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Can food fix eczema?

For many parents who have a child with atopic dermatitis (AD), the most common type of eczema, the cure seems simple. Fix the child’s diet, and you’ll get rid of the AD. What years of researching food and AD have shown, however, is that AD is much more complex.

Here’s what the research findings tell us.

Avoiding foods that cause an allergic reaction rarely prevents AD flare-ups

Food allergies are common in children who have AD. About 40% of babies and young children with moderate or severe AD have food allergies.

Many parents believe that avoiding the foods that cause an allergic reaction will prevent allergic reactions and AD flare-ups. That’s not what usually happens.

When a child has food allergies, removing the foods that cause an allergic reaction from a child’s diet rarely stops the AD.

Food and eczema

Parents often experiment with food in hopes of curing eczema, but research shows this seldom works.

Baby eating. Parents often experiment with food in hopes of curing eczema, but research shows this seldom works.

To get AD relief, parents still need to use:

Most children can get relief from AD with this approach.

If your child still has AD flare-ups, then it’s possible that a food could be the causing the AD flare-ups. Experts recommend allergy testing for foods only when a child has:

  • Moderate to severe AD that skin care, trigger management, and medication cannot control

  • An immediate allergic reaction after eating a specific food

Food allergies bottom line

If you think a food allergy is causing your child’s eczema, talk with a board-certified dermatologist. Ask if the food allergy could be causing the eczema to flare.

Eliminating foods can do more harm than good

To relieve the unbearably itchy skin, parents may stop feeding their child the foods that are most likely to cause a food allergy. This list of foods includes anything that contains milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and nuts.

Eliminating all of these foods for long periods can have a harmful effect on the child. Research shows that removing so many foods can cause:

  • Weight loss

  • Poor growth

  • Diseases due to lack of vitamins and minerals

  • Malnutrition due to lack of protein in the diet

Eliminating foods bottom line

If you feel that it’s necessary to remove foods from your child diet to prevent AD flare-ups, talk with a board-certified dermatologist first.

Testing can find out if it’s necessary to stop feeding your child certain foods. If it’s necessary to remove any food for a long time, help from a dietician can prevent health problems.

Eat this, not that! Why diet advice changes

People often believe that eating certain foods or supplements can get rid of AD. This belief is so common that researchers have been studying the effects of different foods and supplements for years.

The list of supplements they’ve studied includes:

  • Probiotics

  • Prebiotics

  • Fish oils

  • Evening primrose oil

  • Borage oil

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamins B12 and B6

The findings from a few studies suggest that some supplements can be helpful. This explains why you may have seen an article that supports adding a certain food or supplement to your child’s diet to help relieve AD.

When researchers look at all of the studies, however, they see little evidence to support eating certain foods or supplements.

For example, when researchers analyzed the results of 12 scientifically sound studies that looked at probiotics and AD, they saw that adding a probiotic to a child’s diet had no effect on the AD.

Dietary supplements bottom line

In looking at the studies involving food or supplements, one thing stands out. The results vary.

While the results from studies vary, we do know one thing. A healthy, balanced diet provides the nutrients that a growing child needs.

No quick fix for atopic dermatitis

As researchers continue to study this common childhood disease, one finding stands out. No one thing can fix eczema. Following an eczema friendly skin care plan, helping your child avoid triggers, and using medication when needed can bring welcomed relief.

Related AAD resources

Getty Images

American Academy of Dermatology. “Dermatologists caution that atopic dermatitis is a strong precursor to food allergies.” New release issued February 4, 2011. Last accessed January 31, 2018.

Castro-Rodriguez JA and Garcia-Marcos L. “What are the effects of a Mediterranean diet on allergies and asthma in children?” Front Pediatr. 2017; 5: 72.

Nowak-Węgrzyn A and Chatchatee P. “Mechanisms of tolerance induction.” Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70 Suppl 2:7-24.

Shokeen D. “Influence of diet in acne vulgaris and atopic dermatitis.” Cutis. 2016; 98(3):E28-9.

Sidbury R, Tom WL, et al. “Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis: Section 4. Prevention of disease flares and use of adjunctive therapies and approaches.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014; 71(6):1218-33.

Silverberg NB, Lee-Wong M, et al. “Diet and atopic dermatitis.” Cutis. 2016; 97(3):227-32.