Diet and Eczema: Foods that Cause Eczema Flares
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, and many people with eczema struggle to keep their symptoms under control. Knowing our triggers and understanding what might be causing our eczema flare-ups can help to significantly reduce eczema symptoms.
Depending on your type of eczema, there are a range of different causes, but there are certain foods that contain certain ingredients or nutrients that can be common trigger foods.
But before you start thinking about foods to eat and avoid, here's the lowdown on the particular foods that cause eczema in some people, and how you can help identify how they might be affecting you.
What is Eczema?
Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a common skin disorder that leads to skin inflammation. The area of skin affected by eczema varies from small patches to almost the entire surface of the skin. Most frequently, eczema develops on the:
- Backs or front of the knees
- Outside or inside of the elbows
- Around the neck
What Are the Main Eczema Symptoms?
People who experience eczema, develop red, itchy, rash-like patches of skin. The skin can become blistered and crusty, that may begin to ooze yellow liquid, especially if the urge to scratch is too great, and the person with eczema scratches at their skin. The skin can eventually become thick and hardened.
What Can Cause Eczema?
Common eczema triggers include stress, synthetic fabrics, sweating and and allergy to laundry products, soaps and other detergents. The weather can play a role and different triggers might cause different eczema types.
If a person does have an allergy or an intolerance (often undiagnosed), it can trigger or exacerbate eczema. The allergens can be environmental and include moulds, dust mites, pollen and pet dander.
Are Diet and Eczema Linked?
Babies frequently develop eczema before the introduction of solid food. Breast milk can contain nutrients from the mother that can then be passed to their baby through their milk that can then trigger an intolerance or an allergy to a certain food. The same can be said for baby milk formulas.
When children are closely monitored on an elimination diet, the situation can be significantly improved, proving a link between breast or formula milk and eczema.
Common foods that can cause an allergic reaction if we have an allergy include cows' milk and dairy products, eggs, peanuts, soya and wheat. Food containing any allergen(s) in an everyday diet can therefore cause eczema in sensitive individuals.
Another food-related factor that correlates with eczema is drinking water hardness e.g the concentration of calcium and magnesium dissolved in drinking water. It's shown anecdotally that the higher the water hardness and its chlorination, the more people in the area suffer from eczema.
Is There a Link Between Food Allergies and Eczema?
Given these points above then, it does appear that eczema may be triggered by certain foods, if these foods cause us to experience other allergy or intolerance symptoms.
Babies that have eczema have a higher chance of developing other allergies later in life. Most infant eczema cases resolve before adulthood, but eczema can reoccur later. There are also cases of eczema that develop in later life, most commonly in women of reproductive age (16 - 50 years old).
If an adult has at least one food allergy, they will need to eliminate the allergy-causing product from their diet. Likewise, adult eczema can be exacerbated by an undiagnosed allergy. It’s a good idea to try establishing if an allergy is an underlying cause of eczema by having medically-supervised allergy testing. Then, an elimination diet may help eczema symptoms and form part of the treatment of atopic dermatitis.
Common Foods that May Cause Eczema
Eczema is often a result of an immune system malfunction similar to that seen in allergies and asthma. The current understanding links the condition to insufficient exposure of babies to antigens and harmless bacteria. Simply put, our living environment is too sterile.
The immune system starts fighting harmless foreign proteins instead of pathogens, and this immune response may trigger by eating certain foods. Foods that cause allergies are more likely to cause eczema, too.
Dairy, gluten and peanuts are commonly associated with developing food allergies or sensitivities and eating these foods can trigger eczema. Similarly, avoiding these foods can help with eczema symptoms. Other potential eczema triggers include tomatoes, citrus fruits and spices such as cloves and cinnamon.
Foods to Avoid on the Eczema DietRemoving a whole group of foods from your diet needs to be considered carefully. Even though avoiding a specific food or food group may provide eczema relief, you may end up missing out on important nutrients. So it's important to make sure you don't avoid foods unnecessarily and instead develop a healthy, balanced eating plan.
It can be useful to embark on an eczema elimination diet with the help of a qualified nutritionist or dietician when thinking about removing foods from your diet. But it can be helpful to think about the following common foods that can be known to make eczema worse in some people prior to your visit, in order to come armed with as much information as possible.
Not all cases of eczema are described as food-sensitive eczema, and not all of these common foods will worsen eczema symptoms in everyone. But if you work out one food or more than one foodstuff that trigger eczema flare-ups, if you avoid consuming them, it may help reduce symptoms of this frustrating skin condition.
Here's our eczema diet tips.
Eczema and Cow's Milk
Cow's milk, and any dairy product made with cow's milk such as yoghurt and cheese, contains a milk protein called casein. You may find therefore that consuming dairy products, or anything else such as cakes or biscuits that contain milk or dairy, will trigger an increase in symptoms. Avoiding these foods may help patients with eczema, and thankfully now there are numerous non-dairy alternatives available.
Eczema and Peanuts
Some foods cause eczema symptoms as well as serious allergies, and perhaps the most common is peanuts. You should know if you have a peanut allergy, and if you do, avoid all peanut products including peanut butter and biscuits that contain peanuts.
Eczema and Wheat
Wheat is also a potent allergen that can also cause eczema patches and flare ups. Eczema is sometimes associated with coeliac disease and itchy skin and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. A relatively easy way to eliminate wheat from the diet is to only consume food labelled “gluten-free.”
Foods to Eat to Help Manage Eczema
Generally, anti-inflammatory foods can relieve the symptoms of eczema. Examples of these foods are:
Oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and include salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
Probiotics (live bacteria and yeast) are shown to relieve eczema in some cases. However, as probiotics are usually found in yogurts and other fermented milk products, before you start taking them you need to make sure that you don’t have a milk allergy.
Fruits and Vegetables
A diet rich in vegetables can at least relieve eczema. When it comes to fruit, aim for one portion a day, and consume it early on and definitely before 6pm. Preferably choose an alkaline fruit such as melon, mango or papaya.
On the contrary, fast foods full of saturated fats, salts and sugars can cause eczema flares.
Some people might also benefit from supplements such as zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B6, sea buckthorn oil and hemp seed oil.
Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet to Help Treat Eczema
You may notice that the foods listed above that may help to reduce eczema flare ups are all anti-inflammatory foods. Consuming foods high in anti-inflammatory compounds such as fruits and vegetables, along with foods common in the Mediterranean diet (that are also anti-inflammatory) such as oily fish can significantly help you manage your symptoms.
Closely following the Mediterranean diet for at least three months and avoiding certain foods that are known triggers to you, could change your life. Eczema and diet may not be fully linked unless we have an allergy, by eating these foods may help some people feel happier in their skin - just like diet and health go hand in hand in many, many ways.
Can Eczema be Cured By an Elimination Diet?
As we've mentioned, in most cases, our diet does not cause eczema. Therefore, you cannot cure eczema by eliminating foods or taking nutritional supplements, unless you follow a specific diet that aims to manage your allergies.
The Right Diet for Eczema
The good news however is, that eliminating any known allergens from your diet will help to ease your symptoms. Atopic eczema is considered an inflammatory condition, and eating anti-inflammatory foods and following an alkaline lifestyle will also help to keep your symptoms at bay.
You can also help to give your skin the nourishment it needs by using our alkalising range of skincare products developed with skin just like yours in mind!
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Martin PE et al. (2015) Which infants with eczema are at risk of food allergy? Results from a population-based cohort. Clin Exp Allergy. 45(1):255-64. PMID: 25210971 DOI: 10.1111/cea.12406
Elbert NJ et al. (2017) Allergenic food introduction and risk of childhood atopic diseases. PLoS One.12(11):e0187999. PMID: 29176842 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187999
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.