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Kid's Eczema Treatment (Adults too!)

Eating to Cure Your Eczema

By Christine Climer

If you have eczema, when someone mentions modifying your diet to improve your health, you probably think about eliminating food allergens. But while it’s true that food allergies can trigger eczema flare-ups, eliminating allergenic foods doesn’t address the root of the problem.

Eczema appears because of the way the immune system works. In order for your immune system to function properly, you need to have adequate levels of certain nutrients. Armed with the right facts, you can include certain foods in your diet that will help prevent or correct this immune dysfunction.

Setting the stage
From the minute a child is born, something very important to the development of her future immune function starts to happen. Babies are born with sterile guts, so they are totally dependent on environmental exposure to acquire GI flora, the bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tracts. She may get these bacteria from the birth canal, during breastfeeding or from medical staff. Certain bacteria are critical to acquire, in that they help teach her immune system to work properly in the early months and help maintain healthy intestines.

Because breastfeeding helps to selectively nurture the beneficial bacteria, exclusive breastfeeding is one way you can help your baby develop a balanced immune function. Make sure that you have healthy flora balance yourself. In a recent study, mothers consumed a probiotic containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG before childbirth and continued until their babies were six months old. The incidence of eczema among their children was half that of babies in the control group whose mothers received no probiotic.

Formula-fed infants may benefit from probiotic-supplemented formulas. A study of infants with eczema concluded that formulas containing bifidobacteria and L. rhamnosus GG provided significant relief from symptoms after two months.

A miniature ecosystem
The bacteria making up your GI flora are transient; that is, they are continuously being replaced through environmental exposure. As your child grows, he will be exposed to other sources of bacteria, such as pets and foods. Include sources of healthy bacteria in your older child’s daily diet to continue to nurture his immune system’s function.

Fats that count
“Fat” has become a negative word in our culture. The truth is, certain kinds of fats are important to people with eczema. You’ll hear a lot about “fatty acids", “omega-3s” and “omega-6s.” Omega-3 and omega-6 are each a family of fatty acids.

There are several individual fatty acids within each of these families. The first in line of each family is called an “essential” fatty acid. This means that it must be obtained from the diet. The body then produces a sequence of reactions to transform the “essential” fatty acid into each subsequent family member. Each of these transformations requires an enzyme and nutrient co-factors that help the enzyme work.

In the omega-6 family, the “essential” fatty acid is named linoleic acid. Most of us get plenty of linoleic acid in our diets. If all is well, we should then be able to convert it into gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). Unfortunately, many people with eczema and other conditions are not able to make that conversion well enough, so they end up with a lot of linoleic acid and not enough GLA. This is important because our bodies turn GLA into chemicals that calm inflammation.

Research dating back to the 1930s established this fatty acid deficiency as a cause of eczema. In fact, fatty acids were the primary treatment for eczema in the 1940s up until the introduction of steroids such as hydrocortisone.

Finding the right fats
Breast milk contains GLA for your baby, but the amount depends upon how well you are able to make the needed conversions yourself.

To introduce GLA directly into your diet, choose spirulina, evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil or black currant seed oil. Though the amount needed to notice improvement is likely to vary from one person to the next, a study of three adult dosages (2, 4 and 6 grams EPO per day) and of two children’s dosages (1 and 2 grams per day) showed highly significant, dose-related, beneficial effects.

Minerals: A supporting role
As already mentioned, we need certain nutrients in our bodies in order for those fatty acid-converting enzymes to work. Most notable for people with eczema are zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. Many studies have noted that children with eczema tend to be zinc-deficient and some have speculated that GLA supplementation in certain children works by compensating for the zinc deficiency.

Find out more
To learn more about how to include nutrient co-factors in your diet, visit the Facts about Dietary Supplements web page of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information about how to choose probiotic foods for your family, read my Q&A response in the May issue of Natural Family Online.

To learn more about how fatty acids work, visit CAPI.

For more details about controlling allergic conditions with nutrition, check out Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Dr. Elson Haas.


Fan YY, Chapkin RS. Importance of dietary gamma-linolenic acid in human health and nutrition. J Nutr. 1998 Sep;128(9):1411-4.

Horrobin DF. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):367S-72S.
Isolauri E, Arvola T, Sutas Y, Moilanen E, Salminen S. Probiotics in the management of atopic eczema. Clin Exp Allergy. 2000 Nov;30(11):1604-10.

Isolauri E, Sutas Y, Kankaanpaa P, Arvilommi H, Salminen S. Probiotics: effects on immunity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Feb;73(2 Suppl):444S-450S.

Kalliomaki M, Salminen S, Arvilommi H, Kero P, Koskinen P, Isolauri E. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001 Apr 7;357(9262):1076-9.

Mackie RI, Sghir A, Gaskins HR. Developmental microbial ecology of the neonatal gastrointestinal tract. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 May;69(5):1035S-1045S.

Rosenfeldt V, Benfeldt E, Nielsen SD, Michaelsen KF, Jeppesen DL, Valerius NH, Paerregaard A. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in children with atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Feb;111(2):389-95.

Yoon S, Lee J, Lee S. The therapeutic effect of evening primrose oil in atopic dermatitis patients with dry scaly skin lesions is associated with the normalization of serum gamma-interferon levels. Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol. 2002 Jan-Feb;15(1):20-5.

© Christine Climer

Christine Climer is a registered nurse with experience in pulmonary disease, pediatrics, home health and hospice services. Also trained in early childhood education, she is currently executive director and child care nurse for an early childhood health promotion organization. She lives with her husband and three children (including a set of twins) in Texas and enjoys researching health issues and gardening.


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