In this article, I’ll take you through foods that trigger eczema and provide tips on modifying your diet to reduce the risk of flare-ups.
Eczema, a chronic skin condition affecting millions worldwide, can be triggered by various factors, including stress, genetics, and diet.
While eczema has no cure, identifying and avoiding triggers can help manage flare-ups. For some individuals with eczema, certain foods may cause or worsen symptoms such as itching, redness, and inflammation.
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What is Eczema?
Eczema is a broad term describing a group of medical conditions that often present with skin inflammation, irritation, dryness, and rashes. The type of eczema often determines the kind of rash one will present with.
Eczema is often referred to as atopic dermatitis; however, atopic dermatitis is only one of the existing types of eczema. It’s also the most common type.
Eczema often starts in early infancy or childhood, and most children outgrow it by their 10th birthday. Some children may, however, continue to have symptoms on and off unto adulthood.
According to research, eczema affects 15-20%of infants under the age of 2 and 3% of adults and children in the United States.
While it has no cure, there are treatments that can help control the symptoms. You can also avoid symptoms by avoiding certain triggers.
Types of Eczema
There are seven main types of eczema, namely:
This is the most common type of eczema affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the National Eczema Association, atopic dermatitis affects about 9.6 million children and 16.5 million adults in the United States.
Atopic dermatitis is often classified as a part of an atopic triad. The atopic triad is a group of three conditions that are often seen together in people with allergies: asthma, hay fever, and eczema.
These three conditions are thought to be linked because they all involve an overreaction of the immune system.
People with one or more of these conditions are more likely to develop another one.
Treatment for the atopic triad usually involves managing each condition separately. Other types of eczema include:
- Contact dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Nummular eczema
- Stasis dermatitis
Foods that Trigger Eczema
Dairy is a common food allergen, and if you have eczema, it’s more likely to make it worse. This is especially because up to 30 percent of people with eczema also have other allergies.
So, even though research shows no direct link between eczema and dairy, the associated allergies can bring out symptoms or worsen existing ones.
Nonetheless, dairy is a common inflammatory food that can increase inflammation in the body, whether you have eczema or not. It also comes with other issues, including indigestion, leading to digestive stress.
Dairy has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and high saturated fat content, which puts you at risk of heart disease, and certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.
This clearly shows that eliminating dairy has more to offer than just preventing eczema flare-ups.
List of dairy products to avoid
- Foods containing butter, butter oil, butter fat
- Butter and butter fat
- Cheese, including cottage cheese and cheese sauces
- Cream, including sour cream
- Milk, including buttermilk, powdered milk, and evaporated milk
- Ice cream
Foods that often contain dairy in them
- Baked goods – cakes, cookies, bread
- Mashed potatoes
- Cake mix
- Coffee creamers
- Creamed or scalloped foods
- Malted milk
- Granola bars
- Salad dressings
- Battered and fried foods
Gluten is a protein in certain grains like wheat, rye, and barley. It’s a common inflammatory trigger that can increase inflammation in the body.
Like dairy, gluten doesn’t directly cause eczema but can worsen inflammatory conditions like eczema in some individuals.
Gluten proteins are often difficult for the gut enzymes to break down completely. In some cases, the gluten molecules may cross over from the gut into the circulation, which can then trigger an immune response causing an immune system overreaction.
This often happens in gluten-related issues like wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Additionally, research shows that eczema can occur in any of these three conditions.
One study found that 18% of people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experienced skin issues where eczema rashes and undefined dermatitis were shown to be common.
When someone with eczema ingests gluten protein, the body perceives it as a foreign body, which triggers the immune system to produce antibodies against the gluten. This reaction triggers inflammation, which can further trigger the symptoms of eczema.
Another way gluten can trigger eczema is through its effects on the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome, or gut flora, is a community of good bacteria that reside within your intestines.
These organisms play an important role in promoting digestion and boosting the immune system, thus protecting you from disease.
When you eat foods containing gluten, they can irritate the gut lining and cause inflammation, which disrupts the normal gut flora.
This can trigger existing skin conditions or worsen their symptoms.
Common gluten foods to avoid
- Breading and coating mixes
3. Processed foods
Another common food category that can trigger eczema is processed food.
Processed foods are high in sugars, unhealthy fats, processed carbohydrates, and artificial additives that can trigger eczema flare-ups in some people.
For instance, processed foods can contain artificial flavors and colors that can trigger gut inflammation and allergic reactions leading to eczema flare-ups.
Also, the unhealthy fats often present in these foods, including saturated fats and transfers, have pro-inflammatory properties and can thus trigger inflammation.
Additionally, processed food is low in essential nutrients that promote healthy skin, including vitamins A, C, D, E, and zinc.
The lack of these nutrients can result in inflammation and dryness, which are often associated with eczema.
Eggs are a common allergen for most people. They contain ovalbumin, a protein that can cause allergic reactions that often present with skin symptoms. These symptoms often tend to worsen in some individuals with egg allergies.
One study found that egg allergies could worsen atopic eczema in patients with the condition.
According to other studies, eggs are, however, not necessarily a trigger for eczema in everyone. So it’s often recommended that one identifies their personal triggers in order to manage their symptoms effectively.
Nonetheless, like any animal product, eggs can come with other additional effects, including an increased risk of mortality from all causes. So it’s always good to maintain a healthy plant-based diet.
5. Table sugar
Also known as sucrose, table sugar is a common ingredient in most foods and beverages. It’s known to spike blood sugar levels which in turn raises insulin levels.
Continued consumption of too much sugar has been like to several health conditions, including weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Some studies also suggest that excessive amounts of sugar can result in eczema flare-ups. This is due to its inflammatory effects on the skin, which can worsen eczema symptoms or induce them.
Moreover, too much sugar consumption can lead to gut bacteria imbalances which can also trigger an immune response.
6. Soy products
For people with soy allergy, consuming soy products like soy sauce, tofu, and soy milk could trigger a skin reaction like eczema. This is because, like gluten, soy protein causes the immune system to overreact.
So, if you have a child with eczema, you may want to go light on soy and its related products. However, many children tend to outgrow it as they get older.
7. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are often considered a healthy food option due to their high vitamin C content and other nutritional benefits. However, for some people, consuming citrus fruits can trigger eczema flare-ups.
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and tangerines contain compounds such as amines and salicylates that can irritate sensitive skin. These compounds act as allergens in some people and can trigger an immune response causing symptoms.
When someone with eczema consumes peanuts or any peanut-containing products, their immune system reacts abnormally and releases histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that cause itching, redness, swelling, and other symptoms associated with eczema.
Moreover, peanuts contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation in the body when consumed in excess.
For some people, shellfish can trigger a type of eczema known as contact dermatitis. This is when the skin comes into contact with an allergen and becomes red, itchy, and inflamed.
There are two proteins in shellfish that can cause an allergic reaction: tropomyosin and parvalbumin.
When these proteins come into contact with the skin, they can cause the release of histamine, a chemical that helps protect the body against infection. However, when it’s released in large amounts, it can cause symptoms like itching, swelling, and redness.
If you have eczema and think that shellfish may be triggering your symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor or allergist for testing. They can determine if you have an allergy and help you find ways to avoid triggers and manage your eczema.
10. Nightshade vegetables
Nightshade vegetables are a type of plant that belongs to the Solanaceae family. These vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
While they are considered healthy by many people, some individuals with eczema may find that consuming nightshade vegetables can trigger their symptoms.
Nightshade vegetables can cause problems for some people with eczema due to the presence of alkaloids.
Alkaloids are natural compounds found in many plants and can have toxic effects on humans if consumed in large quantities.
11. Tree nuts
There are a few ways that tree nuts can trigger eczema flare-ups. One way is through direct contact with the nut itself. If you have eczema, coming into contact with tree nuts can cause your skin to break out in a rash.
Another way that tree nuts can trigger eczema is by eating them. If you have a food allergy to tree nuts, consuming even a small amount can cause your eczema to flare up.
Other common allergens that may cause flare-ups
- Cold and dry weather
- House dust mites
- Pet fur
- Bubble bath
- During pregnancy
- Days before menstruation
Certain material worn next to the skin
- Synthetic fabrics
How to determine which food are causing you flare-ups
If you have eczema, it’s essential to determine which foods may be causing your flare-ups. Here are some steps you can take to identify these foods:
Keep a food diary
Start by keeping a detailed record of everything you eat and drink for at least two weeks. Also, note any symptoms or flare-ups during this period.
Identify potential trigger foods
After tracking your diet and symptoms for several weeks, review your food diary and look for patterns. Note down any foods that seem to trigger your eczema symptoms.
Eliminate suspected trigger foods
Once you have identified the possible culprit(s), eliminate them from your diet one at a time for at least two weeks each. This will help determine if they are indeed triggers.
Reintroduce eliminated foods
After eliminating all suspected trigger foods, gradually reintroduce them back into your diet one at a time while observing any changes in symptoms.
Consult with an allergist or dermatologist
If you’re still unsure which foods are causing your eczema flare-ups, consider consulting with an allergist or dermatologist specializing in treating eczema patients.
In conclusion, determining which foods cause eczema flare-ups requires patience and persistence, but following these steps can help narrow down on what could be the cause.
Eczema-Friendly Foods to Eat
- Anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats
- Quercetin-rich foods like apples and berries
- Probiotic-rich foods
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Eczema is a skin condition that can be triggered by various factors, including certain foods.
While there is no definitive list of foods that cause eczema flare-ups, it is important to identify your individual triggers and make dietary changes accordingly.
Some common culprits include dairy products, gluten-containing grains, nuts and seeds, nightshade vegetables, and processed foods with additives and preservatives.
By eliminating or reducing these trigger foods from your diet, you may be able to manage your eczema symptoms more effectively and improve your overall quality of life.
It is always best to consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant dietary changes to your routine.
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