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Eczema, sometimes referred to as dermatitis, causes inflamed irritated skin that is alternately dry and scaly or blistered and wet. The direct causes of this common complaint are unclear as many different factors can contribute to an outbreak. Stress, fatigue, allergic reactions to chemicals or fabrics and even temperature can be to blame but one of the most significant is diet. Eczema can be triggered and alleviated by various foods which may vary from one sufferer to another but there are some foods that are distinctly in one category or the other.
How can diet cause eczema?
Often, eczema is caused by inflammation within the body. Essentially, inflammation is a good thing - it’s a natural immune response to infection, disease or foreign bodies that the body needs to fight or get rid of.
When we get a splinter in our finger, and the area goes red and warm, that’s our inflammatory immune response at work. If we get a fever as a result of a cold, again, that’s inflammation helping the body fight infection.
But sometimes, inflammation can build up, and become chronic. This can be caused by a poor diet and lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol regularly and smoking. Chronic inflammation can then lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Chronic inflammation and eczema
Chronic inflammation can also lead to eczema. Eating pro-inflammatory foods such as gluten, nuts and dairy products can make eczema prone skin flare up.
This is because certain foods can trigger the release of a type of white blood cell, called T cells, and also the release of an antibody called immunoglobulin-E, or IgE. Both T cells and IgE are part of the immune system and can be triggered by eating certain foods that the body mistakenly sees as a threat.
This then causes inflammation to build up, and lead to eczema flare ups in eczema prone skin.
Foods to avoid for eczema
Grains such as wheat, barley and rye are known to be some of the most common culprits, mainly because of the yeast and gluten content. Dairy products made from cow's milk, particularly yogurt and cheese can cause a reaction. With eczema food to avoid also includes sugary treats such as chocolate. Eggs seem to affect some sufferers and not others.
Some people also find that consuming soya products such as soya milk or tofu will make their eczema worse, whilst others notice flare ups after eating fish and shellfish.
To find out which suspected foods can be causing an allergy, eliminate them one at a time from the diet for at least a fortnight before reintroducing them to test the skin's reaction.
It is advised that you consult a dietician first, before eliminating any foods from your diet on a long term basis. Eliminating bread and pasta for example, could put you at risk of becoming deficient in certain essential B vitamins and minerals.
So what are the anti-inflammatory foods that support eczema prone skin?
Safe foods for eczema
Certain foods are ideal for both supporting a healthy immune system, and for supporting eczema prone skin. They’re healthy, nutritious foods that are all recommended as part of a healthy diet, so there’s nothing special or outlandish when it comes to eating right for eczema. They can also be useful alternatives when trying to replace sources of vitamins or alleviate symptoms.
Green leafy cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage contain anti-inflammatory carotenoids and flavonoids that can reduce oxidative stress, which is a consequence of chronic inflammation. Other foods that are packed with antioxidant flavonoids that help to reduce inflammation are brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, such as berries, citrus fruits, kiwis and red, orange and yellow peppers.
Buckwheat and quinoa are alternative grains that can replace high gluten grains such as wheat that are used to make pasta and bread.
If fish doesn’t cause a flare up of your eczema symptoms, oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon are an ideal source of omega-3 fatty acids that contain a powerful antioxidant known as astaxanthin. This can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Almond and rice milk make excellent alternatives to dairy products.
High probiotic foods such as fermented yoghurts, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut can also help to fight inflammation, leading to clearer skin.
Eczema diet plan recipes
For a healthy anti-inflammatory lunch that includes high levels of vitamin A, C and E to boost the immune system, try salmon with a salad of radishes, carrots and lettuce. Baked potatoes served with fish or lean chicken and onions which are rich in skin friendly vitamin K can make a delicious evening meal. A soup made from carrot, and beetroot and flavoured with the powerful antioxidant spices turmeric and ginger, will benefit the skin by calming inflamed tissues. Cakes can be baked from quinoa, a gluten-free flour and raisins. Even eggs can be replaced by flax seeds and desserts can be made from carob flour, an alternative to chocolate.
Filling up on these fresh, whole foods means that you’ll be eating a healthy, wholesome diet, that could also have the knock on effect of helping to clear your eczema prone skin!. You’ll need to give it some time, but hopefully, after a few months, you’ll start to notice the difference.
Skincare for eczema
Eczema sufferers have great difficulty finding skin care products that don't irritate them. Products such as Söndskin's Sidekick Day Cream and Midnight Feast Night Cream are created from natural ingredients, such as shea butter and coconut oil, that have soothing anti-inflammatory properties. Skin care for eczema contain oils made from argan, sunflower and hemp and include pomegranate extract and Himalayan salts to help to revitalise and regenerate the skin. Söndskin's skin care products have a high pH rating of 7.3, which incorporates greater amounts of oxygen to help repair the most sensitive skin.