Probiotics for Eczema: Understanding the Gut Health Connection

It might seem bizarre at first glance to conceptualize that billions of tiny organisms living inside your digestive tract could influence the itching sensation of an eczema patch on your leg or the redness and oozing of an eruption on your cheek. After reading this article you will understand the complex relationship between gut health, microorganisms (the probiotics), and eczema.

You will also be able to select foods and supplements to consume probiotics in the correct forms and amounts. The first clue that gut bacteria could play a role in the risk of developing eczema came with the discovery that breastfed babies have a reduced incidence, prolonged onset, and decreased severity of eczema.

Initially, these benefits were attributed to the passage of immune cells called antibodies but research has shown that breastfeeding moms taking probiotics created an even greater eczema protective benefit in their children. Fortunately for eczema sufferers, the benefits of probiotics can be achieved long after infancy.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria that are native to your digestive tract, which means that they are normally found in a healthy small and large intestine. The population of good bacteria living in your gut can fluctuate depending on diet, antibiotic use, and even stress. Most traditional cultures around the world had some form of probiotic bacteria in their diet.

For Indians, this was yogurt added to curries. The South Americans aged cheeses and the Asians fermented vegetables. The bacteria in your digestive tract affect the way you digest and assimilate nutrients. Good bacteria help the body process and remove toxins. They also influence the mucosal barrier (the inner lining of the digestive tract), which in turn can affect the immune system function. This last duty is where we see the most powerful relationship between probiotics and eczema.

If there is not a sufficient mucosal barrier then food and environmental antigens can cross over into the bloodstream, habitually activating the immune system and leading to hyperactivity. This hyperactivity is the hallmark of eczema conditions.

The Best Probiotics For Eczema

There are over 500 different strains of bacteria in the average colon but only 30 or so comprise the bulk and dominate metabolic activity and gut health. The following are the top 3 good bugs to promote health and decrease the incidence and severity of eczema.

1. Lactobacillus Acidophilus

This probiotic strain is the most well-known as it is used to culture yogurts and other dairy foods.A recent Japanese study showed intake of lactobacillus significantly improved symptoms of eczema and created a decline in cytokines, which are inflammatory immune cells.

2. Bifidobacterium

Not as well-known as lactobacillus, bifidobacteria are actually more prevalent in the colon and several large studies have recently shown superior benefits in regulating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Children at high risk for eczema who took a blend of bifidobacteria species in the first 3 months of life had decreased incidence of eczema compared to those in the placebo group.

3. Saccharomyces boulardi

This beneficial bug is actually a yeast strain instead of a bacterium but doesn’t get it confused with pathogenic yeast like candida. Saccharomyces boulardi increases the secretion of IgA in the intestines; this protects the immune system from being overstimulated by antigens such as food allergies or environmental toxins. Saccharomyces has also proven effective in eradicating clostridium difficile, an infection of the colon that is extremely virulent.

Eczema And Probiotics: What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement

If you are going to purchase a probiotic supplement, check to see that the vendor has quality control measures to ensure that what is claimed on the label matches what is inside the capsule. This information should be on the package or inserted in the paperwork. If it isn’t then you will need to contact the manufacturer to request it. If a manufacturer does not do quality control testing by a third party then you do not want to buy their probiotic.

For maintenance, daily probiotic intake to help with eczema or for general health you need at least 5 billion cells of each bifidobacteria species and lactobacillus, taken twice daily. The dosage of saccharomyces bollards is typically given in milligrams. Take 250mg twice daily.

Generally, probiotics are taken for a period of 3-6 months so that a healthy population can be established in the digestive tract. Some practitioners give high-dose probiotics for one month and then wean down to the maintenance dose for the following months. There are some patients who need probiotics indefinitely if they are not able to get them through diet. High-dose probiotics can range from 10 billion cells twice daily upwards of 50 billion cells three times daily. These mega doses should not be done without clinical supervision because it is possible to get a bacterial overgrowth of beneficial bacteria.

Eczema And Probiotics: Consume Prebiotics For Added Benefit

Some probiotic supplements now advertise that they contain prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food source of beneficial bacteria. Carbohydrate complexes called oligosaccharides are added to probiotic powders and capsules.

Common oligosaccharides include polydextrose, galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Soluble fiber and even some types of insoluble fiber also provide nutrition for the probiotic microbes to flourish.

Food sources of prebiotics:

  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Dandelion greens
  • Chicory root
  • Artichokes
  • Wheat bran

Foods With Live Probiotics For Eczema:

  1. Yogurt in any form: soy, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or coconut. Check the label to see that it says the product contains live cultures.
  2. Kefir: I like yogurt but more liquid since the extra fluid is not drained off.
  3. Sauerkraut
  4. Sour cream
  5. Kim Chi (Korean pickled and fermented cabbage—it tastes better than it sounds!)
  6. Raw milk, although this is not readily available in all areas and needs to be cultivated in such a way as to avoid food-borne illness

Recipes To Incorporate Good Bacteria Into Your Diet:

1. Healthy Start Yogurt Smoothie

For your yogurt smoothie, you can either purchase commercially available yogurt or you can make your own using a yogurt starter base.If you buy your yogurt from the store, make sure that it says it contains live cultures; the two species to look for are lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.

Activia is a brand of yogurt that advertises its content of both strains of good bacteria. If you have a food allergy or sensitivity to cow dairy products you may be able to tolerate goat’s yogurt, which is available at many health food stores. Non-dairy yogurts such as soy, rice, or coconut can also be substituted as long as they say on the label that the product contains live cultures.

Blend the following ingredients together:

  • one medium frozen peeled banana
  • ¾ cup frozen strawberries
  • one tablespoon of flax seeds for fiber and essential fatty acids
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plain yogurt
  • one cup orange juice or ½ cup orange juice with ½ cup milk (you can use cow’s milk or a dairy alternative such as soy, hazelnut, coconut, or almond milk)
  • optional sweetener: 2 tablespoons agave nectar or one teaspoon stevia

2. Killer Coconut Kefir (Vegan)

To make homemade coconut kefir you will need a starter culture of good bacteria kefir grains, sugar, and young coconut.

If you don’t have access to fresh coconuts you can substitute for coconut milk:

  1. Pour the juice of two fresh coconuts into a mason jar.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of kefir grains.
  3. Cover with cheesecloth or dishtowel and let sit on the counter at room temperature for approximately 24 hours.
  4. Kefir clumps will rise to the top and the mixture should smell somewhat similar to yogurt: sour and tangy.
  5. Drain the mixture through a thin-wired colander or sieve to remove clumps. Alternatively, blend clumps into the mixture.
  6. Flavor with natural sweeteners such as honey, agave, or maple syrup.

You can use coconut kefir with granola, on top of fruit salad or blend it into a smoothie. It can be whipped with a mixer to make a healthy topping for desserts.

Additional Resources

Cultures for Health is a website with a variety of kefir grains. Probiotics Supplements is a website that carries a large variety of different products, including supplements that have all of the strains discussed for benefit with eczema.

Eczema Free is an excellent eBook for learning additional natural methods to treat and prevent eczema.

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