On the surface, eczema seems like a simple skin condition. The skin comes in contact with an irritant and the body overreacts or a person eats an allergic food and the body overreacts. This oversimplification of cause and effects has been challenged in recent years, as new research shows complex, overlapping eczema triggers and multiple different risk factors for developing eczema.
In the past decade, it was discovered that children in areas with higher air pollution were at increased risk for developing eczema and asthma. So too were children whose mothers consumed less dietary essential fatty acids such as Omega 3s. The hygiene hypothesis also gained traction when several studies found an inverse correlation between eczema and the intake of probiotic foods and supplements. Papers linking increased eczema with early antibiotic use have also been published.
The following are summaries of the latest research, what it means for eczema sufferers, and links to resources for you to learn more.
Beach Days As Eczema Treatment: More Than Just Fun In The Sun
A paper recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology looked at sun exposure in young Australian children. Those living in areas with the highest exposure to sunlight had the lowest rates of both eczema and food allergies. Children in southern Australia had double the rate of allergies and eczema than their northern counterparts. The lead researcher, Dr. Nick Osbourne, stated that he believes this correlation is due to varying levels of Vitamin D. This important vitamin, which functions as a hormone in the body, requires sunlight for synthesis.
Low vitamin D has been implicated in immune dysregulation and increased risk for developing eczema but this is the first study to find such a strong link with the development of food allergies. Vitamin D, both topically and internally, has been used to treat eczema. Topically, Vitamin D is used in either a lotion or salve. The preparation should use the D3 form of the vitamin. Orally, vitamin D is dosed between 400 and 10,000 IU daily. Vitamin D should not be taken over 2000 IU daily without having blood tests to check your level. It is possible to have too much Vitamin D, which is called hypervitaminosis D, and can cause kidney stones or heart arrhythmias.
Skin Memory: New Evidence Of What Goes Wrong In Eczema Eruptions
German researchers recently discovered that immune cells called T-cells are responsible for triggering both eczema and psoriasis skin lesions. T-cells and B-cells, another type of immune cell, form the body’s immunological memory.
When a virus sickens a person, these cells will keep a “record” and produce cells that respond to the outer markers that identify a virus, which are called antigens. These memory cells should only be manufactured to protect the body from repeat infections. It goes awry when memory cells stimulate the immune system to attack everyday substances such as pollen, dust, or foods. The researchers, Stefanie and Kilian Eyerich, have pinpointed T-cells in particular for initiating eczema eruptions but they are still studying which subset of T-cells in particular. They have not yet confirmed T-cells alone to be the starting point of psoriasis.
Read our article on immune balancing diet, herbs, and nutrients to learn how to make changes that could help regulate your memory T cells. This is the link to the original article published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Bee Pollen & Mercury: Discovering New Eczema Triggers Through Patch Testing
Allergists use patch testing to identify allergies in adults and children suffering from eczema. Common well-known allergens include mold, peanuts, grasses, and animal dander. Polish researchers took 103 children and 93 adolescents with eczema and patch-tested them with the new European Baseline Series, an additional 28 substances are now recommended to be included in standard patch testing.
This method of testing requires injecting tiny amounts of the suspected substance into the skin and then observing for redness, swelling, and blistering. The most common allergens of the new 28 in children with eczema were nickel (35.9%), bee pollen called propolis (16.5%), thimerosal – a mercury compound (11.7%), cobalt (9.7%), and a perfume fragrance mix (6.8%).
Adolescents reacted to thimerosal–mercury compound (37.6%), nickel (19.4%), cobalt (6.5%), and propolis bee pollen (5.4%). The research group argued that all allergists should be including these new 28 substances in their testing, as some of them provoked a reaction in over a third of those tested. This groundbreaking research also highlights the importance of early exposure to these substances, as thimerosal was used liberally as a preservative in vaccines.
It has been largely phased out in recent years, which may explain why young children reacted to it 11.7% of the time whereas older adolescents reacted 37.6% of the time. Young children are much less likely to have been administered a vaccine that contained a thimerosal preservative. Limiting exposure to these triggers can help prevent eczema or reduce the severity of its presentation. Read more about their interesting findings, published in the journal Pediatric Allergy & Immunology.
Catfish Bile For Eczema? A Novel Eczema Treatment
A group of Korean researchers discovered that the bile of catfish improved eczema in mice by decreasing inflammation, suppressing the hyperimmune response, and functioning as an antioxidant, decreasing free radical damage. They published a series of experiments showing the catfish bile-suppressed T helper cell immune response. The bile also decreased mast cell release, an immune cell that produces histamine, the compound involved in swelling and itching.
The studies involved examining the spleens and lymph nodes of the mice to confirm improvements in immune T cells and cytokine levels after treatment with the bile. The researchers noted that higher concentrations of bile (5%) prompted the most dramatic results. Stay tuned to see if there are plans for developing catfish bile cream for human use.