While no cure exists, over-the-counter creams and medications that can help to reduce inflammation are available. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend avoiding foods known to make eczema worse. Some foods may trigger the release of T cells that cause inflammation, as well as immunoglobulin-E or IgE, which is an antibody that the body produces in response to a threat. Foods that contribute to inflammation include nuts, milk, and wheat.
Foods to eat
For people with eczema, eating certain foods can trigger the body to release immune system compounds that cause inflammation, which, in turn, contributes to an eczema flare-up. An anti-eczema diet is similar to an anti-inflammatory diet. Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Fish, a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids that can fight inflammation in the body. Examples of fish high in omega-3s include salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring.
- Foods high in probiotics, which are bacteria that promote good gut health. Examples include yogurt with live and active cultures, miso soup, and tempeh. Other fermented foods and drinks, such as kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, also contain probiotics.
- Foods high in inflammation-fighting flavonoids. Examples of these include colorful fruits and vegetables, such as apples, broccoli, cherries, spinach, and kale.
Eating more of these foods and cutting down on any trigger foods could help to reduce eczema flare-ups.
Elimination diet and foods to avoid
Food-sensitive eczema reactions will typically occur about 6 to 24 hours after a person eats a particular food. Sometimes, these reactions may be delayed even longer. To determine what foods may be causing the reaction, a doctor will often recommend an elimination diet. This diet involves avoiding some of the most common foods known to cause eczema. Before eliminating any foods, a person will need to slowly add each food type into their diet and monitor their eczema for 4 to 6 weeks to determine if they are sensitive to any particular food. If a person's symptoms get worse after adding a particular food to the diet, they may wish to consider avoiding it in the future. If a person's symptoms do not improve when eliminating a food, they probably do not need to remove it from their diet. Some common foods that may trigger an eczema flare-up and could be removed from a diet include:
- citrus fruits
- gluten or wheat
- spices, such as vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon
- some types of nuts
A doctor may also recommend allergy testing. Even if a person is not allergic to a particular food, they may have sensitivity to it and could experience skin symptoms after repeat exposure. Doctors call this reaction food responsive eczema.
People with dyshidrotic eczema, which typically affects the hands and feet, may experience benefits from eating foods that do not contain nickel. Nickel is found in trace amounts in the soil and can, therefore, be present in foods. Foods that are high in nickel include:
- black tea
- canned meats
Some people with eczema also have oral allergy syndrome or sensitivity to birch pollen. This means they may have reactions to other foods, including:
- green apples
People with eczema are more prone to oral allergy syndrome and should speak to their doctor if they have a pollen allergy or experience mild allergic reactions to the above foods. For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.
Dietary supplements and eczema
Research has shown that taking probiotic supplements may reduce the symptoms of eczema. More studies are needed, however, to confirm the effectiveness and dosage required. Probiotics are available in a variety of supplements, such as the selection available here. If a person is not sure which probiotics to buy, they may find the online reviews helpful and can also talk to their doctor. Probiotics are also naturally present in many foods. Probiotic foods include:
Other supplements that have been studied include fish oil and Chinese herbal preparations; neither of which made a significant difference in eczema symptoms.
While a person's diet is not always a trigger for eczema, some people may find that their symptoms do get better when they make dietary changes. Making these changes and monitoring the results can help a person determine whether changing their diet can help them better manage their condition. If a person does eliminate a large food group, such as wheat-containing products, they may wish to talk to their doctor about supplements to ensure they are not missing out on any essential vitamins and minerals.