“I am fit and healthy but have had eczema from childhood which comes and goes. However, recently it has really flared up and is especially noticeable on my hands and at the back of my knees. I am looking for a natural solution to help soothe my skin. What can you suggest?”
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer answers:
Which foods can aggravate eczema?
As with anything to do with the skin, you need to look within to find the answers. This starts with the health of the gut and especially the intestinal lining. Certain foods can aggravate eczema and irritate the gut, which then causes what’s known as leaky gut, where food particles set up antibody reactions in the blood, further exacerbating the situation.
Key culprits are dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, and soya-based foods. While your diet may be slightly limited for a while, it would certainly be worth cutting out these foods to see if things improve. For example, use plant-based milks such as oat or almond.
Wheat-based foods such as bread and pasta contain gluten, which is very irritating to the gut, so try going gluten-free for a month; there are plenty of gluten-free products in the supermarkets. Oat contains much less gluten so shouldn’t cause an issue. However, do make sure you’re not choosing foods laden with sugar such as gluten-free cakes and biscuits, which won’t do you any favours. Grains such as rice, quinoa and buckwheat are all gluten-free and non-allergenic.
As with all skin conditions, eczema is inflammatory in nature, and needs to be dampened down from within. Top of the list of anti-inflammatories are foods containing the essential omega-3 fats including oily fish and flaxseeds. However, if you’re not vegetarian, fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and sardines are actually the best sources of omega-3s so include these into your diet as much as possible. For vegetarians and vegans (and meat eaters) try to include two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds on your morning cereal or add to a juice or smoothie every day.
Berry fruits are rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids (though avoid strawberries as they can be allergenic) and are readily available at this time of year. They are also versatile so can be added to cereals, oat-based breakfasts, with natural yoghurt or in myriad dishes. Even better they’re totally delicious!
Stress can often be a factor in eczema flare-ups, so herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm are great at taking the heat out of skin conditions. Both can be used as creams topically and any cream that contains vitamin E will also help.
Lastly, the mineral zinc is essential for skin health and healing so ensure you’re including plenty of legumes, shellfish and nuts and seeds into your diet. You might also find it helps to supplement with some additional zinc.