An estimated 30-50% of people with eczema have a food allergy.
As a naturopathic physician, I have seen the devastating effects food allergies can have on patients’ health but I have also seen the truly amazing restoration of health when the offending foods are removed from the diet.
There are simple, natural ways to restore digestive health and reduce the incidence and severity of food allergies.
This article will give you information on the close relationship between eczema and diet; you will learn how to identify your food trigger and get your eczema under control without the use of harsh pharmaceuticals or invasive interventions.
It is also important to be aware of the connection between celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by grains containing gluten, and dermatitis herpetiformis, a rash that very closely resembles eczema.
The Most Common Food Allergens
The most common eczema foods to avoid are wheat, corn, soy, citrus fruits, chocolate, shellfish, cow’s milk (dairy), peanuts, and tree nuts.
However, there is no definitive eczema diet as I’ve had eczema patients with less common allergens such as blueberry, mustard, and oregano that improved by avoiding their food triggers.
A common misconception is that food allergies are permanent – once a person is allergic to sesame seeds then they can never eat a hamburger bun or side of tahini ever again.
While it is true that some people do not overcome their sensitivities, many others will have a complete resolution or be able to tolerate small amounts of food.
The key to recovering from food allergies is to first identify the offending foods, then remove them from the diet for a period of time while healing immune & gut health, and then slowly reintroduce those trigger foods.
Food allergies that have the potential for causing anaphylaxis should not be reintroduced without the careful supervision of a physician. Luckily, the majority of food allergies and sensitivities do not fall under this category.
Patient Story: Daniel, 33, a chronic eczema sufferer
Daniel first came to my practice a few years ago with concerns about his eczema, a condition that he had since childhood. We ran some blood tests looking for nutritional deficiencies and also ran a food allergy panel looking for both IgE and IgG allergens.
Daniel had some minor reaction to almonds and soy but his +3 (highest on this test’s scale) reaction was to corn. The patient eliminated his allergens and returned to my office a month later for a follow up. His eczema was improved but not the same marked improvement that I see with other patients when allergens are removed.
At first I thought perhaps he had not been able to follow the dietary restrictions and was cheating but I quizzed him and he honestly said he had stuck to the diet. Daniel was asked to record his diet for another week and then fax it to my office for evaluation. The record revealed that he had diligently removed corn chips, cheetos, tortillas and all almonds & soy foods from his diet.
What he still was eating with regularity were packaged bakery items that he ate working the night shift as a security guard. I was able to get an ingredient list from the manufacturer of these sweets and found that the 2nd and 3rd ingredient was often corn syrup! After removing foods manufactured with corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, Daniel’s eczema improved dramatically.
We worked to restore his gut health and he is no longer as sensitive to small amounts of corn but he still will have an outbreak of eczema if he eats large amounts of corn such as an entire piece of corn bread, popcorn or a soup with corn kernels.
Different Types Of Food Allergies
There are several different types of food allergies and sensitivity. Understanding which type you have can help guide treatment options.
An allergy can present as a problem with various immune components reacting to that antigen (offending substance), these different immunoglobulins are called IgA, IgE, IgG, IgM, and immune complexes.
For food allergies, the primary immunoglobulins involved are either IgA or IgG.
1) IgE allergies are immediate, causing the release of histamine and causing the patient to swell and itch. Patients with IgE allergies often report intestinal distress and difficulty breathing.
A severe IgE allergy is very dangerous because of swelling that could lead to airway blockage.
2) IgG allergies have delayed onset—from several hours to several days—and they can present as headaches, skin rashes including eczema, asthma, mood disorders, and joint pain.
They create problems by depositing allergen-antibody complexes into your body’s tissue, provoking chronic inflammation.
Methods To Identify Your Eczema Food Allergies
1) Food Elimination Diet For Eczema And The Oral Food Challenge
This method of identifying food allergies requires the most effort but it costs nothing and can pick up food sensitivities missed by lab testing.
The shortcomings of the elimination and oral challenge are that it can take a long time to test all of the possible foods and it can be difficult for patients to complete if they are not highly motivated.
There are two methods for identifying food allergens through this method:
The first method is to eliminate all suspected allergens for a period of 9 days to 2 weeks and then reintroduce one food at a time, noting any change in symptoms of eczema.
A new food can only be reintroduced every 3-4 days as some allergic responses are delayed.
The second method is to eat a normal diet and eliminate one food at a time, primarily testing the most common allergens.
A food, wheat, for example, is eliminated from the diet for 2 weeks and the patient keeps a symptom journal to record any improvement in eczema appearance and symptoms.
Then that food is reintroduced to see if any aggravation takes place. If there is an aggravation then that food is identified as an allergen and should be restricted for a period of time during gut restoration treatments.
Next, another food is eliminated for 2 weeks and the cycle is repeated until all suspect foods have been tested.
2) Blood Testing: Two Different Types Of Tests To Identify An Eczema Food Allergy
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) can identify both IgE and IgG food allergies. The ELISA test is able to pick up food allergies that other tests can miss, so it is called highly sensitive.
Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST test) only detects IgE food allergies, the kind of allergy that causes anaphylaxis. It can be expensive but requires only a simple blood collection. Unfortunately, RAST testing is not very sensitive and can miss some food allergens.
3) Skin Prick
This method of testing involves injecting very small amounts of antigen (potential allergen material) into the surface of the skin. They are typically performed by an allergist and are widely available. While skin prick testing is good at picking up inhalant allergies, it can often miss food allergies and sensitivities.
4) Applied Kinesiology (Muscle Testing)
Some alternative practitioners use muscle testing—cues from the patient’s body—to help identify problem foods.
The most common method is to place various foods in the palm of the eczema sufferer’s hand and then the practitioner puts pressure on the opposite raised arm to try and lower the extremity.
This is repeated with several other foods and when the extended arm is least able to hold up against downward pressure, it is presumed to signify some adverse reaction to that food.
Healing The Gut: How To Restore Your Intestinal Health To Reduce Immune Reactivity To Foods
A leaky gut is a condition where the increased spacing between cells in your gut allows for the greater passage of antigens (food molecules) across the intestinal barrier and into the bloodstream.
This amplified permeability prompts more immune hyper response, leading to antibody-antigen complexes synthesized in the intestine which are then leaked across the gaping barrier.
In essence, a condition of leaky gut snowballs until the patient has more and more food allergies, resulting in chronic inflammation.
Probiotics work by increasing the secretion of IgA, the immunoglobulin that is prevalent in the intestine.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that is essential for the proper function of all cells of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus.
Licorice acts to soothe irritated gastrointestinal tissue and to heal areas of ulceration or inflammation.
N-acetyl glucosamine is a sugar-like molecule that forms structures in the body. In the intestine, it can help to form proper gap junctions (space between cells) and heal the structural component of the leaky gut.
Gamma oryzanol is sourced from rice bran and is strongly anti-inflammatory and has been shown to decrease ulcers, allergies, and cancer.
Fructooligosaccharides are constituents extracted from fruits and vegetables that act as prebiotics, providing a food source for probiotics to flourish in the intestine.
Instead of popping 8 different capsules and 3 different powders, it’s a good idea to purchase a supplement that contains a combination of these gut-healing nutrients.
Integrative Therapeutics makes a product called Permeability Factors for leaky gut and Douglas Labs has one called Ultra GI.
Celiac Disease And Eczema
Celiac disease is a condition where the body makes antibodies against gluten, a protein found in certain types of grains.
The immune system then begins to attack the inner lining of the small intestine, Veins With Concealers causing bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Unfortunately, the side effects of celiac disease are not limited to the digestive system as people with the condition also often have intense fatigue, irritability, and skin rashes.
Iron deficiency anemia and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s) are also conditions often associated with celiac disease.
The celiac skin rash presents as itchy bumps and blisters that can appear anywhere but are typically found on the knees, elbows, hands, back, and buttocks.
Many people have sought treatment for eczema only to find out that they actually have celiac disease.
Your doctor can test for celiac disease using a blood test to screen for the antibodies or by taking a biopsy from your small intestine. The treatment for celiac disease involves avoiding gluten-containing foods.
They are found primarily in grains but are often added to processed foods as a thickener and to increase the fluffiness of bakery items.
Gluten-Containing Foods To Avoid If You Suspect Celiac And Gluten-Free Alternatives
Gluten-Containing Foods – AVOID
Gluten-Free Grains and Foods
Seasonings, sauces, marinades, soy sauce, soups, salad dressing, and flavored rice can also contain gluten.
Check the label to make sure that it says gluten-free.
Any fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, beans, or nuts
Patient Story: Rosalyn, 42, new adult onset of eczema
Rosalyn is the mother of 3 young boys and works long hours in her family business. She came to our clinic looking for recommendations to increase her energy.In the past 6 months Rosalyn felt increasingly more tired and would sleep 10 or even 11 hours per night without waking rested.
She also had starting getting patches of eczema on her legs and a small spot near her elbow.The patient’s primary care physician ran tests and told her that she was healthy. He gave her a prescription for a topical steroid but her eczema did not resolve entirely.
I listened carefully as Rosalyn described her symptoms, which included abdominal distention and indigestion following breakfast.Patient thought she may have lactose intolerance but switching to soy milk did not improve her symptoms.I gave Rosalyn a blood test that checks for antibodies to gliadin – the protein found in gluten. She tested positive so I referred her to a gastroenterologist where a small bowel biopsy proved Rosalyn had celiac disease.
She now avoids any gluten-containing foods and feels great, with her eczema resolved and her energy has returned.Her case highlights that food allergies and autoimmune disease such as celiac can present at any age.Unlike most people with food allergies, Rosalyn will not likely be able to eat gluten-containing foods after gut restoration, as the risk for autoimmune destruction is too great.
Additional Recommendations: Learn More About The Relationship Between Eczema And Diet:
Celiac Information Website. This is the National Institute for Health’s information page on the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for celiac disease. Lab Tests Online. Learn more about various lab tests available, including food allergy testing.
Eczema Free. This is a great ebook on natural methods to eliminate eczema.
Identifying food allergies and improving digestion will go a long way to addressing eczema, but this is a sound resource for other proven methods to eradicate eczema.