of folks. I think that eliminating dairy and carbs, processed foods in general, and eating mostly vegetables/plant-based foods with some meat and fish is probably very healthy for many people.”

The biggest takeaway when it comes to eczema and food allergies is to always consult with a trusted health care provider before making any drastic changes to your diet, Lio said.

“Many patients find that when they eat a ‘cleaner’ diet, everything gets better—not clear, mind you—but better, which is great,” he said. “With this as a background, maybe for a month or two to stabilize, I think that adults can then experiment with excluding foods that they think may be contributing to flares.

Watch What about the food? for more on the relationship between food and flares

Itchy Dozen Worst Foods for Eczema

Nutritionist Karen Fischer’s daughter had severe eczema and avoiding ‘the itchy dozen’ changed their lives. Now her daughter is eczema-free and Karen recently spoke about The Itchy Dozen Worst Foods for Eczema on prime time news (watch the video “breakthrough diet for eczema” at the end of this article).

This article includes the following:

  • The itchy dozen worst foods for eczema (plus scientific referencing at the end)
  • Natural ways to treat eczema
  • Photos and success stories
  • Further resources for people with eczema.

This article was written by Karen Fischer, and it is an edited extract from Karen’s eczema books:

The Itchy Dozen Worst Foods for Eczema

People are often surprised to find the Itchy Dozen includes some of the so-called ‘good’ foods for eczema. I know the Itchy Dozen contradicts some popular beliefs published in online blogs. However, according to Australian research conducted over the past thirty years, these foods could be the reason your skin is dry, flaky and incredibly itchy (ref: Loblay and Swain).

I’ve seen this information help hundreds of so called ‘hopeless’ cases of eczema. People who have had eczema for 20, 30 or 40 years and more, who thought they were stuck with eczema for life, are seeing their eczema clear up for the first time. It can really change lives but it requires a change in beliefs about healthy eating. This quote sums it up:

“One man’s medicine is another man’s sleepless night itching.”

So a food that is good for an eczema-free person, such as avocado, could trigger a bout of maddening itching in another person.

Not counting allergy foods (as these vary), here are the surprising foods and beverages most likely to give you itchy eczema …

1. Dairy products

Dairy products, including cow’s milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese, are the second most common allergy food seen in eczema sufferers (after egg).

Dairy products can also cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. When the gut lining is damaged from eating dairy products, tiny holes allow larger food particles to enter the body and allergic reactions and sensitivities can result. Naturopaths often refer to this as ‘leaky gut’ and the medical term doctors use is ‘increased intestinal permeability’.

  • Yoghurt is particularly bad for eczema as it often contains added sugar, fruit flavourings, amines (histamines from fermentation) and a natural colour called Annatto (160b) which can trigger eczema.

Calcium deficiency can cause eczema

It’s important to take a calcium supplement (instead of consuming dairy products) as calcium deficiency can contribute to eczema, and the eczema will not improve until this deficiency (if present) is corrected.

I like to prescribe a pure, fine calcium powder with added magnesium and glycine as these nutrients promote a good night’s sleep, which eczema sufferers often lack.

If you are itchy, one heaped scoop of Skin Friend PM mixed into water or food will quickly calm down the itch.

2. Grapes

If you have eczema or asthma, avoid grapes and grape-products such as wine, sultanas, raisins and grape juice. Why? Because grapes are a “triple threat” as they are a very rich source of three itch-promoting chemicals called salicylates, amines and monosodium glutamate (MSG) which are known to worsen eczema (Loblay and Swain 2006).

  • Salicylates are a natural pesticide made by many fruits and vegetables, and it’s also found in aspirin, perfumes, herbal medicines and baby teething gel.

Instead of grapes, eat peeled pears as they are a low-salicylate eczema-friendly alternative.

3. Oranges

Oranges and orange products including juices have similar properties to grapes as they are a strongly acidifying fruit, and a rich source of two itchy chemicals: salicylates and amines.

  • 36% of eczema sufferers experience a worsening of eczema symptoms when they eat amine-rich foods such as oranges. (Loblay and Swain 2006).

4. Kiwi fruit

Kiwi fruit can make you itch like mad as it is a strongly acidifying fruit and a rich source of salicylates and amines which commonly trigger eczema.

  • Did you know food chemical intolerances can take days to appear? After you have eaten an irritating food such as kiwi fruit, reactions can either be immediate or the next day but they can also occur up to three days later. No wonder people are confused about food intolerances.

5. Soy sauce/tamari sauce

Soy sauce is very rich in amines and MSG (both natural or artificial), so they can trigger eczema and other types of skin inflammation.

  • 35 percent of eczema sufferers experience a worsening of eczema symptoms when they eat glutamates including MSG (Loblay and Swain 2006).

6. Tomato

Tomato and products containing tomato including tomato ketchup and spaghetti Bolognese, are another triple threat as they are very rich sources of salicylates, amines and natural MSG. The three worst chemicals for triggering eczema!

7. Avocado

We have had hundreds of reports from eczema sufferers who say avocado worsens their eczema.

While avocado is a healthy addition to your diet when you don’t have eczema, avocado is one of the richest sources of amines and itch-promoting salicylates.

8. Broccoli

This tip may surprise you but it could save you years of pain. Broccoli, spinach, silverbeet and kale can worsen eczema symptoms because they are another ‘triple threat’ – all are rich sources of itch-promoting salicylates, amines and natural MSG. That’s why we like them so much… MSG is highly addictive.

I’m not saying these foods are bad, just problematic while you have eczema, if you are sensitive to salicylates. But you won’t know if you are sensitive to salicylates (or amines or MSG) until you avoid these foods for a couple of weeks, then test them again.

In the meantime, eczema-friendly alternatives are the greens that are lower in salicylates and these include green beans, iceberg lettuce and celery to name a few.

Tip: after your eczema has disappeared, gradually expand your leafy green intake.

9. Dried fruits

Dried fruits contain a range of problematic chemicals – you could say they are a quadruple threat as they can contain salicylates, amines, MSG and sulphites!

All types of dried fruits including dried apricots, dates, prunes and sultanas, contain high levels of itch-promoting salicylates and amines, and some also contain the preservative sulphur dioxide and natural MSG which is why they are flavoursome. But they will make you itch like mad.

So skip the dried fruits in cereals, avoid muesli bars and ditch the dried fruits in your child’s lunch-box.

  • More than 50 percent of people with eczema react to preservatives which are common in dried fruits, and their eczema symptoms worsen as a result (Ref: Loblay and Swain 2006)

10. Deli meats

Deli meats including sausages, ham, bacon and flavoured meats, to name a few, are high in nitrates, flavour enhancers and saturated fats, which can worsen the itch of eczema.

  • Nitrates triggers eczema symptoms in 43 per cent of eczema sufferers (Loblay and Swain 2006).

But it’s not all bad news, good quality meats such as skinless chicken, lean lamb and beef are fine to eat, (organic is best as antibiotics are not used). And if you are not sensitive to seafood, fresh fish is a healthy option.

11. Eggs

More than 70% of eczema sufferers are allergic to eggs according to ‘skin prick’ and patch testing.

Another reason to avoid eggs includes the risk of ‘egg white injury’ (yes, that is the medical term). If eaten on a frequent basis raw eggs can cause a biotin deficiency that can trigger eczema. While not everyone’s eczema is caused by raw eggs, this information from The Eczema Diet is interesting food for thought.

12. Junk food

New Zealand researchers discovered children who eat fast food (take away foods) three or more times per week are significantly more likely than other children to develop severe eczema.

The researchers from Auckland University used international data compiled from almost two million children and found they were not only more prone to eczema, they were also more likely to develop asthma.

The solution? Cook your meals at home and ensure you use eczema-friendly ingredients…

How to prevent eczema from the inside out?

Here are two ways to treat your eczema naturally:

12-week low chemical diet

The Eczema Detox is a healthy low chemical diet that is low in sugar and totally free of glutamates/MSG, preservatives/additives and dairy. It also has plenty of gluten-free and vegan options.

The Eczema Detox, which was published in 2018 and is the new version of The Eczema Diet, also shows you how to successfully diagnose food intolerances and chemical intolerances (via the FID Program), so you know what to avoid and what to eat to become eczema free.

Skin friendly supplements

There are a range of nutrients to help prevent chemical sensitivity and repair eczema-prone skin, including magnesium, molybdenum, zinc, biotin, vitamin B6 and a range of vitamins to deactivate salicylates and other itch-promoting chemicals. Molybdenum deactivates sulphite preservatives and amines; anti-histamine vitamin C and vitamin B6 to help reduce allergic reactions (it gradually works over a three month period).

But it’s also what you avoid (in supplements) that can make a difference… Supplements usually contain hidden additives that can cause adverse reactions if you are a sensitive type of person that is prone to eczema.

Skin Friend AM is the supplement I created to prevent my daughter’s eczema more than fifteen years ago. It took years of testing before I felt confident that it could help others, and I worked with hundreds of eczema patients who tried the product and provided feedback for years before this product was manufactured in bulk and sold online.

To produce Skin Friend I enlisted the help of a top Australian supplement manufacturer. It took more than six months to find the right ingredients that were vegan, non-GMO, and free of salicylates, hidden sugars and additives that are often used in regular supplements. This is one of the few low salicylate products available world-wide.

{Photos of my daughter’s eczema. Click on the photo for more success stories from our eczema clinic.}

Why choose dietary supplements over skin care for your eczema?

You can still use skin care products to moisturise and hydrate your skin. But keep in mind, your skin is literally made from the nutrients supplied in your diet (in the foods and drinks you consume). So it makes sense … change your diet, consume the right nutrients, and you will change your skin from the inside out.


Fischer, K., 2013, The Eczema Diet, First Edition, Exisle Publishing, Wollombi, Australia.

Uenishi, T.,, 2003, ‘Role of foods in irregular aggravation of atopic dermatitis’, Journal of Dermatology, vol. 30, pp. 91–7.

Kimata, H., 2005. Prevalence of fatty liver in non-obese Japanese children with atopic dermatitis. Indian pediatrics, 42(6).

Article may not be reproduced without written consent from the author.

9 Foods to Avoid with Eczema

  • 1

    Many people with eczema, or atopic dermatitis, also have food allergies. But some people without diagnosed food allergies notice they experience flare-ups of their eczema after they eat certain foods; this may be a food sensitivity rather than an allergy. It’s worth paying careful attention to how your diet affects your eczema in case it might help to avoid specific foods. One caveat: before you completely eliminate any foods from your diet, consult with your doctor. He or she can help you determine what steps to take when safely cutting out different food products.

    Figure out which foods may cause eczema flare-ups.×999%2B5%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 2

    Cow’s milk is one of the most commonly cited culprits of eczema flare-ups in children. Experts caution, however, that parents shouldn’t just routinely eliminate milk or milk-based products from their children’s diets. When dairy products are completely removed from a child’s diet, they may develop vitamin deficiencies and other issues. This kind of elimination diet should only be reserved for kids with severe eczema, and your child’s doctor will want to talk about the appropriate food substitutes to offer. Some good news: some children with a milk allergy do eventually outgrow it.

    1. Cow’s Milk×388/quality/75/?

  • 3

    Eggs are another common trigger of eczema exacerbation in babies and young children. If you’re trying to avoid them, it may be easy enough to avoid scrambled or fried eggs, but be vigilant about dishes like bread and other baked goods that may contain eggs. Keep in mind it might only need to be a short-term avoidance strategy; as with milk allergies, some children with egg allergies also outgrow them, too.

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  • 4

    It’s very common for people with eczema to be allergic to peanuts. If you have a child who seems to have developed allergic symptoms, including eczema flare-ups, after eating peanuts, peanut butter, or any other food containing peanuts, you may want to consider allergy testing.

    3. Peanuts×993%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 5

    Allergies to soy are also linked to eczema, and some people believe foods containing soy make their eczema a little worse. If you want to avoid soy, start reading labels carefully, because soy can show up in a number of unexpected food products, like tea and even chocolate.

    4. Soy×999%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 6

    Some people believe that gluten or wheat can contribute to an eczema flare. Gluten lurks in tons of foods, even some surprising ones like gummy candies, soups, and sauces, as anyone with a sensitivity can probably tell you. If you suspect gluten might be exacerbating your eczema, start looking for the “gluten-free” label on packaged foods, or closely scan the ingredients list before you partake.

    5. Gluten×999%2B5%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 7

    Here’s the interesting thing about fish: some experts note that certain types of fish, including salmon, sardines, and herring, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can fight inflammation in your body. But others warn fish are on the list of foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. You may want to be cautious until you know how your body reacts.

    6. Fish×3168%2B16%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 8

    Citrus fruits are juicy, delicious, and contain high amounts of vitamin C.. Unfortunately, they also contain an allergen called Balsam of Peru (also known as Myroxylon pereirae), which can be problematic for some people with eczema.

    7. Citrus Fruits×388/quality/75/?

  • 9

    Like citrus fruits, tomatoes can potentially irritate some people with eczema. While they may not actually trigger an allergic response, they can cause some people to experience eczema flare-ups.

    8. Tomatoes×3468%2B0%2B0/resize/580×388/quality/75/?

  • 10

    If you suffer from a type of eczema called dyshidrotic eczema, you may be sensitive to nickel. If that’s the case, eating foods containing nickel can exacerbate symptoms, like the small blisters that may appear on your feet and hands. Nickel can be found in a number of foods, including wheat, legumes, oat, rye, chocolate, and cocoa. But since many manufacturers use nickel in the production of cans for food preservation, nickel can also show up in those canned foods.

    9. Canned Foods×388/quality/75/?

Best and Worst Foods for Preventing Eczema Flare-Ups

Have you ever wondered why, at certain times of the day, your eczema becomes particularly itchy and painful? Maybe you can’t figure out what’s triggering those flare-ups, but it could be your diet.

Eczema is a group of conditions that often cause itchy, dry skin that’s not only irritating but painful, too. Genetic factors can cause eczema for some people. Environmental factors like pet dander and soaps can also play a role. A weakened immune system resulting from a recent cold can even cause flare-ups.

But diet and certain foods present another trigger for eczema. Knowing what foods to avoid and what to eat can make a big difference in your well-being.

October is Eczema Awareness Month, so we’ve put together a list of the best and worst foods to help you prevent and ease eczema flare-ups.

Stay away from these foods

Food-sensitive skin reactions usually occur around six to 24 hours after you eat a certain type of food that doesn’t agree with your system. To figure out what foods are causing your flare-ups, we often recommend paying attention to the common foods known to aggravate eczema.

Foods that commonly trigger an eczema reaction include:

  • Wheat and gluten
  • Citrus fruits
  • Soy
  • Grapes
  • Broccoli
  • Eggs
  • Dairy, including yogurt, cow’s milk, cheese, and butter
  • Tomatoes
  • Dried fruits
  • Avocados
  • Spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla
  • Certain kinds of nuts

Before you ditch anything from your current diet, focus on each food type listed, one at a time, and keep an eye on your skin condition for about four to six weeks to determine if you are sensitive to that type of food. Keeping a food journal helps. If your symptoms seem to worsen after you add a food to your diet, avoid it in the future.

Soothe your skin with these foods

When it comes to soothing your itchy skin during eczema flare-ups, aim to fill your refrigerator with anti-inflammatory, omega-rich, alkalizing ingredients that can help ease your eczema from the inside out.

Flaxseed oil moisturizes your skin from within. A half-teaspoon of flaxseed oil a day gives you a hefty dose of omega-3s to soothe painful and itchy skin.

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and is particularly important for healthy skin. Add colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet, including apricots, carrots, peppers, and butternut squash.

Watercress leaves provide both anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties to relieve inflamed patches of skin. Boil the leaves for about 10 minutes to make a refreshing drink, or add them to sandwiches and salads.

Beets help your liver eliminate toxins and are said to improve collagen, giving your skin a boost.

Vitamin D is important for your immune system, especially when it comes to creating a healthy balance of microbiota and healthy bacteria, which impacts the health of your skin. Add fortified foods like fatty fishes such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, along with mushrooms for a healthy dose of vitamin D.

Pears are low in natural chemicals and ideal for their fiber content, which can reduce the risk of flare-ups. For a tasty and highly alkalizing juice, blend pears with carrots and beets.

Oats contain vitamin E, silica, zinc, and fiber — a killer combination for strong skin and fighting flare-ups.

Eczema is a complex condition

While dietary changes may help you control those itchy flare-ups, sometimes you need a little extra help. A combination of a clearly defined and healthy diet along with specialized medical care go a long way toward managing your symptoms.

We can help. Book a consultation with Dr. Megan Brelsford at Verum Cutis Dermatology today to discuss your treatment options.

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