See also: Allergy (food)

The word ‘eczema’ comes from Greek words that mean ‘to boil over’ because the skin appears filled with fluid. ‘Dermatitis’ comes from the latin word for inflammation of the skin and both terms refer to exactly the same skin condition. For simplicity eczema is the term generally used here, although the two words are interchangeable.

In the past, eczema was used to describe skin conditions for which there was no apparent external cause and dermatitis was used to describe a specific allergy. Since the effects on the skin are the same, the terms are now used interchangeably.

The condition causes reddening, scaling and itching, together with the formaiton of fluid filled blister called vesicles which, when they’re scratched, cause the skin to weep. There may be thickening of the skin where it has been scratched, lumps or blisters in affected areas, signs of superficial infection such as weeping or crusty deposits.

Atopic eczema commonly occurs in people who have an allergic tendency and who may also suffer from conditions such as asthma and hayfever. It is due to over-production of one of our anti-bodies, called IgE, which sensitises the cells that contain histamine situated in the skin around blood vessels. It is often found in the skin creases of the elbow and knee.

Contact dermatits is the name given to the condition where there is an allergic response in the skin to external substances such as nickel, latex, washing powders, detergents and hairdressing products.

An increase of between two- and five-fold has been seen over the past 30 years, for reasons that are far from clear. Eczema now affects about 10-20 per cent of schoolchildren. It seems likely though that increasing exposure to allergens (protein substances to which people can become allergic) such as house dust mite and other environmental factors have been the main causes of this increase.

Eczema can be complicated by bacterial infections, especially if the skin is broken by scratching. This will produce a marked increase in the redness and heat in affected skin tissue.

Nutritional Supplements that could help.(Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)

Supplement/Herb What it does Dosage
Essential fatty acids Those with eczema tend to have altered EFA metabolism, resulting in high levels of linoleic acid, but low levels of GLA and omega 3 fatty acids; a scenario that is consistent with inflammation and allergy. Supplementation with GLA (from borage or evening primrose oil) and fish oils has resulted in marked improvements in several scientific studies. 150 – 300mg GLA per day
Zinc and Vitamin A Vitamin A is necessary for proper health and integrity of skin tissue. A deficiency can lead to symptoms of eczema such as excessive skin thickening. Zinc is needed for proper skin healing and for the proper metabolism of the fatty acid GLA. Deficiencies in zinc are common in cases of eczema. Adequate zinc is also necessary for proper vitamin A utilisation in the maintenance of skin integrity. 15 – 30mg per day & 5000- l0000 iu per day
Quercetin Inhibits the release of histamine from the mast cells. Allergies, especially to foods, are a major factor in the development of many cases of eczema. 500 – 2000mg per day (away from food) (4)
Burdock Anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and benefits the immune system. 500 – 3000mg per day
Digestive Enzymes If there are food allergies, digestive enzymes can aid complete digestion of food thereby reducing inflammatory reactions. As directed
Acidophilus Daily to support the immune system. As directed
Garlic Helps stimulate the production of anti-histamines which fight the allergic response. In cooking or as directed

Diet and Lifestyle Factors

Reduce or avoid:

Identify and eliminate food allergens. A simple home test can help identify problem foods, available from Food Detective.

Dairy produce, shellfish, eggs, citrus fruits, strawberries, red meat, wheat and artificial additives have all been linked with eczema.

Trans fats/hydrogenated fats found in processed foods. Fried foods

Increase your intake of:

  • Eat oily fish such as salmon, trout, herrings, sardines at least 3 times a week
  • Vegetables and Fruit (especially berries) at least 5 portions daily
  • Vegetable proteins such as quorn, tempeh, tofu, beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Water at least 3 pints daily

Minimise exposure to environmental toxins. Avoid nickel contact with the skin. If you are very sensitive to nickel it may be worth avoiding shellfish, slamon, herrings, canned fruits and vegetables, all beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soya products, leeks, lettuce, pineapple, prunes, raspberries, rhubarb, figs, oats, wholemeal flour, tea, cocoa, chocolate and nuts during an attack.

Use only mild soaps and detergents on clothes, avoid biological washing powders.

Topical applications:

Aloe Vera Gel or the sap squeezed from an aloe vera plant.

Borage process in a liquidiser and mix with an equal amount of witch hazel

Chamomile, chickweed, comfrey creams.

Homoeopathic Remedies which may help. (Refer to the individual remedy for guidance on the one that is most appropriate for you.)

  • Arsenicum album
  • Calcarea carbonica
  • Graphites
  • Hepar sulph
  • Rhus tox
  • Sulphur

Suggested further reading:

  • Natural remedies
  • Alternative remedies


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