September 29, 2022

Can You Relieve Eczema on a Vegetarian or Plant-Based Diet?

  • While some individuals have experienced relief from eczema after switching to a plant-based diet, there’s no conclusive evidence that this works for everyone.
  • Experts recommend that people with eczema eat a diet rich in nutrients that support gut and immune health.
  • If you’re thinking of switching to a new diet, get in touch with a dietitian or healthcare professional who can help make sure you’re meeting your body’s nutritional needs.

Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that affects up to 1 in 5 children and about 3 percent of adults.

There’s no cure for eczema, and many people with eczema turn to lifestyle interventions, such as diet change, to manage their symptoms. In fact, some people say that switching to a plant-based diet helped relieve their eczema.

But can avoiding meat and dairy help everyone with eczema? Let’s take a closer look at the role of diet in eczema and whether a plant-based diet can help ease symptoms.

The idea that diet can affect eczema symptoms is not new. Eczema frequently occurs alongside other allergic diseases, which can sometimes be triggered by food.

An estimated 20 to 80 percent of people with eczema have some form of food allergy. The most common food triggers for eczema include:

  • milk and dairy products
  • peanuts
  • eggs
  • soy
  • wheat
  • seafood and shellfish

Food allergies can make eczema symptoms worse for some people, but not everyone. Food allergies are believed to play a bigger role in eczema symptoms in infants and young children, especially those with more severe cases, than in older children or adults.

But even if you think food is triggering an allergic reaction in your body, it’s not always easy to figure out which ingredient is causing it. Under the supervision of a medical professional, an elimination diet can help you identify food intolerances and allergies by removing many possible foods, and slowly adding them back into your diet to see how they affect symptoms.

However, experts generally recommend against elimination diets that prohibit eating specific foods for eczema relief. These kinds of diets are often highly restrictive and don’t typically improve eczema symptoms. They may also cause nutritional deficiencies if not managed properly.

The “leaky gut” theory of eczema may also help shed light on how diet affects eczema symptoms. This model suggests that defects in the connections between cells in the intestines allow food allergens and other irritants to enter the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation.

Since inflammation is a characteristic feature of eczema, it’s possible that diets or supplements that support gut health could help reduce symptoms of eczema, but more research is needed.

However, while a growing body of research supports the theory of a gut-skin connection in eczema, it’s still not clear whether anti-inflammatory diets or probiotic supplements help improve symptoms of eczema.

Plant-based diets such as vegan, vegetarian, or modified-vegetarian diets have become increasingly popular as a tool to support health and well-being. Some individuals have also reported seeing an improvement in their eczema symptoms after switching to a plant-based diet.

But despite their success on an individual level, there’s no consensus that a plant-based diet is the magic cure for every case of eczema.

One older study from 2001 found that a vegetarian diet can help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in people with eczema. This was a small study with just 20 participants, though.

The diet used in this study was also restricted to a low number of calories. Weight loss has been found to improve eczema symptoms in some people with obesity in another small study, so it’s not clear whether it was the vegetarian diet or the calorie restriction that helped improve the participants’ symptoms in the 2001 study.

More recently, a 2018 study involving people with coronary artery disease found that those who went on a vegan diet for 8 weeks had lower levels of inflammation and improved health benefits compared with those on a regular heart-healthy diet, even without weight loss. But it’s not clear if these benefits extend to people with eczema.

Other eating patterns that include an abundance of plant-based foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been found to provide a variety of health benefits, including reduced inflammation, as well.

Research specifically looking at the benefits of a Mediterranean diet in eczema has been limited, and a review of studies that involving children has mostly seen no effect.

Experts with the National Eczema Association suggest that instead of making a complete dietary change, people with eczema should focus on eating a diet rich in nutrients that support gut and immune health, including:

  • fiber
  • vitamins A, C, and D
  • zinc

Fiber and vitamin C are found primarily in plant-based foods. Vitamins A and D, along with zinc, are found in a mix of foods from both plants and animals.

If you notice certain foods seem to worsen your eczema symptoms, or you think you may have a food allergy, get in touch with a healthcare professional before making drastic changes to your diet. While some people may benefit from reducing or eliminating specific foods from their diet, that’s not the case for everyone.

For example, despite dairy being a common food allergy in people with eczema, one study found that children with eczema who drank more fresh milk tended to have less severe symptoms.

One of the main concerns when switching to a plant-based diet is the potential for nutritional deficiencies. Vegan diets, in particular, can sometimes be low in animal-derived micronutrients, including:

  • iodine
  • iron
  • zinc
  • calcium
  • vitamins A, B2, B12, and D
  • omega-3 fatty acids

Nutritional deficiencies may lead to other health problems, such as a higher bleeding risk. A 2019 study on more than 48,000 people found that vegetarians and vegans have a higher likelihood of having certain types of strokes related to bleeding than people who eat meat.

However, that study also found a link between vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian diets and a lower risk of coronary artery disease than eating patterns with meat. It’s one of many potential research-based benefits of a plant-based diet on other aspects of health.

The key to minimizing the risk of downsides from a plant-based diet is making sure you eat enough calories and the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients to support your body. That may require careful grocery shopping, planning meals ahead, and potentially consulting with a dietitian.

Another important point to consider when switching to a plant-based diet specifically for eczema is that many of the most common sources of micro- and macronutrients in these diets are also common triggers of food allergies.

Soy is often a staple of plant-based diets, which can be problematic for people with soy allergies. Similarly, nut allergies are common in people with eczema, and nuts are often used as a key source of protein and fats in vegan diets.

Can being vegetarian cause skin problems?

Interesting results from a U.S.-based national study involving over 9,000 children found that those on a vegan diet were more than 2.5 times as likely to have eczema as those who weren’t on a vegan diet.

But it’s unclear whether this means that a plant-based diet causes eczema, or whether parents of children with eczema are more likely to try a plant-based diet to reduce symptoms.

It is known, though, that nutritional deficiencies can cause skin problems. This can happen when someone switches to a diet that eliminates, or greatly reduces, consumption of major food groups. For example, the ketogenic (or “keto”) diet, significantly cuts carbohydrates and can cause skin conditions similar to eczema.

If you’re thinking of switching to a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet, consider connecting with a dietitian, who can help make sure you’re meeting your body’s nutritional needs.

While some individuals have seen an improvement in their eczema symptoms after switching to a plant-based diet, there’s little evidence that this will work for everyone.

Instead of making drastic diet changes (which may have unintended health effects), experts recommend focusing on eating key nutrients that support gut and immune health. That can come exclusively from plants, or from a mix of plant- and animal-based foods, depending on your preferences and which foods are available to you.

If you believe your diet may be contributing to your eczema symptoms, talk to a healthcare professional or a registered dietician to make sure you are maintaining adequate levels of all key nutrients needed for your overall health.

https://www.healthline.com/health/eczema/plant-based-diet-for-eczema