Are there foods that cause eczema?
How Eating is a Factor in Your Skin Condition
Are there foods that cause eczema? No—and we’re here to tell you why it’s not accurate to conclude a direct link between an ingredient and your skin condition.
Managing your unique basket of eczema symptoms means exploring cause-and-effect with an open mind. For some people, it’s normal to ‘feel what you eat.’ Your eczema’s presence can be as constant as your meals. For others, food is one piece of a larger puzzle. Regaining control over the skin means working through all possible factors of stress, environment and food consumption with patience and diligence.
The Role of Food Intolerances
How food is processed in your intestinal system has a way of reflecting on your overall health, and that includes your skin. Some foods just aren’t compatible with our bodies, but the relationship between food and our body’s reaction is not fixed. It evolves, such as in times of hormonal change, life and dietary adjustments, and events which bring on (or mitigate) stress.
Food intolerances, or food sensitivities are when the gut experiences difficulty processing a particular food. It can lead to systemic expressions of discomfort. Abdominal cramping, bloating, and indigestion may occur, as well as as generalized symptoms like headaches or heartburn. This intolerance may manifest directly on the skin, giving rise to long-term skin conditions or spiking flare-ups.
Take note, though: food intolerances aren’t the same as allergies. Although they’re both instances of discomfort preceded by consuming something edible, they occur by different mechanisms. A food allergy tends to induce hives, swelling, itching, constriction of the airways, dizziness or fainting, and nausea, while a food intolerance has subtler signs. Since intolerances and sensitivities can be so subtle, many people don’t even know they have them. This is one reason why eczema can be difficult to manage.
Whether you suspect you have a food sensitivity or not, it’s worth paying closer attention. The best way to identify if something is an underlying trigger for skin concerns is to eliminate it, then wait and see if anything changes.
Ordinary foods that can worsen eczema include:
- Dairy products
- Wheat or gluten products
- Nightshade fruits (tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplants, blueberries)
- Foods high in the mineral nickel (tea, cocoa, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables)
Introducing small quantities of a connected food back to your life can help confirm an existing food intolerance. Aim to isolate individual foods independently to identify any culprits. If a vast reduction of your dietary diversity seems necessary, consult a dietician for advice to ensure you get all the minerals and vitamins your body needs.
Broader Eating Habit Adjustments
Despite best efforts, it can remain difficult to pin a reaction down to a specific ingredient. If a late-night meal always seems to trigger a flare-up the next day, it can mean that your body isn’t intolerant to the food, but rather to the strain of doing digestive work so late before bed. If eating at a particular relative’s home always seems to leave you feeling not-quite-awesome, ask them about their cooking. Is the food rich in salt, sugar, a specific herb, or a kind of cooking fat you’re not familiar with?
Being an investigative journalist about your body and environment can yield intriguing insights.
Popular adjustments that have helped with eczema include:
- Completely eliminating sugar, cutting refined sugar, or eating less overall
- Eliminating caffeine intake
- Eliminating alcohol intake
- Avoiding spicy food and seasonings
- Avoiding low-quality processed foods
- Cooking vegetables rather than eating them raw; or, vice versa
- Drinking significantly more water
- Undergoing a safe fasting regime
The basis of why such adjustments work is the gut-skin axis. Your gut microbiome is the system of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and more) in our gastro-intestinal system. Together, everything forms a complicated, symbiotic relationship. An optimal balance of microbiota in the gut leads to good bodily function. A healthy gut microbiome means smooth sailing when processing food into nutrients, reducing harmful bacteria (that can lead to bloating and other malaise), and maintaining a healthy interaction between microbes, cell tissue and the immune system. No two people have the exact same gut microbiome.
An ongoing skin condition can be symptomatic of an imbalance in the gut. Chronic intestinal discomfort, generally lumped under Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is frequently accompanied by skin ailments: it can feel too dry, too oily, sensitive, or prone to dermatitis. Skin breakouts can also be a byproduct of Celiac disease: a condition where the immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten.
Our suggestions are just some ideas of where to look for answers, and we suggest that you don't be too quick to decide that your eczema is due to an underlying condiiton. Look into it only if it seems to resonate with you, and regardless of what you discover, your aim to understand your body's mechanisms is a great reward in itself.
There is no direct causation between food and your skin condition. Eczema remains a condition intersected by the immune system, environment, and lifestyle. But the characteristics of certain foods, and how you eat, plays a central role.
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De Pessemier B, Grine L, Debaere M, Maes A, Paetzold B, Callewaert C. Gut-Skin Axis: Current Knowledge of the Interrelationship between Microbial Dysbiosis and Skin Conditions. Microorganisms. 2021 Feb 11;9(2):353. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms9020353. PMID: 33670115; PMCID: PMC7916842.
Olsen, N., Schaefer, A., & Gill, K. (n.d.). Food Allergy vs. Sensitivity: What's the Difference? Healthline. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/food-allergy-sensitivity-difference
Olsen, N., Whelan, C., Wilson, D. R., Marque, S., & Basagoitia, R. (n.d.). Eczema Diet: Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid. Healthline. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-disorders/eczema-diet#foods-to-avoid