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Diet

How diet can make a difference to your atopic dermatitis

As you know, there are some external factors that may aggravate your AD and diet can sometimes be one of them.

Your immune system, which protects your body against different threats, may sometimes view the food you eat as a threat or allergen – a substance that the immune system sees as dangerous.1

This can lead to your body trying to protect itself by fighting back.2 The antibodies this chain of events produces can then react within minutes or hours of you eating a meal, resulting in an allergic reaction that may worsen your AD symptoms.3

Doctor

The good news is that you can talk to your doctor if you feel like your diet may be affecting your AD, and there are tests that can be done to determine if you’re allergic to any particular foods so you know which ones may be best to avoid.

And, as always, talk to your dermatologist if you feel like your AD isn’t controlled to find a management approach that works for you, and help you achieve long-term control.

Woman with eczema sat with a burger, looking worried thinking about the foods that can cause eczema

Foods associated with AD flare-ups

Research has shown that, for some people, eating certain foods can contribute to AD flare-ups. These include:4,5

  • Foods containing gluten e.g. bread, pasta, cereals
  • Dairy products e.g. milk, cheese
  • Alcohol
  • Some seafoods such as shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Soy

It’s worth noting that changing your diet to avoid these foods won’t guarantee that your symptoms will improve. That’s because environmental, genetic and immunological factors also play a role in causing AD.6

This is why, before you do make any major changes like going teetotal or dropping milk and eggs, you should always speak to your doctor if you think certain foods might be triggering a flare-up.

Diet

Changing your diet

While dietary changes and food supplements are not a substitute for medicinal treatments, some people find that certain small adjustments to their diet may help to manage their AD.

Foods and supplements

Although the evidence about foods that may benefit eczema or AD is not robust, there are some foods and nutrients that some people take to try and help with their symptoms, including:7-9

  • Dietary supplements and antioxidants e.g. vitamins A, C, D and E
  • Organic foods such as fruit and vegetables
  • Cold-water fish and fish oils
  • Prebiotics and probiotics

Some of these foods and supplements are high in antioxidants, whilst others may be thought of as having a positive effect on your immune system, possibly helping to alleviate the symptoms of AD.7-9

Clearly, there are plenty of potential options out there but it’s important to recognise that there’s no magic bullet and that what works for one person may not be as helpful for another. Diet and other environmental factors are only one piece of the puzzle – immunological and genetic factors also play a role in causing your AD.10

Specialist diets

Specialist diets have, in recent times, become, quite literally, the flavour of the month. From the meaty Atkins to the low-carb, high-fat Keto, from the Cabbage Soup Diet to the Cotton Ball (don’t ask!), there seems to be something to suit every taste – even if some of them aren’t what’s best for our bodies.

So, it’s understandable that many people living with AD (and perhaps even you) have tried some of these approaches in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms.5 But, here again, what works for one person might not work for another.5

The fact is, research into these diets is in its infancy.7,8 But it’s clear that neither sticking to any one specialist diet, nor modifying or supplementing your existing diet, can provide a cure for your AD. This is because AD is a complex condition where a range of factors all play a role – not just your diet – that need to be considered and managed too.10

However, many people find that having a ‘cleaner’ diet, consisting of mostly vegetables or plant-based foods, and eliminating carbs and processed foods, can help to improve your general health and wellbeing.5

Ultimately, if you have any questions or concerns about your diet, it’s always best to speak to your doctor or dermatologist, who can help you find long-term control.

Mythbuster

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Symptoms

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References

  1. Patient. Allergies. Available at https://patient.info/allergies-blood-immune/allergies Accessed July 2021.

  2. AAAAI. Allergy Definition. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/Conditions-Treatments/Allergies/Allergies-Overview Accessed July 2021.

  3. Cork et al. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2006;118:3–21.

  4. Dhar S et al. Indian J Dermatol 2016;61(6):645–648.

  5. National Eczema Association. Everything you need to know about eczema and food allergies. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-food-allergies/ Accessed July 2021.

  6. National Eczema Association. Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergies:What Is The Connection? Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/atopic-dermatitis-and-allergies-connection/. Accessed July 2021.

  7. Devereux G and Seaton A. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2005;115(6):1109–1117.

  8. Nosrati A et al. J Dermatol Treat 2017;28(6):523–538.

  9. Das A and Panda S. Indian J Paediatr Dermatol 2021;22(1):21–28.

  10. Bieber T. Ann Dermatol 2010;22(2):125–137.