Does Fish Oil Have Benefits for Eczema?
Many people around the world live with skin conditions, including eczema.
Though eczema is commonly treated with medicated creams, oral drugs, and even injections, people who have this condition often desire a more natural way to relieve their symptoms.
Fortunately, research has shown that many dietary and lifestyle changes can benefit eczema.
Fish oil, in particular, is a go-to supplement for many people with eczema due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, you may wonder whether supplementing with it really helps treat this chronic skin condition.
This article reviews the effectiveness of taking fish oil for eczema.
What is eczema?
Atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, is an inflammatory condition that affects the skin.
The disease is chronic and typically starts early in life. Eczema is relatively common, with a prevalence rate of around 12% and 7% in U.S. children and adults, respectively (1, 2).
Eczema causes adverse symptoms that can negatively impact quality of life, including severe itching, dryness, and redness of the skin. It can also result in cracked skin and skin lesions that weep fluid.
These symptoms typically present in flares and then improve during periods of remission (3).
They can lead to sleep and mood disturbances and issues with self-esteem.
One study in U.S. adults found that receiving a diagnosis of eczema significantly increased the likelihood of depressive symptoms and severe psychological distress (4).
Current research indicates that the cause of eczema is multifactorial. Skin barrier abnormalities, immune system dysregulation, genetics, and environmental exposure are all thought to play a part (5).
Eczema is commonly treated with topical medicated creams, moisturizers, phototherapy during which the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light waves, and oral medications, including steroids and immunosuppressive drugs (3, 5).
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes various symptoms, including itchy, dry, and inflamed skin.
Why fish oil may help people with eczema
The goal in treating eczema is to control and soothe symptoms and prevent flare- ups. Preventing inflammation is key when treating eczema, as the condition is considered to be an inflammatory skin disorder (3).
Inflammation is a normal immune response that can protect against illness and infection. However, chronic inflammation can lead to adverse health effects, including increased disease risk (6).
Both inflammation of the nervous system and skin contribute to the development of eczema. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
The omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to counter inflammation in several ways, including by inhibiting the production of inflammatory proteins (7).
Although research is ongoing, many studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil benefits those with inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (8, 9).
Due to fish oilâ€™s potent anti-inflammatory potential, some studies have demonstrated that this supplement may also treat eczema, though larger studies are needed to substantiate this potential benefit (10).
Research shows that fish oil has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. As such, fish oil supplements may benefit people with eczema.
Does fish oil reduce eczema symptoms?
Fish oil is one of the most popular anti-inflammatory supplements on the market â€” and for good reason. Research shows that it may help treat many inflammatory conditions, including eczema.
Taking fish oil may benefit eczema
Some research investigating the effects of fish oil supplements on eczema has shown promising findings. However, itâ€™s important to note that there is a lack of research in this area, and more studies are needed.
A 2012 review including 3 studies on fish oil supplements and eczema found that treatment with fish oil significantly improved quality of life and improved itchiness in people with eczema (11).
However, itâ€™s important to note that the researchers acknowledged that well designed, larger studies are needed to verify whether fish oil should be recommended as an alternative treatment for eczema (11).
An older study from 2002 that included 22 hospitalized people with eczema found that infusion therapy with fish oil resulted in significant improvements in eczema severity, compared with an infusion of soybean oil (12).
Another 16-week study in people with moderate to severe eczema demonstrated that supplementing daily with omega-3 fats, along with omega-6 fats, zinc, vitamin E, and a multivitamin, reduced eczema severity by more than 50% in over 80% of participants (13).
Keep in mind that omega-3 fats were only one component of this treatment, so itâ€™s unknown whether it would have had the same effect if it would have been used on its own.
Animal studies have also shown positive results. A rodent study found that rats with eczema who were orally supplemented with fish oil for 30 days showed significant improvements in skin hydration and reductions in scratching behavior (14).
Additionally, a study in mice found that treatment with DHA and EPA decreased eczema scores and reduced levels of inflammatory proteins and immunoglobulin E (IgE).
IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system in response to allergens, and high levels of it are associated with eczema (15, 16).
Keep in mind that not all studies have shown positive results, and future research is needed to better understand how fish oil may benefit people with eczema.
Fish oil may prevent eczema from developing in infants and children
Studies have shown that taking fish oil supplements while pregnant may help prevent the development of eczema in infants and children (17).
In one study, pregnant women supplemented daily with 1.6 and 1.1 grams of EPA and DHA, respectively, from the 25th week of pregnancy through and 3â€“4 months of breastfeeding, on average.
The results indicated that babies of mothers who took the supplement had a 16% lower risk of eczema during their first year of life, compared with a control group (18).
In another study, infants of women who took 900 mg of combined DHA and EPA from fish oil from the 21st week of pregnancy to delivery had a 5% lower risk of eczema, compared with infants of mothers who received a placebo (19).
Additionally, a review of 8 studies that included 3,175 children found a clear reduction in eczema among infants and children up to 36 months of age whose mothers supplemented with fish oil during pregnancy, compared with those whose mothers did not (20).
However, not all studies have observed beneficial effects, with one study indicating that supplementing with fish oil during pregnancy may increase eczema risk in children (21).
Itâ€™s clear that more research is needed before fish oil supplements during pregnancy can be recommended as a means to reduce childhood eczema.
Supplementing with fish oil may improve eczema symptoms and decrease the risk of eczema in infants and children. However, more research is needed.
How to use fish oil to treat eczema
Aside from the potential benefits related to treating eczema, taking fish oil supplements may benefit health in other ways as well, including improving heart health and reducing inflammation (22).
Given the lack of current studies on fish oil supplementation in people with eczema, there is not a lot of information on the most effective dose for this purpose.
Research also shows that taking up to 4,500 mg of fish oil containing up to 2,070 mg of DHA and 1,600 mg of EPA is safe during pregnancy and may help reduce eczema in children (20).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that the combined intake of DHA and EPA be kept under 3,000 mg per day, with no more than 2,000 mg from supplements. However, many studies have used higher dosing with no adverse effects (24).
Most supplements on the market contain about 1,000 mg of fish oil concentrate per serving, which delivers varying amounts of EPA and DHA, depending on the product. Some supplements contain higher amounts of DHA, while others contain more EPA.
Because amounts can vary between products, you should check the supplement label to find out exactly how much EPA and DHA you are ingesting per dose.
Speak to your healthcare provider to find out how much fish oil you should be consuming per day for eczema treatment.
Fish oil precautions
Fish oil is a popular supplement and considered safe for most people.
Research shows that when taken in doses of up to 4â€“5 grams per day, fish oil supplements were not associated with any adverse side effects (22, 24).
Some people may experience minor digestive symptoms, such as indigestion and diarrhea, when taking fish oil, though most people tolerate it well with no side effects.
However, fish oil may prolong blood clotting time, which may cause interactions with blood thinning medications like warfarin when taken at high doses (25).
Additionally, consult your healthcare provider before taking fish oil supplements if you have allergies to fish or shellfish (25).
Given that dosing information is limited, consult your healthcare provider regarding proper dosing of fish oil for eczema treatment. Fish oil is considered a safe supplement, but it may interact with blood thinning medications at high doses.
The bottom line
Eczema can negatively affect your quality of life, which is why itâ€™s important to properly treat and control this chronic inflammatory skin condition.
While conventional medications are typically the primary treatment method for eczema, natural therapies like fish oil may offer some benefits.
Although research has shown promising results in using fish oil for the reduction of eczema symptoms, future studies are needed to fully understand how fish oil may help people with eczema.
If you want to give fish oil a try to improve eczema symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider before purchasing a third-party-tested supplement locally or online.