Diet plays an integral role in allergy/sensitivity-type disorders such as atopic and allergic contact eczema. While the buildup of chemicals in the body puts increasing stress on the immune system, a nutrient-deficient diet weakens immunity even further, causing it to eventually buckle under the toxic overload.
Below are some key nutrients that have been proven to be able to help ease the symptoms of eczema, as well as to restore balance to the immune system and to strengthen it against further flare-ups.
* Antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E and selenium). Ensuring that your diet is rich with these well-known free-radical scavengers can help support the body's defences against the daily chemical onslaught. Vitamin C strengthens the skin; vitamin E improves skin healing; and vitamin A helps to regulate the rapid turnover of skin cells seen in eczema. The trace mineral selenium plays a crucial role in the glutathione-peroxidase system (the body's natural antioxidant process) and is effective for detoxing heavy metals. Suggested dosages: vitamin C, 1000 mg twice daily; vitamin E, 400 IU/day; vitamin A, 5000-10,000 IU/day; selenium, 50-200 mcg/day
* B vitamins. B3 (niacin) and B6 (pyridoxine) are both integral to the process of new cell formation, and play a key role in the healthy function of body tissue - especially skin, which has a quick rate of turnover. A deficiency of these vitamins has been linked to various types of eczema and other skin disorders. Suggested dosages: B3, 100-500 mg/day; B6, 50-100 mg/day
* Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid found naturally in borage (starflower), evening primrose and blackcurrant oils, could help to improve the roughened skin seen with eczema, as well as keep inflammation under control (Am J Clin Nutr, 2000; 71 [1 Suppl]: 367-72S). One study gave 3 g/day of GLA for 28 days to children with atopic eczema; although none were completely cured, all experienced improvement in their symptoms and a reduced need for medication (J Int Med Res, 1994; 22: 24-32). Suggested dosage: 2-3 g/day
* Omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids have recognised anti-inflammatory properties. A double-blind study found that atopic eczema patients given 10 g of fish oil for 12 weeks all achieved a reduction in itching, scaling and other eczema symptoms (J Intern Med Suppl, 1989; 225: 233-6). Suggested dosage: 1000 mg three times daily
* Zinc. A deficiency in this essential mineral is common among people with allergies, and may play a role in the development of recurring or chronic eczema (Br J Dermatol, 1984; 111: 597-601). One team of Hungarian researchers found that zinc supplementation reduced the severity of eczema symptoms in children (Orv Hetil, 1989; 130: 2465-9). Suggested dosage: 15 mg/day of zinc with 2 mg of copper (as zinc is known to deplete the body's copper reserves)