Listed below are the most common nutritional deficiencies associated with eczema, recommended daily intake of these nutrients, and good food sources to increase your intake through diet. Your skin is the largest organ of your body and its involvement is in temperature regulation, immune system protection, detoxification, and sensation. To operate properly in all of these roles it needs proper nutrition and hydration.
When it does not get these nutrients it can be more difficult for necessary biological reactions to take place, for healing to occur and for proper signaling to keep immune reactions in check.
It is this latter process that is so important to reduce the hyperreactivity characteristic of eczema rashes.
Eczema And Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency
Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot make so it needs to consume them through diet.
They are used to form cell membranes, the outside edge of the cell that acts as the gatekeeper, communicator, and structural support.
A modern western diet is often deficient in essential fatty acids as animal fats are used frequently in convenience foods.
This is particularly relevant to eczema sufferers as essential fatty acids are vital to skin health.
1) Omega 3
ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid)
● ALA is the precursor to EPA and DHA. Therefore, if you consume foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid your body can manufacture EPA, and from EPA it can synthesize DHA.
For some people, this conversion does not happen as readily so it is wise to use an omega-3 supplement that contains DHA & EPA.
The conversion requires Vit B3, Vit B6, Magnesium, Zinc, and Vitamin C as co-factors.
● Food sources: Flax seeds, red and black currant seeds, walnuts, and canola oil
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
● Can be synthesized from ALA. Have been found effective for improving mental disorders such as bipolar disease and depression.
Researched for anti-cancer properties and ability to maintain lean muscle mass (improve the ratio of muscle to fat).
● A recent Swedish study took blood samples of pregnant women to test for levels of DHA and EPA.
They followed the babies of these mothers and found that there was an inverse relationship between the level of these fatty acids and the incidence of eczema in the children.
This means that a child born from a mom eating food sources or supplements of omega-3 fatty acids had the lowest chance of developing eczema.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
● Important fatty acid for eye and brain development. Can be synthesized from EPA but this is a one-way reaction as DHA cannot be turned back into EPA.
● A 2008 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed a 23% improvement in symptoms of eczema after taking a DHA supplement for 2 months
Food sources of DHA and EPA include cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, halibut, and snapper.
If taking a supplement, the ideal dosage for skin health would be at least 3 grams of total Omega 3 per day, containing at least 1500mg of EPA per day.
Reputable brands of Omega 3 supplements include Nordic Naturals, Carlson’s, and Pharmax. These companies screen their fish oil for mercury and other contaminants.
2) Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid)
GLA (Gamma-Linolenic Acid) or (DGLA) Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid
● Gamma linolenic acid is used to treat female disorders such as PMS, fibrocystic breast, and menstrual disorders. Its other main application is to improve skin disorders.
● A review paper published in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology found that several placebo-controlled studies showed benefits on itch/pruritus, crusting, edema, and redness after 1-2 months of taking evening primrose oil.
The authors did note that this benefit was diminished if patients were taking higher dose steroids, suggesting that EPO (evening primrose oil) may work by decreasing inflammation.
● Food sources: borage oil, black currant oil, and evening primrose oil. Supplement dosing should be 500mg twice daily.
Arachidonic Acid or AA
● Fatty acid that must be consumed through diet but is more prevalent in Western diets.
Arachidonic acid can actually stimulate the inflammatory cascade as it acts as the precursor to inflammatory prostaglandins (messenger molecules that signal the body to swell, itch and redden).
Therefore, it is not recommended to supplement AA to a patient who has eczema.
● Food sources: Red meat, white meat, eggs, and dairy.
3) Omega 9
Omega 9 fatty acids are not essential as the body can make them.
For this reason, supplementing with Omega 9 fatty acids and purposely seeking out foods rich in Omega 9 is not recommended for eczema sufferers.
Eczema And Vitamin Deficiency
1) Vitamin A
● Vitamin A helps epithelial cells, the skin’s outermost layer of tissue, to replicate as intended. It helps to heal excoriated skin and decreases the risk of secondary bacterial infections.
● Typical dose for eczema is 50,000 IU per day. Some individuals can get headaches and other toxicities at this dose if using it long-term.
Mixed carotenoids (Vit A precursors and related molecules) can be used instead and are much safer for sensitive individuals.
Vit A precursor dosing is 150,000 IUs per day. Pregnant women should not take Vitamin A beyond 5,000IU per day as this can cause birth defects.
● Food sources: Cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, greens, squash, and carrots
2) B Vitamins
● The B vitamins have a crucial role in energy production in the body. They are necessary to synthesize and utilize ATP, an energy molecule utilized by the body.
Proper function of immune function and skin health also requires an adequate intake of B vitamins.
● Several studies have shown that pregnant women with a lower intake of folic acid have children with a higher incidence of eczema as well as asthma and allergies.
● Biotin deficiency manifests as a rash nearly identical to eczema and completely resolves when biotin is supplemented in the diet.
● A complete B Complex supplement is an easy way to ensure that the daily needs of B vitamins are being met.
There should be at least 10 mg of biotin and 1000mcg of B12, preferably the methyl form of B12, which is called methylcobalamin.
● Food sources of B12: seafood, fish, and meat
3) Vitamin C
● Vitamin C plays a key role in the formation of collagen in your body.
Without Vitamin C your skin would not have the elasticity and flexibility that it has. This nutrient also acts as an antioxidant and immune system regulator.
● An interesting New Zealand shower placed Vitamin C in showerheads to see if it would decrease the irritating effects of chlorine from municipal water supplies.
The Vit C showerhead study participants had a threefold greater improvement in symptoms of eczema than the regular showerhead group.
● Preferable intake of Vitamin C for skin health and to regulate immune function is 500mg to 3000mg (3 grams) per day.
In higher doses, Vitamin C can cause stool softening and even diarrhea in some individuals.
To avoid this unwanted side effect divide up the timing of taking your Vitamin C so that you take half the amount twice per day or even 1/3 the ideal dose three times per day.
● Food sources of Vitamin C: Bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, kiwi, and papaya
4) Vitamin D
● Vitamin D both topically and orally has been studied for benefit in eczema conditions.
● Daily oral dosing ranges from 400 to 1000 IU daily.
To go above 1000IU daily it is a good idea to get a blood test from your physician to access needs. Vitamin D toxicity can occur with long-term high use.
The most common side effect of toxicity of this vitamin is kidney stones.
● Food sources: Vitamin D fortified milk, cod liver oil
5) Vitamin E
● Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that has a special role in both preventing and repairing damage to your skin.
It works by neutralizing free radicals (molecules with electrons wanting to form bonds unscrupulously and wreak havoc with structures).
This antioxidant effect can reduce the damage from sun exposure, cigarette smoke, and even stress.
● Therapeutic dose for skin health: 400-800 IU per day
● Food sources: Olives & olive oil, sunflower seeds, blueberries, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard & other greens
Eczema And Mineral Deficiency
● A survey of Chinese children found that lower blood levels of zinc were associated with a greater risk of eczema as was a higher ratio of zinc: to copper.
● Therapeutic dose for eczema is 25-50 mg/day.
Zinc can cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach so it is best to take it with food.
Long-term use of zinc can lead to copper deficiency so it’s best to take multiple vitamins with copper if a person is to supplement zinc for longer than 3 months.
Copper deficiency is not commonly seen with this dosing of zinc as copper-rich foods are ubiquitous in Western diets. (Copper is used as a fungicide on many grains therefore bread and cereals tend to be higher in copper.)
● Food sources of zinc: meat, yogurt, beans, cashews, and fortified cereals
● Eczema sufferers have low levels of an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which depends on selenium for reactions to take place.
Glutathione peroxidase is involved in the detoxification and elimination of harmful substances.
Studies have shown healthy people to have higher blood selenium levels than those with eczema.
● Selenium-rich food sources: Brazil nuts, mushrooms, egg, meat, fish, sunflower seeds, and onions
Good nutrition and adequate intake of vitamins and minerals are essential to health and proper immune function.
In addition to the recommendations in this article, eczema sufferers have found relief in an all-natural program called Eczema Free.
It’s an easy read and offers tangible, proven advice.