In the UK at least, nutrition does not hold a central place in our model of medicine, despite so many conditions being affected by diet. Despite recent research being clear that nutrition plays an enormous part in the preventability of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, there’s a lack of nutritionally-informed care available for patients in this country, let alone sufficient acknowledgment of the connection between diet and chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and roscea.
Medical schools currently only allot about ten to fifteen hours of lectures for training in nutrition, so asking your GP about a good diet for eczema might not result in much helpful information; they simply may not have the appropriate knowledge to give you the answers you need. Until nutrition’s role in healthcare is better acknowledged and reflected in medical training, that isn’t likely to change, so you might have to be persistent in asking for nutritional support!
The Problem of Resources
Unfortunately, GPs don’t always have the resources to refer their patients to specialists for further care or for allergy-testing, even if they are aware of how much difference the right diet can make to someone whose skin is constantly flaring up. Again, this is a fault, not of individual GPs, but of a system that doesn’t always treat patients holistically and tends to focus on fixing symptoms, rather than building health into patients’ lifestyles; it’s hard for GPs to do much else than prescribe a cream when average appointment times are down to ten minutes per patient. (Which in turn is, of course, the fault of a political climate that consistently underfunds public healthcare providers.)
What should eczema sufferers know about the link between nutrition and eczema?
There are two main connections between chronic skin conditions and nutrition:
- Sufferers can be allergic to certain foods
- Sufferers can be deficient in certain vital nutrients
So not only do eczema sufferers have to find out what they might have to avoid eating, but they also need to eat for optimum health and a resilient immune system.
Although everyone is different - there’s no-one-size-fits-all diet for eczema - there are certain foods that seem more likely to the culprits behind inflammation and itchiness, and which might be worth investigating. A qualified nutritionist should be able to oversee an elimination diet, as well as get their patients allergy testing so they know what to avoid in future.
A nutritionist should also suggest a diet that provides everything you need for a resilient immune system. Diet has an effect on how your body regulates the inflammatory response responsible for flare-ups; a depleted body cannot respond as well to stress, infection, microbe attack or allergens as a healthy one.
That might mean boosting your essential fatty acids, which eczema sufferers have been shown to be particularly deficient in, or getting a top up of vitamin D, which is vital to good skin health. The skin is constantly rebuilding and remaking itself in a constant cycle of regeneration, and the epidermis needs to be provided with the building blocks it needs to do that. Those genetically more prone to having a faulty skin barrier need extra nutritional care and attention.
The latest research suggests that there’s also a strong link between gut health and skin conditions; a gut which maintains a healthy balance of flora seems to be able to regulate inflammatory responses to irritants and allergens, making flare-ups rarer and less severe. This is an area of medicine which is growing by the day, so hopefully in the future all doctors will be trained in eating for optimal gut health, as well as in treating the symptoms of eczema!