If you’ve been following this blog, you’d know I don’t jump into eczema (miracle) cures. I still don’t.
But as I read journeys of how eczema sufferers are cured, I realized that there are common approaches they take. These may not be THE (or even an) eczema cure but I think there’re certain situations which they may help improve eczema. I hazard a guess and this series is more about a holistic approach to controlling eczema – I suppose you can call it a cure if one approach singularly works well for you!
Now, many eczema sufferers report curing their eczema from eliminating certain foods from their diet, typically these are (i) diary, (ii) wheat and (iii) sugar. Is there a basis for this? Think along with me!
Suspect #1 – Allergy to Diary and Wheat Undetected
This is the most straightforward reason why cutting certain foods from diet heal your eczema – it’s possible that you have an allergy to certain foods but you’re not aware of it. The unawareness could be due to:
- You have not taken an allergy test, be it either skin prick test or blood IgE test. Watch the video on allergy testing and #SkinishMom column on why sometimes doctors don’t get you tested (other than the other obvious reason which is they don’t have the facility to test and don’t want to refer you to another doctor..)
- Foods like diary and wheat are so prevalent in our diet that you may not notice. Generally speaking the more common something is, the less likely that you can identify it on your own as the trigger for your eczema. That is why although house dust mite is a very common trigger, parents tend to not associate their child’s eczema flare up with it. For common allergens for children of different age, see here (extracted from Professor Hugo Van Bever’s article – Prof Hugo is my co-author for Living with Eczema Mom Asks, Doc Answers!)
Suspect #2 – Food Intolerance or Hypersensitivity not Easily Tested
While allergy testing (for increased blood IgE immunoglobulin) is straight forward, detecting food intolerance or hypersensitivity is a whole different ball game. Even allergist or your nutritionist can be floored by it. For instance, reaction to a food intolerance can be gradual, not necessarily in small amount (unlike allergy) and can be intolerant only when certain foods are in certain state (eg raw versus cooked). Learn more on the differences between allergy and food intolerance.
As such, it could well be that your intolerance reaction is in the form of skin rash but because it is delayed reaction, no doctor has told you that a certain food is the culprit. However, when it is removed from your diet, your skin condition improves.
Here’s an interesting research on how children have tummy ache but didn’t get diagnosed as related to food sensitivity.
Suspect #3 – Gluten Sensitivity comes in Many Forms
Similar to the above, gluten sensitivity can come in many forms – Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Wheat Allergy. While there are tests for celiac disease and wheat allergy, testing for non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not straightforward. This could be why many reported their eczema improving after cutting gluten yet they are not tested to be allergic to it.
There has been some (small scale, not conclusive) research suggesting that eczema sufferers tend to have gluten sensitivity which is why cutting gluten has worked for them.
Suspect #4 – Sugar Intolerance
For other eczema patients, cutting out sugar improves their eczema – a possible reason is that they have an intolerance to fructose or sucrose. This is due to the lack of digestive enzyme frutase and sucrase. However, tests for these are more expensive and being in many of processed foods and foods we eat, you may not think of testing for it.
Also cut the soda, read its harmful effects in this Soda and Child series.
Suspect #5 – Milk Intolerance
Similar to above, one could also be intolerant to milk from a lack of digestive enzyme lactase. It’s possible that the intolerance reaction gets triggered from different amounts and therefore, you may not know it’s from milk.
Read also alternative food sources from nutritionist Natalia Stasenko if your child is intolerant to milk.
Suspect #6 – Cutting out Inflammatory Foods
I’m personally very careful about NOT eating inflammatory foods and if your child with eczema is obese too, read tips from nutritionist Rania Batayneh on an anti-inflammatory diet.
The basic concept of inflammatory foods is that these foods promote the production of substances that put stress on our body, being increasingly recognized as the cause of many health conditions which are linked to prolonged inflammation (chronic inflammation). To understand this better, see interview with nutritionist Toby Amidor.
I’m not clear how inflammatory foods directly link with eczema but the general link is that eczema is skin inflammation (rash) and the overall reduction of inflammatory foods may have a greater impact on certain individuals than others (my own guess).
Suspect #7 – Eating Clean
This term ‘clean eating’ is quite ambiguous but generally taken to mean that we don’t eat processed foods, fried foods nor trans fat. There are also people that said once they cut out processed foods, cook and eat healthy, their eczema improved. I’m a big supporter of that, not so much for improving eczema but more for general health. In terms of research that supports doing so, there is a large scale association study that showed children who ate fast food more than 3 times/week are 30% more likely to have more severe allergic conditions. (side point – Prof Hywel Williams who led the study also wrote the foreword for my Living with Eczema book!)
Suspect #8 – Going Vegan
Some eczema sufferers choose to go vegan or cut down on meat. There is a basis for this as explained by dermatologist Dr Cheryl Lee in this post on Diet and Environment on Skin. Animal proteins and sugar are pro-inflammatory and give rise to excess free radicals that damage our body and our skin. My own guess is that some people get affected by animal protein more than others which is why going vegan works wonders for their skin!
Suspect #9 – Being Able to Take Action reduces Stress
This is my own guess – it is known that stress triggers eczema flare-ups (see dermatologist Dr Claudia Aguirre’s interview on Stressed Skin is Skin Deep) and most patients also feel helpless especially when there is no clear trigger or solution offered by their doctor. Being able to take proactive steps to eat healthy, cut sugar or figure out gluten-free recipes may reduce stress and inspire new interest in cooking. So the reduced stress possibly helps the eczema and for more on stress affecting acne, see dermatologist Dr Verallo-Rowell’s interview on Diet and Lifestyle.
Above is my thoughts on why eczema sufferers or parents of eczema children feel that changing diet ‘cured’ their eczema. Did diet change work for you? Share in the comments!