Have you considered that the state of your gut flora might have a direct effect on your eczema? Regular contributor Simone Ivatts writes here about the fascinating link between eczema and gut health.
It is becoming increasingly accepted that there is a very strong causal link between eczema, psoriasis, allergies and an overactive immune response, but did you know that around 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut?
Immune systems react to external or internal substances that they perceive as a threat (a.k.a. antigens) and respond by producing inflammation, which isolates the substances from further contact with the body and releases chemicals which attract white blood cells to fight any infection or eliminate damaged cells.
Health issues arise when the immune system is overactive and reacts when it doesn’t need to, causing chronic inflammation in the body, which can then manifest in many ways, including eczema, psoriasis and allergies.
In the gut, this type of immune response can occur when the bowel lining becomes ‘leaky’ or porous and lets undigested food particles, germs and toxins pass through the lining into the bloodstream, which the immune system identifies as antigens and responds to by producing inflammation. This leakiness can be caused by medical conditions, certain medications/drugs (e.g. antibiotics), drinking alcohol or having a poor diet, all of which can damage the bowel lining and lead to overgrowth of bacteria (a.k.a. small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO) or yeast (a.k.a. candidiasis) in the gut.
Studies have shown that people with eczema tend to have significantly different microbiomes (gut flora/bacteria) than people with normally functioning immune systems.
The good news is that there are ways of addressing these issues that should hopefully help your skin, any allergies and numerous other conditions. Probiotics and prebiotics both encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and help to balance our microbiome, leading to a reduction in inflammation and an overall improvement in health.
These occur naturally in fermented foods such as yoghurt, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut or kimchi, and drinks such as kefir and kombucha. Although some of these (e.g. yoghurt and kefir) are traditionally dairy-based, there are now plenty of non-dairy/vegan alternatives out there, but finding them may entail a visit to your local independent health food shop (a bonus if you like finding tasty treats as much as I do!).
If you feel like you would like to kick-start your journey to better gut health, you can buy higher dose pro- and prebiotics in capsule form. If you have known food allergies or intolerances, please always check the label when buying these, as some capsules may contain dairy, egg, soya, yeast etc. It is worth noting that high doses can cause temporary symptoms, such as bloating, flatulence, mild stomach upset and headaches. If you know you have candidiasis, be careful not to take too high a dose, as this can cause ‘die-off’ of the candida yeasts, which can produce flu-like symptoms and rashes. It is sensible to start off with a low dose and increase it slowly, giving the body time to adjust.
Let us know if you have any experience with better gut health improving your skin!
Simone Ivatts is a riot grrrl/book nerd who works for a community charity in Leeds and volunteers as a trustee of the wonderful and ancient Leeds Library.