Whether it was the kid at school who always seemed to be itching , someone in your own life, or even you yourself, the chances are you’ve come across eczema before. There are many people who report that the Paleo diet helps with the symptoms of the condition and also helps prevent flare ups. This article looks to explore this potential link in a bit more detail.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is an extremely common skin condition with a long spectrum of symptoms as well as severity. In the United States alone almost 30 million people have some form of eczema, with a prevalence of between 8 and 20% in children (1). Whilst this skin condition usually flares up in childhood initially, some people do develop eczema as an adult for the first time.
Eczema is actually the term used for a group of medical conditions which result in the skin being red, inflamed and usually itchy. The most common types of eczema are contact dermatitis or atopic eczema.
Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema is quite distinct in that it is almost always itchy. There are common places where the itchy rash will appear such as behind the knees, wrists, hands or feet. Over time affected areas usually turn dry, thick or scaley.
Causes of eczema
The exact cause of atopic eczema is largely unknown but it is theorised that it may be linked to the bodies immune system overreacting allergically to an irritant, basically an auto-immunity condition. One commonality which has been found is that atopic eczema is more common in families where there is a history of other allergies or asthma (4).
However, a newer theory is that eczema may not be an auto-immune disease at all, but rather an actual physical impairment in the skins epidermal layer. This may leave the skin wide open to certain substances which are then perceived by the bodies immune system as a foreign body. So your immune system is functioning normally by reacting to the foreign ‘stuff’ your skin is letting in instead of acting like a shield.
Many people with eczema also report flare ups of the skin condition in response to specific conditions or substances. For example, certain detergents or soaps or creams can cause a flare up, so can allergies to animals or even stress (5).
How the Paleo diet may help with Eczema
Whilst the exact cause of eczema remains unknown, it is most definitely worth attacking the problem from all sides and treating the condition in a holistic manner. One of the factors in treating this condition is most definitely looking at diet and how it may or may not play a role.
Food allergies and sensitivities
One of the first ports of call with eczema in a child is looking at whether the child may have an actual food allergy or intolerance.This is largely because research is showing that eczema is a very strong indicator that food allergies could occur (6). The problem with this is not only is the testing extremely expensive (hundreds of foods to test for) , but the test themselves might give false positives or even in some cases false negatives. A positive test to a certain food might not be an actual allergy (7), and only a food challenge can confirm the allergy. In addition the allergy tests normally test for the main food allergens like dairy, wheat or eggs and might leave out the actual allergen.
Paleo helps in that a few of the main allergen groups are cut out along with processed junk food. This helps to narrow the field and highlight whether the reaction could be a sensitivity to dairy, wheat/gluten, soy milk or even peanuts.
In the Paleo diet, foods such as grains and highly processed vegetable oils are cut out due to their inflammatory nature and in some cases this can help to lower overall inflammation. In addition other foods which naturally lower inflammation are encouraged on the Paleo diet. Foods such as fatty fish, coconut oil and green leafy vegetables. In this way the Paleo diet is thought to help as it lowers the bodies overall state of inflammation.
More and more we are discovering a link between our overall health and gut health. Specifically our immune system and our gut as a large part of our immune system is linked to our gut and how healthy it is. It has been found that many children with eczema have differences in gut flora (10) but it is unclear why.
When it comes to diet, quite often the high intake of processed grains can lead to increased gut permeability and therefore a ‘leaky gut‘. As eczema is an inflammatory condition it makes sense that in order to help with inflammation and our immunes system the first place to start will be the gut (11).
Once again in this way the Paleo lifestyle assists by eliminating foods like grains which are known to cause gut injury and inflammation as well as providing large doses of healthy fiber (prebiotics) which also aid in healing the gut. The end result may be an overall lowering of inflammation and therefore an improvement in the symptoms of eczema sufferers.
The bottom line
Eczema is a complicated and extremely unbearable condition which for many sufferers is a daily struggle. There are very few answers as to why some people and not others suffer from this problem. Whilst it might not be conclusively proven that the Paleo diet will assist with eczema sufferers, the only way to help with the condition is to approach it holistically. Paleo has been shown to help a variety of conditions indirectly through lowering inflammation and improving health and it so it can only help to try Paleo as one of the ways to help manage symptoms of eczema.