According to the National Eczema Association, an estimated 1 in 10 people will develop eczema in their lifetime, and 31.6 million people in the United States are dealing with some form of eczema. Itchy skin and rashes can greatly affect quality of life, especially during childhood, and many people are looking for answers beyond topical medications. So, what lifestyle changes can improve eczema? Can keto diet improve eczema?
What is Eczema?
Eczema refers to an inflammatory skin disease that is more prevalent in children and is classified as:
- Dry skin
- Scaly patches
- Skin infections
There are different types of eczema, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. The term ” flare-ups” describes a phase of eczema where the symptoms worsen. The flare-ups can last for days or weeks.
Many children will gradually outgrow eczema or have reduced symptoms during adolescence and adulthood. Adults may also develop eczema in adulthood, even without any personal or family history of skin disease.
Eczema should not be confused with the rare keto rash (prurigo pigmentosa), which may be associated with nutritional and hormonal deficiencies. Eczema is not contagious and is not passed from person to person. The most common form of eczema (atopic eczema) occurs when an overactive immune system causes dryness and itching of the skin barrier.
The exact cause is not known, but an interaction between environmental triggers and genetics may play a role. Emotional stress or environmental factors such as soap, laundry detergent, metals, or even prolonged exposure to dry air or extreme temperatures may trigger an immune response and inflammation of the skin’s surface. Genetic factors and a protein called filoprotein, which helps the skin retain moisture, may also be involved. Deficiencies in filamentous protein often lead to drier, more itchy skin.
People with eczema often have to deal with other conditions, such as allergic asthma and food allergies.
The idea that diet can influence eczema symptoms is not new. Eczema often occurs in conjunction with other allergic disorders that can sometimes be triggered by food.
It is estimated that 20 to 80 percent of people with eczema have some form of food allergy. The most common foods that trigger eczema include:
- milk and dairy products
- seafood and shellfish
Food allergies can make eczema symptoms worse for some people, but not for all. Food allergies are believed to play a bigger role in eczema symptoms in infants and children, especially those with more severe eczema, than in older children or adults.
However, even if you think a food is triggering an allergic reaction in your body, it’s not easy to figure out which ingredient is causing it. An elimination diet, supervised by a medical professional, can help you identify food intolerances and allergies by removing many possible foods and then slowly adding them back into your diet to see how they affect symptoms.
However, experts generally recommend against elimination diets that prohibit specific foods, such as keto diets, in order to relieve eczema. These types of diets are usually highly restrictive and do not usually improve eczema symptoms. They can also lead to nutritional deficiencies if not managed properly.
The “leaky gut” theory of eczema may also help elucidate how diet affects eczema symptoms. This model suggests that defective connections between cells in the intestine allow food allergens and other irritants to enter the bloodstream, leading to widespread inflammation.
Since inflammation is a feature of eczema, it is possible that a diet or supplement that supports gut health could help reduce eczema symptoms, but more research is needed.
However, while a growing body of studies support the theory of a gut-skin connection in eczema, it remains unclear whether an anti-inflammatory diet or probiotic supplements can help improve the symptoms of eczema.
How Keto Diet Affect Eczema?
A keto diet is an eating plan that is high in fat, moderate in protein and very low in carbohydrates. This macronutrient shift drives your body into a state of ketosis, or a state where you burn fat as your primary source of energy instead of its preferred fuel, carbohydrates. This is a profound metabolic shift.
With regard to treating eczema, it is important to note that there is a distinct lack of medical literature proving that the keto diet helps. However, clinicians have an idea of how this diet may affect your skin. In the world of dermatology, keto is actually problematic for the skin. There have been multiple reports of it causing dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin.
Another potential downside: nutrient deficiencies. Your skin is one of the most metabolically active organs in your body, and it constantly needs nutrients.
People who make the jump to a keto diet in order to lose weight are often pleasantly surprised at how quickly they lose weight, and it’s largely due to water weight from severely restricting carbohydrates. This removal of water from the body can also worsen dry and itchy skin in people who suffer from eczema.
Could Keto, as a Form of the Elimination Diet, Offer Advantages for Eczema?
There is no guarantee that paying attention to potential food sensitivities will soothe your skin. Because studies in this area are dicey, even some people with severe cases have not seen a difference after avoiding food triggers.
Anecdotally, however, some eczema sufferers who say their skin did improve swear by food sensitivity testing.
If you’re an adult and interested in an elimination diet like keto diet, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian and your dermatologist. But you can also do it safely on your own by eliminating the foods mentioned above for a month and then slowly adding each one back in to see if your skin reacts.
Ultimately, though, it’s important to know that traditional forms of the keto diet do not cure eczema. While you may be removing large sources of carbohydrates from your diet (such as wheat and added sugar), you won’t be counting or specifically limiting carbohydrate sources elsewhere (such as fruits and vegetables).
What are the Treatments for Eczema?
The typical treatments for eczema include:
- Topical skin creams
- Injectable biologics
- Phototherapy (light therapy)
Many people are now choosing to treat eczema using alternative and lifestyle therapies, such as:
- Diet changes
- Medical-grade honey
- Probiotics and fermented foods
For eczema, it is helpful to implement a daily bathing and moisturizing routine, and to be aware of your triggers to avoid exposure.
Diet may affect eczema, especially some specific food, but there is no enough evidence that keto diet can relieve eczema. If you believe a keto diet can help relieve eczema, or if your diet may be contributing to your eczema symptoms, talk to a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure you are maintaining adequate levels of all the key nutrients you need for overall health.