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Eczema Triggers: The Worst Foods You Need to Avoid


Are you tired of dealing with the constant itchiness and discomfort caused by eczema? If so, you’re not alone. Eczema affects millions worldwide, and finding relief can often be a lifelong struggle. While various triggers can worsen eczema symptoms, one area that is often overlooked is our diet. The foods we consume can significantly impact our skin, and specific ingredients can be particularly detrimental for those with eczema.

What is Eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by red, itchy, and dry patches of skin. It’s commonly a result of an overactive immune system reacting to various internal or external factors, which can be hereditary or environmental. The environmental triggers can range from weather changes, stress, irritants, and, notably, certain types of food.

Understanding Food Triggers

Food triggers are a crucial aspect of managing eczema, albeit complex. Many people might misunderstand food triggers as the root cause of eczema, which is not the case. Food does not cause eczema, but in specific individuals, it can significantly exacerbate the symptoms of this skin condition.

When individuals eat a food they’re allergic or sensitive to, their body releases inflammation-causing substances, which can lead to an eczema flare-up. The inflammation can cause the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed, causing discomfort and potential skin damage.

But here’s an essential nuance to remember – food triggers can vary significantly from person to person. What might trigger an eczema flare-up in one person may not cause any reaction in another. This variability makes managing the diet for eczema challenging. It requires careful observation and possibly an elimination diet to identify the foods that may cause a reaction.

The immune system’s response is the standard connection between allergies and eczema. Both allergies and eczema are conditions where an overactive immune system overly reacts to certain substances – allergens in the case of allergies, and various triggers, including food, in the case of eczema.

The Worst Food Triggers for Eczema

Managing eczema involves identifying potential food triggers that might exacerbate the symptoms. These triggers can vary widely from person to person, and there’s no one-size-fits-all.

However, several foods have been commonly identified by many people with eczema as potential triggers:

  • Cow’s Milk and Dairy Products – Cow’s milk and other dairy products are among the most common food allergens, especially in children, and can trigger eczema flare-ups. This is due to cow milk proteins that some individuals may be allergic to. These proteins can cause an overactive immune response leading to skin inflammation. Other dairy products include cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream.
  • Eggs – Eggs, particularly the proteins found in egg whites, can be problematic for some people with eczema. Like dairy, they can stimulate an immune response that can worsen eczema symptoms.
  • Soy and Soy-based Products – Soy is a frequent allergen and can cause skin inflammation in some individuals. This extends to soy-based products such as soy milk, tofu, and even certain baked goods that use soy flour.
  • Wheat and Other Grains – Wheat, including foods made with wheat flour like bread, pasta, and crackers, can sometimes lead to eczema flare-ups. Other grains such as oats, buckwheat, and barley have also been identified as potential triggers due to the presence of gluten, a protein that can cause an immune response in some people.
  • Nuts and Seeds – Nuts and seeds, especially Brazil nuts and flaxseeds, can be problematic for some people with eczema. Nuts like peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and seeds like sesame and sunflower can also cause flare-ups.
  • Fish – Certain types of fish, particularly shellfish like shrimp, crab, and lobster, can trigger eczema in individuals who are allergic to them. Also, fatty fish like salmon, although generally good for health due to their omega-3 fatty acids content, can cause flare-ups in some people.
  • Sugars and Processed Foods – While not a specific allergen, these foods can cause inflammation and exacerbate eczema symptoms. Processed foods often contain many artificial additives, preservatives, and trans fats, which can promote inflammation. Similarly, high sugar consumption can lead to blood sugar imbalances and inflammation, worsening eczema.
  • Citrus Fruits – While fruits are generally part of a healthy diet, some people with eczema have reported flare-ups after consuming citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes. The high acidity and specific proteins in these fruits can sometimes cause a reaction.
  • Nightshade Vegetables – Nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers, can act as triggers for some people with eczema. These vegetables contain solanine, a chemical some people can be sensitive to.
  • Foods with High Histamine Levels – Histamines are chemicals your body produces during allergic reactions. Some foods naturally have high levels of histamines, such as fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt), aged cheeses, alcohol, vinegar, and processed meats. These can trigger eczema flare-ups in some people.
  • Spicy Foods – Spicy foods and those with a lot of added spice (like certain types of curry or dishes with lots of chilies) can sometimes cause an eczema flare-up. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their heat, can trigger the release of itch-inducing substances in the skin.

Everyone is different, and these food triggers might not affect everyone with eczema. Working with a healthcare professional to identify your specific triggers and create a dietary plan that meets your nutritional needs is essential.

Different Diets for Managing Eczema

A healthy diet is good for your body and can help manage your eczema. Here are a few diets that might help:

  • Dyshidrotic Diet: This diet focuses on foods with less nickel and cobalt, as these metals can potentially trigger eczema.
  • Elimination Diet: This diet involves identifying and removing potential food triggers to see if your symptoms improve.
  • Gluten-Free Diet: Cutting it out for those sensitive to gluten can help manage eczema symptoms.
  • Mediterranean Diet: This balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil, can help lower inflammation and may ease eczema symptoms.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Diet: This diet focuses on foods that reduce inflammation, potentially helping to manage eczema.

Visit Our Dermatologist at Valley Skin Institute

Identifying personal food triggers is a crucial part of managing eczema. However, it’s important to remember everyone’s situation and reaction to certain foods are unique. What works for one person may not work for another. Before making significant changes to your diet, it’s essential to seek professional advice. Visit Valley Skin Institute for expert guidance and personalized treatment plans.

Dr. Leslie Storey | Valley Skin Institute

Dr. Leslie Storey is a board-certified physician specializing in medical and surgical dermatology. Her mission is to find and remove skin cancer, which she does more than 2,000 times a year. An expert in Mohs Surgery, Dr. Storey’s patients often comment that they are amazed at how minimal their scar is after they have healed from surgery. If you notice anything suspicious on your skin, request an appointment with Dr. Storey to have it checked out.

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