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7 Common Foods that Make Eczema Worse

My experience with eczema lasted the first two decades of my life. The itchiness and the dry cracked skin was just awful. However, I haven't had a flare-up in years due to diet and lifestyle changes. In addition to this, I've worked with hundreds of clients over the years with moderate to severe eczema and talked to many mamas with infants suffering from eczema because it is a very common skin condition. Most western medical doctors do not know how to treat eczema because they do not address the root cause and instead resort to creams, medications and even bleach baths. All of theses conventional solutions do nothing more than temporarily take away symptoms and may cause harm to the delicate skin biome (the millions of bacteria living on your skin!). 

I'm happy to tell you it is possible to heal from this terrible inflammatory skin condition naturally. 

I've been writing my new ebook The Eczema Healing Guide for the last few months and I'm absolutely joyous that it will be launching in May. I can't wait to share this information with you so that you can heal your skin from within! 

Something I touch on in my ebook is foods that promote inflammation in the body. Due to the fact that eczema is an inflammatory based condition, is it imperative to eliminate inflammatory provoking foods.

In this post today, I share with you 7 common foods (and food categories) that make eczema worse. There is no one single food that can be solely blamed for eczema but rather your overall diet and lifestyle that contribute to this condition. 

COW'S DAIRY

When it comes to any skin issues (especially eczema), the first food or food group that should be eliminated is pasteurized dairy. This is because your run-of-the-mill cow's milk dairy can be pro-inflammatory in the body, especially pasteurized or homogenized dairy, such as cow's milk, which contains large protein molecules that are difficult to digest. While I don't believe all dairy (such as goat and sheep dairy) has to eliminated forever, it's helpful to eliminate it completely for a month if you are suffering from eczema and then gradually reintroduce specific foods to determine if dairy actually is the issue. I suffered from eczema in the past but have been able to re-introduce goat and sheep milk (still in moderation) because it contains less of the alpha s1 casein that typically causes inflammatory skin issues. But again, if there are no improvements in your skin, I would suggest eliminating all dairy for good.

Dairy products may also cause damage to the intestinal lining. When the lining of our digestive tract is damaged, it creates tiny holes which allow food particles to enter the bloodstream which can lead to allergic reactions and sensitivities.

I talk about the connection to food allergies/food sensitivities and eczema in my newest Eczema Healing Guide (which officially launches on May 15th 2017!). If you're cutting out dairy altogether, some dairy-free and eczema-friendly foods would be: almond milk, nut cheese, hummus/guacamole (awesome on a wrap) or coconut yogurt.

SUGAR AND REFINED CARBOHYDRATES

I'm sure you all know by now that sugar and refined carbohydrates don't have much of a place in our diet. They don't help to support or build health in any way and instead, keeping us from reaching joyous health! The problem is that sugar is hiding in everything including condiments (especially ketchup), pre-packaged salad dressings (it's actually way tastier to make your own, by the way!) and even canned diced tomatoes (certain brands at least).

Sugar is pro-inflammatory in the body, which is a contributing factor in eczema. But more importantly, eczema has been found in cases where bad gut bacteria and fungus, such as candida, are present in the gut. Candida albicans (it's proper name) is an opportunistic fungus in the form of yeast that feeds off of sugar. In small amounts, candida isn't a great concern but it's when it overproduces that we start seeing adverse effects on our skin and along the intestinal lining which can lead to an even greater contributor to eczema known as leaky gut. In fact, research shows that 70% of patients with atopic eczema were shown to have an overgrowth of Candida albicans in the gastrointestinal tract. 

The best thing we can do in this case is to avoid all obvious sources of refined sugar and carbohydrates, keep natural sweeteners to a minimum and avoid the things that contribute to candida overgrowth such as antibiotics and chronic inflammation by avoiding pro-inflammatory foods. Plus, naturally sweetened treats like my Apricot Tahini Squares or Chocolate Breakfast Bark are simply way tastier!

GLUTEN

Just like other common allergens, gluten (the protein that can be found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt) has been shown to contribute to eczema symptoms and act as a trigger for flare-ups. In fact, one 2015 study examined 17 people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity who suffered from skin issues (i.e. rashes that looked like eczema). The study found that people's skin improved significantly within a month after having adopted a gluten-free diet. Many people experience relief of symptoms after eliminating gluten from their diet due to the absence of gliadin in their body, one of the proteins found in gluten.

Gluten has also been shown to compromise the intestinal barrier, resulting in a semi-permeable membrane otherwise known as "leaky gut" – a major cause of eczema which I talk about in my Eczema Healing Guide. The problem with this is that once the intestinal lining becomes permeable, undigested food particles and proteins can leak into the blood stream. These undigested food particles and proteins then become considered "foreign invaders" by the immune system, which it naturally wants to attack.

From there onwards, every time we consume gluten, our immune system is going to attack it and cause a pro-inflammatory response. 

To limit inflammation in the gut overall, it's best to avoid gluten by opting for gluten-free grains such a quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth. It may not mean you have to avoid gluten forever, but taking a break from it will certainly help you determine if it's a problem food. Keep in mind gluten has also been known to show up in body care products too from shampoo to body wash, so it's important to be on the look out for that as well. 

SALICYLATE-CONTAINING FOODS

Salicylates are natural chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, teas, coffee, wine, beer, herbal medicine and spices. You can also find them in various topical creams and perfumes. This is when it gets tricky because as you noticed, things like fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, tea and spices would typically be deemed "healthy" to the general public, but for someone suffering from eczema, they can be a contributor to their eczema flare-ups.

Salicylate sensitivities can vary depending on the amount you're consuming, making it rather tricky to determine whether you actually are sensitive to salicylates and which specific salicylate-containing food is causing a reaction. If you are sensitive to salicylates, you might experience an eczema flare up, itchy skin, hives, reflux, bloating, sleep disturbances or joint pain. These symptoms can also come along by consuming or encountering common food allergies such as dairy and gluten. For this reason, if you're looking to identify which foods are worsening your eczema symptoms the most, I would start with the common problem foods such as wheat, dairy and sugar and then consider whether testing to identify a salicylate sensitivity might be necessary.

If it comes down to that, the best way to identify a salicylate sensitivity is to avoid consuming salicylate-rich foods from anywhere from 1-3 months and then gradually re-introduce salicylate-rich foods into your diet, taking note of any reactions. It can definitely be helpful to work with your natural health care practitioner or nutritionist during this time. But if you wish to get started or at least familiarize yourself with salicylate-containing foods, you can find out more information about Low Salicylate Diets over here. 

BAD FATS

I'm a huge fan of fats in the diet, but not just any fats – healthy fats! It's the processed bad fats such as fried foods and oxidized vegetable oils (i.e. soy, corn, cottonseed and canola) that are of concern and should always be avoided, but especially when healing eczema. In addition to these oils, it's also important to be mindful of using any oil past its smoke point as it causes oxidation and promotes inflammation.

My favourite cooking oils for high heat are coconut oil, grape seed oil and avocado oil. For salads, I typically use everything from olive oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and pumpkin seed oil which incredibly health-promoting and delicious. These healthy oils actually do the opposite of what oxidized oils do in the body by reducing inflammation. You can learn more about the benefits of fat in the diet as well as some of my favourite healthy sources over here!

Another thing you'll want to steer clear of is the acrylamide content in foods. Acrylamide is found in foods that are heated above 120 degrees Celsius, such as potato chips, french fries and fried foods. The levels of acrylamide have actually become such a concern that The World Health Organization has actually stated that the levels of acrylamide in food poses a "major concern" to human health. To prevent acrylamide exposure, it's best to roast, bake or boil foods. Even a simple change like toasting your gluten-free bread lightly versus toasting it to a crisp can help to reduce your acrylamide exposure and inflammation in the body. 

And while it might seem odd, if you are going to eat something that's fried, it's best to have to have it fried in something like duck fat which is high in monounsaturated and saturated fats which are stable for high-heat cooking. However, as we all probably know, it's best to avoid fried foods as much as possible.

PROCESSED FOODS CONTAINING FOOD DYES, ADDITIVES, PRESERVATIVES

If you're doing a lot of home cooking from scratch, you're likely already avoiding a lot of these things which is amazing. It's when we eat a heavily processed diet that we'll be exposed to pro-inflammatory things like food dyes, additives, and preservatives. Sadly, a processed diet is where 60% of American's daily calories come from. 

What's most scary about these food dyes, additives and preservatives is that they are so prevalent in children's snack foods. Take a yellow lollipop for instance; what might seem like a harmless little treat given to kid's after a doctor's visit (of all places) actually worsens eczema symptoms in 40% of eczema sufferers. Yellow lollipops contain tartrazine (102), one of several yellow food colourings that cause this effect, along with asthma attacks, runny noses and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. It does this by stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes. Unfortunately, it goes beyond candy and junk foods because even foods like yogurt and margarine (which should be avoided) can contain artificial colours that trigger eczema flare-ups.

Preservatives can also do a number on our bodies, worsening eczema symptoms in more than 50% of eczema sufferers. Preservatives are chemicals used to increase the shelf life of products by delaying the growth of bacteria and fungi. BHA and BHT are some of the main preservatives you'll find in most foods that interfere with the body's natural processes. A good way of keeping our exposure to these to a minimum is to buy organic whenever possible. If you want to learn more about the Dirty Dozen Food Additives, check out my new book Joyous Detox!

SOY

While there are some better forms of soy such as fermented organic soy (tamari, miso paste or tempeh), soy is considered a common allergen and may be a cause of eczema.

In a Japanese study published in the Journal of Dermatology, researchers found that avoidance of soy-containing foods for three months significantly reduced eczema symptoms. We really have to teach ourselves to be master label readers when it comes to soy, because it is a very common food additive and hiding in many different foods.  

Aside from the more well-known forms of soy such as tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soy cheese and soy flour, you'll also want to be on the ingredient-list-look-out when it comes to foods such as cereal, processed meats, baked goods, infant formula, Worcestershire sauce and soy protein that vegetarians often use as a meat substitute.

The common theme and goal is to reduce our exposure to anything that increases inflammation in the body, which includes pro-inflammatory foods as well as common food allergies.

In fact, any foods that you're sensitive too and eat all the time can cause a reaction and promote inflammation in the body

The best way to figure out which foods are contributing to your eczema is to eliminate them for several weeks up to three months to see how your skin reacts and add them in one at a time. Keep a food diary and record any reactions. Of course, things like processed foods, cow's dairy and refined sugar might not need to be tested in such a way as we know of their negative effects in the body already, but more so the foods we typically deem as "healthy" for the general public that just might not work with your unique make up.

If you're looking for for more guided direction on how to heal your eczema, my Eczema Healing Guide would be perfect for you! I have created this guide because it is a very common question I get as a nutritionist "how do I heal my eczema" and I want to help you. Click on the image below for more information!

Are there any foods you would add to this list from your own experience?

26 Comments
Linda Uhrich   •   April 25, 2017

I am a nurse and see lots if eczema in my practice with formula fed infants. We use a combo of Glaxobase and vaseline after twice daily baths just patted dry. It does work. What else can you suggest?

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   April 26, 2017

Hey Linda! We would recommend the Eczema Healing Balm from Province Apothecary :) https://provinceapothecary.com/products/healing-eczema-balm Rachel - Joyous Health Team

Janet   •   April 27, 2017

I hope you also recommend changing the formula.

Rachel Molenda   •   April 28, 2017

Hey Janet, Yes, swapping out formula as much as possible for either a high quality alternative or breastmilk is preferred when healing from eczema but we understand it's not always possible for people. You just have to do the best you can in each situation :) Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Lynn   •   April 26, 2017

Will your ebook be published to paper, evetually. I ask because I don't do ebooks. And I would LOVE a copy to buy. Thanks for this info on eczema.

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   April 26, 2017

Hey Lynn! It will actually just be an ebook but you're more than welcome to print it out if that suits you better :) Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Taylor H.   •   April 26, 2017

So funny! I saw your talk in Kelowna last night and was going to ask you about that eczema but time ran out. Who knew this newsletter would show up the next morning :) My little 20 month has had sensitive skin since he was about 2 months old... I feel like I have tried EVERYTHING from diet changes (although my family already eats very joyously, thanks to you! :) ), natural/organic lotions (many of which seemed to make it worse), endless different detergents and at desperate times we resorted to less "natural" creams and prescription "crap" from the doctor because he was too flared up and itchy to sleep... fortunately and annoyingly enough they work. I'm beyond tired of lathering him up in less than joyous products and spending a bazillion dollars on natural creams/lotions hoping that this is the one that will work. I look so forward to the release of your eczema ebook! I would love any recommendations on laundry detergents, personal care products and any other tips you have. Thank you so much!

Reply
Janet   •   April 27, 2017

Hope you saw Rachel's recommendation above, too.

Rachel Molenda   •   April 28, 2017

Hey Taylor! That's so awesome that you were able to make it out for Joy's talk in Kelowna! It sounds like you are doing all the right things and I understand that can be frustrating when you still aren't seeing the results you want to see. I think the Eczema Healing Guide will be super helpful for you to get more in depth knowledge and to look at the full picture and all of the potential contributors. Joy actually did a Facebook live earlier this year about detoxing your home's personal care products. You might be interested in watching those here:nnPart 1: https://www.facebook.com/joyoushealth.ca/videos/10155022730548817/nnPart 2: https://www.facebook.com/joyoushealth.ca/videos/10155022759518817/nn(The video cut out halfway through, hence why there are 2 parts!)nnRachel - Joyous Health Team


Mashell   •   April 26, 2017

Love it! Great stuff for anyone to implement as inflammatory problems can show up as different problems person to person (acne, allergies, etc.) I was looking at the link to the Low Salicylate Diets you referenced and it's sad that that article contradicts a lot of what you're saying. Right off the bat, it says "It is OK to eat meat, milk, and dairy products." And then goes on to recommend margarine and vegetable oils over things like olive oil and avocados. Do you think that people looking at that list should ignore those contradicting suggestions and just focus more on the fruit and vegetables they recommend to avoid?

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   April 27, 2017

Hey Mashell, nnYes, exactly :) The article is approaching it from a Low Salicylate Diet perspective and not taking into consideration which foods might be inflammatory or worsen eczema. Definitely avoid milk and dairy products if you are looking to heal eczema or inflammatory skin issues and follow the recommendations regarding the fruits and vegetables. Sorry if that was confusing! nnRachel - Joyous Health Team


Kaitlin   •   April 26, 2017

Love that you are focusing on eczema. My 7 month old son is on formula, and I fear that the cow's milk is triggering his eczema. I wasn't able to successfully nurse, and he's been on formula since about 6 weeks old, which is around when his eczema got worse. Am curious if switching to a goat's milk formula would make a difference - have been hesitant to try because we needed hypoallergenic "gentle" formula for his digestive system. Would be curious to know what you think about goat's milk with regard to your eczema experience. Have been a huge fan of your site for years and am super grateful for all your pre- and post-natal advice (your real talk with regard to healing after birth was much appreciated!). Thanks!

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   April 27, 2017

Hey Kaitlin! Yes, you're definitely spot on with the cow's milk. As the article mentions, cow's milk can be very inflammatory and cause eczema flare-ups. Joy initially cut out all dairy and then gradually re-introduced goat's milk and has been fine since as goat's milk contains 90% less of the pro-inflammatory alpha s1 casein than cow's milk. It's probably best to cut all dairy initially and then gradually re-introduce in the same way. As always, we do recommend you work with your natural health care practitioner on this though :) There's going to be loads of information in the Eczema Healing Guide about this too that will be of help if you wanted to get on the early bird pricing list. You can sign up here if you haven't yet: http://bejoyo.us/eczemahealguidennSo happy to hear you have been able to take away so much from the content on Joyous Health :) We're grateful to have you in the community!nnRachel - Joyous Health Team


sabrina   •   April 26, 2017

Looking forward to reading your new ebook. :)

Reply

Sang B   •   April 27, 2017

This is fantastic. Would the same items apply for an individual that has pseriosis? Thank you

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   April 28, 2017

Hey Sang!nnYes, definitely! This article was written with a focus on eczema in mind but you can definitely benefit from the information in this article if you are experiencing any inflammation skin condition :)nnRachel - Joyous Health Team


Andrea   •   April 29, 2017

Can't wait for this to be available! I'm 24 years old and have suffered with eczema my entire life. My dermatologist recommended methotrexate shot just the other day and I got it. Want to see me back Monday to talk about further chemo treatment but my gut is telling me this is not the answer! He says it's now dyshidrotic eczema🤷🏻‍♀️😔

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   May 1, 2017

Hey Andrea, Sorry to hear you're going through all of that! I think the information in the guide will be super helpful for you, even if you incorporate some of the recommendations alongside your current practices. Happy healing to you! Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Angela   •   May 9, 2017

Surprisingly enough, I'd add food and drink that contains caffeine (coffee, chocolate). This can get my skin irritated. Very hard to abstain from, as both coffee and chocolate are often present at social events.

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   May 10, 2017

Hey Angela, For sure! Those would be great additions to this list! Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Hope   •   June 20, 2017

Hi I suffer from really severe eczema. Sometimes it will show up then disapear and come back. I hate it so much and would like to starting eating healthy. I know your not a nutritionist but do recommend any diets I could start to eat healthier and get rid of my eczema. Feedback would be soooo appreciated. Thanks for taking your time and ready this!!

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   June 21, 2017

Hey Hope! I'm sorry to hear you've been suffering from severe eczema for so long. Joy can totally sympathize with you on that given her previous experience with eczema. She is actually a Holistic Nutritionist and can most definitely help you! She actually wrote a whole comprehensive Eczema Healing Guide that will teach you everything from the cause of your eczema to how to heal it naturally, including what food and supplements you can use to heal. It also comes with some super yummy recipes and a meal plan! You can find that here, but let us know if you have any further questions! You can always email us at hello@joyoushealth.com and you can find more information on the guide over here: https://www.joyoushealth.com/54-joyu-program-eczema-healing-guide Hope that helps! Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Sam   •   June 30, 2017

I don't suffer from excema, but I do suffer from dandruff and keratosis Pilaris. Are these considered inflammatory skin conditions as well?

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   June 30, 2017

Hey Sam, Keratosis Pilaris is for sure! A lot of people find relief in their skin conditions by following these suggestions too! Rachel - Joyous Health Team


Shemekia   •   August 21, 2017

After my son was born I had bad eczema, and I could not find a good cream to help. Foderma serum has been a life saver. I also love putting it on my feet, they're so luxurious even only after using it for a few days. Highly recommend

Reply
Rachel Molenda   •   August 21, 2017

Hey Shemekia, So happy you have found relief from your eczema! I don't know if you've seen Joy's natural herbal remedy for an eczema healing cream but this might be another great option for you: https://www.joyoushealth.com/27116-blog-diy-eczema-herbal-healing-cream Rachel - Joyous Health Team


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