Atopic Dermatitis (AD), the most commonly known form of Eczema, is an inflammatory disease of the skin, that is characterized by the presence of redness, itchiness and eruptions of small vesicles, which release a watery discharge, that dries into unsightly crusts. It can affect anyone at any age, even infants are diagnosed with AD. Fortunately, diet and nutrition can make a huge difference for eczema sufferers of all ages.
Causes of Atopic Dermatitis Eczema
By studying the family medical histories of eczema sufferers, scientists discovered an important link between allergies (food and environmental) and asthma in the development of AD eczema. Basically, if one or both parents suffered from allergies, asthma or eczema their child is far more likely to develop AD eczema. People with this type of eczema have outbreaks when they are exposed to allergens. Their immune system overreacts and releases histamine. Histamine is a chemical compound that is released by cells in response to a perceived threat from allergens and inflammatory substances.
The easiest way to keep the over-reactive immune response of AD eczema sufferers under control, thus preventing outbreaks, is to change one’s diet. Unfortunately, the most common causes of inflammation in the body are foods that are protected by both anti-disparagement laws (yes, that is a real thing). I’m referring, of course, to meat and dairy products. This may be one of the reasons why mainstream doctors are not advising eczema patients to eliminate such foods from their diet, despite it being common knowledge that meat and dairy foods increase inflammation in the body and can trigger new outbreaks in AD eczema suffers. But you must also keep in mind that many other foods, if one is allergic, can also cause eczema outbreaks. This is why allergy testing and managing one’s diet are critical to successfully eliminating eczema. The RAST (Radioallergosorbent Test) seems to be one of the least problematic food allergy tests for eczema sufferers.
Once you know what you are allergic to, you can remove those foods from your diet. It may be difficult in the beginning, because processed / pre-packaged foods are staples in the average American diet, and these foods are another major cause of inflammation in the body. Why? Because commodity crops, like corn, wheat and soy, are subsidized by the government. And those extremely cheap, and highly processed ingredients, are added to just about every pre-packaged food on the market. These pre-packaged foods include “natural” and “organic”, vegetarian and vegan ready meals. A quote from ‘The Truth About Grains: Whole and Refined’,
“When ground into flours, most grains act like sugar in the body, triggering weight gain, inflammation and blood-sugar imbalances.”1
Eczema Fighting Foods
Let’s start by looking at the foods that have been shown to not only lower histamine and fight inflammation, keeping eczema outbreaks under control, but whose nutrient rich content also heals the skin. Categorized by type, these eczema fighting foods and nutrients are:
- Buckwheat Groats
- Black Grapes
- Red Onions
- Green Onions
- Lima Beans
- Green Beans
- Brussels Sprouts
- Swiss Chard
- Turmeric (Curcumin)
- Bean Sprouts
- Sugar Cane
- Collard Greens
- Sesame Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
Quercetin and zinc are the most important nutrients, when it comes to fighting eczema, because they lower histamine and decrease inflammation, helping to prevent the unnecessary release of histamine. Quercetin, in particular, has been proven in numerous studies to be more effective than pharmaceutical antihistamines, and it is also an excellent anti-inflammatory. If pharmaceutical companies could patent this bioflavonoid, not only would its effectiveness be common knowledge, quercetin would be the best selling allergy “drug” of all time. Quercetin also seems capable of blocking an enzyme that neutralizes cortisone, which is the body’s most potent anti-inflammatory. Orthomolecular nutritionist Steven Whiting, discusses this and other benefits of quercetin more thoroughly in his book, Healthy Living Made Easy. Zinc is very important as well, because those who suffer from chronic allergies are usually zinc deficient. Histadelia (high histamine) is caused by under-methylation, a metabolic imbalance. Zinc is crucial to correcting this imbalance and getting histamine under control.
Glycine is a non-essential amino acid that helps to eliminate salicylates. Salicylates are a type of natural pesticide produced by plants to protect themselves from insects, and too much in someone with an over-reactive immune system can lead to an AD eczema outbreak. This is why foods like tomatoes, tomato sauce, citrus fruit and processed foods tend to cause outbreaks. Flavor additives, especially those that are added to processed foods with tomato and citrus flavors, tend to be loaded with salicylates as well. But salicylates can also be inhaled from the environment, because fragrances and industrial chemicals also contain the substance. This makes consuming glycine-rich and glycine-producing foods even more important to combating AD eczema. Some of the foods listed in my glycine-rich foods list (above) don’t just contain glycine, they contain serine and/or threonine, which stimulate the body to produce its own glycine.
There are many more foods that contain the aforementioned nutrients, but the foods I’ve listed above are a good sampling of what one can expect to eat, provided they are not proven allergic to them. While it is extremely important to eat a diet high in histamine-lowering foods, if you suffer from eczema, it is just as important to avoid histamine-liberators, even if you are not allergic to them. Histamine-liberators are foods that don’t naturally contain histamine themselves, yet can stimulate our cells to release histamine. They include, but are not limited to, chocolate (cocoa), citrus fruits, strawberries, some nuts (particularly walnuts and cashews), also shellfish and crustaceans.
As I mentioned earlier, dairy products and meat increase inflammation. Many dairy products and meats also contain high amounts of histamine; several varieties of fish do as well. Surprisingly, there are also some fruits and vegetables that naturally contain high amounts of histamine. They include, but are not limited to, tomatoes, spinach, eggplants (aubergine), avocados, and pickled cabbage. This may be a hard pill to swallow, since the first two are staples in the diet of most vegans, but there are so many alternatives available you may not miss them as much as you think. Most fruits and vegetables will not only help you get histamine, inflammation and salicylates under control, they also contain the necessary nutrients to heal and beautify the skin.
Many people cling to denial when they are first diagnosed with a plethora of food allergies, especially when the foods that are making them sick and causing their eczema outbreaks are the favorites that they eat each and every day. Which reminds me of a YouTuber, named Tiffany (HealisticBella), who was shocked to learn that she was allergic to 22 different foods, most of which she ate daily and are typical in the American diet. But if one is willing to accept their diagnosis and eliminate allergy foods from their diet, they may see improvement, just as she did.
In general, a whole food diet has been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of eczema outbreaks. Some AD eczema sufferers have even claimed to be cured of their eczema since adopting a raw vegan diet. Freelee the Banana Girl’s mom is one such person. She suffered from eczema for 57 years. Her own mother told her she was born with visible eczema on her skin! Now, at age 62, she is eczema free and she credits her switch to a raw vegan diet. She’s been a raw vegan for 5 years and she says that she is “cured”. This is one person’s experience, of course. Others may or may not get the same results. There are stories of both improvements and cures all over the web, but few have supplied enough details to help one discern why some saw excellent results while others only moderate. As the saying goes, ‘What works for some may not work for others.’
So, could changing one’s diet to remove all known food allergens and histamine-liberators, while increasing the amount of salicylate destroying, anti-inflammatory and histamine-lowering foods one eats, help improve or even cure eczema? It’s entirely possible. But there’s no way to know if it will work for you until you’ve tried. If you are concerned about the expense of a whole food diet, you’ll find many money saving tips and tricks in my last article ‘Eating Vegan on a Budget’.
If switching to a partial or completely whole food diet helps your eczema, please, let me know. I would love to hear your story. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions of your own, share them below.
1 Guthrie, Catherine. “The Truth About Grains: Whole and Refined”. Experience Life, July/August 2012. Web. December 2016
Bottrell, John. “The Link Between Eczema and Asthma”. Health Central, February 7, 2011. Web. December 2016
Gardner, Stephanie S., MD. “Allergies and Eczema: What’s the Link?” WebMD, March 1, 2016. Web. December 2016
Maintz, Laura and Novak, Natalija. “Histamine and histamine intolerance”. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, May 2007. Web. December 2016
Whiting, Steven. “Healthy Living Made Easy: The Only Things You Need to Know About Diet, Exercise and Supplements”. Morgan James Publishing, 2007. Print
HealisticBella. “How I healed my acne and eczema by discovering my 22 Food Allergies”. YouTube, December 3, 2010. Web
Freelee The Banana Girl. “Day 26: How I Cured My Eczema After 57 Years”. YouTube, June 26, 2013. Web. December 2016