My experience with eczema lasted the first two decades of my life. The itchiness and the dry cracked skin was just awful. However, I haven't had a flare-up in years due to diet and lifestyle changes. In addition to this, I've worked with hundreds of clients over the years with moderate to severe eczema and talked to many mamas with infants suffering from eczema because it is a very common skin condition. Most western medical doctors do not know how to treat eczema because they do not address the root cause and instead resort to creams, medications and even bleach baths. All of these conventional solutions do nothing more than temporarily take away symptoms and may cause harm to the delicate skin biome (the millions of bacteria living on your skin!).
I'm happy to tell you it is possible to heal from this terrible inflammatory skin condition naturally.
I've been writing my new ebook The Eczema Healing Kit for the last few months and I'm absolutely joyous that it will be launching in May. I can't wait to share this information with you so that you can heal your skin from within!
Something I touch on in my ebook is foods that promote inflammation in the body. Due to the fact that eczema is an inflammatory based condition, is it imperative to eliminate inflammatory provoking foods.
In this post today, I share with you 7 common foods (and food categories) that make eczema worse. There is no one single food that can be solely blamed for eczema but rather your overall diet and lifestyle that contribute to this condition.
When it comes to any skin issues (especially eczema), the first food or food group that should be eliminated is pasteurized dairy. This is because your run-of-the-mill cow's milk dairy can be pro-inflammatory in the body, especially pasteurized or homogenized dairy, such as cow's milk, which contains large protein molecules that are difficult to digest. While I don't believe all dairy (such as goat and sheep dairy) has to eliminated forever, it's helpful to eliminate it completely for a month if you are suffering from eczema and then gradually reintroduce specific foods to determine if dairy actually is the issue. I suffered from eczema in the past but have been able to re-introduce goat and sheep milk (still in moderation) because it contains less of the alpha s1 casein that typically causes inflammatory skin issues. But again, if there are no improvements in your skin, I would suggest eliminating all dairy for good.
Dairy products may also cause damage to the intestinal lining. When the lining of our digestive tract is damaged, it creates tiny holes which allow food particles to enter the bloodstream which can lead to allergic reactions and sensitivities.
I talk about the connection to food allergies/food sensitivities and eczema in my newest Eczema Healing Guide (which officially launches on May 15th 2017!). If you're cutting out dairy altogether, some dairy-free and eczema-friendly foods would be: almond milk, nut cheese, hummus/guacamole (awesome on a wrap) or coconut yogurt.
SUGAR AND REFINED CARBOHYDRATES
I'm sure you all know by now that sugar and refined carbohydrates don't have much of a place in our diet. They don't help to support or build health in any way and instead, keeping us from reaching joyous health! The problem is that sugar is hiding in everything including condiments (especially ketchup), pre-packaged salad dressings (it's actually way tastier to make your own, by the way!) and even canned diced tomatoes (certain brands at least).
Sugar is pro-inflammatory in the body, which is a contributing factor in eczema. But more importantly, eczema has been found in cases where bad gut bacteria and fungus, such as candida, are present in the gut. Candida albicans (it's proper name) is an opportunistic fungus in the form of yeast that feeds off of sugar. In small amounts, candida isn't a great concern but it's when it overproduces that we start seeing adverse effects on our skin and along the intestinal lining which can lead to an even greater contributor to eczema known as leaky gut. In fact, research shows that 70% of patients with atopic eczema were shown to have an overgrowth of Candida albicans in the gastrointestinal tract.
The best thing we can do in this case is to avoid all obvious sources of refined sugar and carbohydrates, keep natural sweeteners to a minimum and avoid the things that contribute to candida overgrowth such as antibiotics and chronic inflammation by avoiding pro-inflammatory foods. Plus, naturally sweetened treats like my Apricot Tahini Squares or Chocolate Breakfast Bark are simply way tastier!
Just like other common allergens, gluten (the protein that can be found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt) has been shown to contribute to eczema symptoms and act as a trigger for flare-ups. In fact, one 2015 study examined 17 people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity who suffered from skin issues (i.e. rashes that looked like eczema). The study found that people's skin improved significantly within a month after having adopted a gluten-free diet. Many people experience relief of symptoms after eliminating gluten from their diet due to the absence of gliadin in their body, one of the proteins found in gluten.
Gluten has also been shown to compromise the intestinal barrier, resulting in a semi-permeable membrane otherwise known as "leaky gut" – a major cause of eczema which I talk about in my Eczema Healing Guide. The problem with this is that once the intestinal lining becomes permeable, undigested food particles and proteins can leak into the blood stream. These undigested food particles and proteins then become considered "foreign invaders" by the immune system, which it naturally wants to attack.
From there onwards, every time we consume gluten, our immune system is going to attack it and cause a pro-inflammatory response.
To limit inflammation in the gut overall, it's best to avoid gluten by opting for gluten-free grains such a quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth. It may not mean you have to avoid gluten forever, but taking a break from it will certainly help you determine if it's a problem food. Keep in mind gluten has also been known to show up in body care products too from shampoo to body wash, so it's important to be on the look out for that as well.
Salicylates are natural chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, teas, coffee, wine, beer, herbal medicine and spices. You can also find them in various topical creams and perfumes. This is when it gets tricky because as you noticed, things like fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, tea and spices would typically be deemed "healthy" to the general public, but for someone suffering from eczema, they can be a contributor to their eczema flare-ups.
Salicylate sensitivities can vary depending on the amount you're consuming, making it rather tricky to determine whether you actually are sensitive to salicylates and which specific salicylate-containing food is causing a reaction. If you are sensitive to salicylates, you might experience an eczema flare up, itchy skin, hives, reflux, bloating, sleep disturbances or joint pain. These symptoms can also come along by consuming or encountering common food allergies such as dairy and gluten. For this reason, if you're looking to identify which foods are worsening your eczema symptoms the most, I would start with the common problem foods such as wheat, dairy and sugar and then consider whether testing to identify a salicylate sensitivity might be necessary.
If it comes down to that, the best way to identify a salicylate sensitivity is to avoid consuming salicylate-rich foods from anywhere from 1-3 months and then gradually re-introduce salicylate-rich foods into your diet, taking note of any reactions. It can definitely be helpful to work with your natural health care practitioner or nutritionist during this time. But if you wish to get started or at least familiarize yourself with salicylate-containing foods, you can find out more information about Low Salicylate Diets over here.
I'm a huge fan of fats in the diet, but not just any fats – healthy fats! It's the processed bad fats such as fried foods and oxidized vegetable oils (i.e. soy, corn, cottonseed and canola) that are of concern and should always be avoided, but especially when healing eczema. In addition to these oils, it's also important to be mindful of using any oil past its smoke point as it causes oxidation and promotes inflammation.
My favourite cooking oils for high heat are coconut oil, grape seed oil and avocado oil. For salads, I typically use everything from olive oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and pumpkin seed oil which incredibly health-promoting and delicious. These healthy oils actually do the opposite of what oxidized oils do in the body by reducing inflammation. You can learn more about the benefits of fat in the diet as well as some of my favourite healthy sources over here!
Another thing you'll want to steer clear of is the acrylamide content in foods. Acrylamide is found in foods that are heated above 120 degrees Celsius, such as potato chips, french fries and fried foods. The levels of acrylamide have actually become such a concern that The World Health Organization has actually stated that the levels of acrylamide in food poses a "major concern" to human health. To prevent acrylamide exposure, it's best to roast, bake or boil foods. Even a simple change like toasting your gluten-free bread lightly versus toasting it to a crisp can help to reduce your acrylamide exposure and inflammation in the body.
And while it might seem odd, if you are going to eat something that's fried, it's best to have to have it fried in something like duck fat which is high in monounsaturated and saturated fats which are stable for high-heat cooking. However, as we all probably know, it's best to avoid fried foods as much as possible.
PROCESSED FOODS CONTAINING FOOD DYES, ADDITIVES, PRESERVATIVES
If you're doing a lot of home cooking from scratch, you're likely already avoiding a lot of these things which is amazing. It's when we eat a heavily processed diet that we'll be exposed to pro-inflammatory things like food dyes, additives, and preservatives. Sadly, a processed diet is where 60% of American's daily calories come from.
What's most scary about these food dyes, additives and preservatives is that they are so prevalent in children's snack foods. Take a yellow lollipop for instance; what might seem like a harmless little treat given to kid's after a doctor's visit (of all places) actually worsens eczema symptoms in 40% of eczema sufferers. Yellow lollipops contain tartrazine (102), one of several yellow food colourings that cause this effect, along with asthma attacks, runny noses and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. It does this by stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes. Unfortunately, it goes beyond candy and junk foods because even foods like yogurt and margarine (which should be avoided) can contain artificial colours that trigger eczema flare-ups.
Preservatives can also do a number on our bodies, worsening eczema symptoms in more than 50% of eczema sufferers. Preservatives are chemicals used to increase the shelf life of products by delaying the growth of bacteria and fungi. BHA and BHT are some of the main preservatives you'll find in most foods that interfere with the body's natural processes. A good way of keeping our exposure to these to a minimum is to buy organic whenever possible. If you want to learn more about the Dirty Dozen Food Additives, check out my new book Joyous Detox!
While there are some better forms of soy such as fermented organic soy (tamari, miso paste or tempeh), soy is considered a common allergen and may be a cause of eczema.
In a Japanese study published in the Journal of Dermatology, researchers found that avoidance of soy-containing foods for three months significantly reduced eczema symptoms. We really have to teach ourselves to be master label readers when it comes to soy, because it is a very common food additive and hiding in many different foods.
Aside from the more well-known forms of soy such as tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soy cheese and soy flour, you'll also want to be on the ingredient-list-look-out when it comes to foods such as cereal, processed meats, baked goods, infant formula, Worcestershire sauce and soy protein that vegetarians often use as a meat substitute.
The common theme and goal is to reduce our exposure to anything that increases inflammation in the body, which includes pro-inflammatory foods as well as common food allergies.
In fact, any foods that you're sensitive too and eat all the time can cause a reaction and promote inflammation in the body
The best way to figure out which foods are contributing to your eczema is to eliminate them for several weeks up to three months to see how your skin reacts and add them in one at a time. Keep a food diary and record any reactions. Of course, things like processed foods, cow's dairy and refined sugar might not need to be tested in such a way as we know of their negative effects in the body already, but more so the foods we typically deem as "healthy" for the general public that just might not work with your unique make up.
If you're looking for for more guided direction on how to heal your eczema, my Eczema Healing Guide would be perfect for you! I have created this guide because it is a very common question I get as a nutritionist "how do I heal my eczema" and I want to help you. Click on the image below for more information!
Are there any foods you would add to this list from your own experience?