The makeup of your diet affects your health in so many ways, and your skin is no different from the rest of your organs.
It’s fairly common knowledge that eating too much junk food can lead to gaining weight, and too much sugar can lead to diabetes. What might not be so commonly understood is that foods can trigger eczema and acne flare-ups too.
By eating – and sometimes even just touching – certain foods you might accidentally be increasing your chances of all sort of things. Making changes to your diet can help to lower the risk of an eczema flare-up.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes the skin to become red, irritated, itchy, and sometimes blistered and scaly. The condition isn’t contagious and is non-lethal. It’s estimated that as many as 31 million people have some form of eczema in the United States alone. There is not yet a permanent cure for eczema, but there are highly effective treatments available that can soothe and alleviate common eczema symptoms.
Eczema is most common in children and infants, with symptoms improving during puberty and generally disappearing into adulthood; however, that doesn’t mean the condition has gone away forever, as eczema can remain dormant until triggered. It’s also possible for adults that have never experienced eczema as a child to suddenly develop symptoms, but this is a somewhat rare occurrence. The issue for children is generally pain and irritation that leads to scratching and itching, which can lead to open sores or wounds if not dealt with.
What Foods Trigger Eczema?
Sensitivities to certain foods are known to make symptoms of eczema much worse, particularly in children and babies. Since a lot of these foods are essential to a balanced and healthy diet, they can be a little bit tricky to avoid or substitute.
Specific foods that trigger flare-ups can vary from person to person, but tests can easily and harmlessly discover these triggers. A visit with a dermatologist can help you safely sort out which foods to avoid. These are some of the most common foods that trigger eczema:
Having an allergy or sensitivity to peanuts is extremely common for people with eczema, especially for children and infants. Symptoms appear when eating or touching peanuts, and they can even be triggered by coming into contact with leftover peanut residue or inhaling peanut proteins.
Along with peanuts, soybeans are legumes, and they're often used to increase protein intake as a substitute for meat. Although not always the case, it’s common to have a soy sensitivity as well as a peanut allergy due to similar proteins found in both. This is known as "cross-sensitization" and occurs for several foods on this list.
Gluten or Wheat
Not to be confused with celiac disease, wheat and gluten sensitivities are common in people with eczema. Just like most of the other foods on this list, the immune system mistakenly views proteins in gluten and wheat as a threat. This assessment results in the immune system triggering an inflammatory response that often ends with an eczema flare-up.
Due to various proteins found in seafood, people with eczema often experience issues with crustaceans, mollusks, and shellfish. Seafood allergies are relatively common in people with eczema.
Issues with eggs seem to disproportionately affect children, and they generally grow out of them. With eczema, flare-ups might be dependent on the preparation of the egg. For example, some people have no issues with eggs when prepared in baked goods or meats, but experience issues when eating fried or boiled eggs. It seems that the volume of egg protein is relevant here.
Another common issue for children that they typically outgrow, milk can trigger eczema for people who are otherwise are not lactose intolerant. Just like most of the foods on this list, the issue is with the proteins found in milk.
Similar to eggs, it might depend on how the milk is used that causes the flare-up. Milk is commonly used in the preparation of a variety of foods and may not always trigger an immune system response. However, it may cause an issue when direct contact is made.
Sugar is a common cause of eczema, as high glucose (hyperglycemia) can result in increased inflammation systemically. Increased inflammation is closely linked to an overactive immune system and increase the odds of an eczema flare-up. Some people are more sensitive to sugar increases, and it's also commonly associated with acne breakouts.
Do We Know What Causes Eczema?
It’s still unknown what exactly causes the development of eczema, but there are a few leading theories:
Some research has found that variations in the KIF3A gene can result in a damaged or weakened skin barrier. This can lead to an excessive amount of water loss in the skin, leading to skin that easily dries out and becomes irritated. It’s possible that this lack of defense causes people with eczema to have an overactive immune system.
For most cases of eczema flare-ups, the issue is inflammation or auto-immune issues: the immune system attacking itself on some level. When the immune system perceives a threat, it release a host of defensive cells. This leads to increased inflammation and higher likelihood that a flare-up will occur.
Just like the foods listed above, coming into direct contact with certain items or situations can trigger an immune response and increase inflammation.
What Triggers Eczema?
The list of what causes eczema can vary depending on the type of eczema that a person has, but common triggers include:
Eczema seems to be the result of a damaged skin barrier that's unable to prevent excess moisture from escaping. Even in the best of conditions, people with eczema often have drier skin than usual. It’s important to keep skin as hydrated as possible to prevent further flare-ups.
When you experience stress, your body releases cortisol. This stress hormone travels through the body and acts like an alarm system. The “warning” leads to an increase in inflammation, a major trigger for a flare-up.
The list of possible eczema irritants varies substantially between individuals. Some can be rare to encounter, like poison ivy or battery acid, but some are fairly common:
- Metals, particularly nickel and gold.
- Soaps and Cleaners.
- Fabrics, especially wool and polyester.
- Diet, including the foods listed above.
What Foods Treat Eczema?
Just like some foods can trigger eczema flare-ups, there are some that can help to prevent them. Most of these foods have anti-inflammatory properties and may provide additional health benefits.
The omega 3 fatty acids that are commonly found in certain seafood like mackerel, salmon, and tuna are good at reducing inflammation and possibly improving overall skin health. Replacing red meat with more fatty fish can help reduce the odds of a flare-up. Be mindful of the fish that you're eating, especially if you have issues with shellfish.
Foods with Quercetin
Quercetin, along with other flavonoids, are rich with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help to inhibit synthesizing and secretion of various inflammatory substances, including histamine.
When you experience intense itching, it’s usually due to histamine. Some foods that are high in quercetin include:
- Kale and Spinach
Commonly used for issues relating to digestion, probiotics provide more “good” bacteria in your body and support the immune system. This not only helps to reduce inflammation, but it may help to keep your immune system from overreacting in otherwise harmless situations.
Yogurt is a great probiotic, but since it’s a dairy product it might be better to substitute these foods instead:
For people with eczema, diet can play an important role in both causing flare-ups and preventing them. Not only should you avoid foods that commonly trigger flare-ups – like sugar – but you should eat more foods that can help to reduce inflammation, promote a healthy immune system, and improve overall skin health.
When it comes to eczema, it’s all about prevention and management. When a flare up happens, symptoms can last for a few weeks. While these symptoms are generally not fatal, they can be frustrating and can lead to infections if you're scratching at dry or irritated skin.
The best way to manage eczema is by avoiding triggers and applying a quality moisturizer. Keeping your skin hydrated and healthy can keep it strong enough to protect against some triggers and lower the risk of a flare-up.