How to beat eczema

Nutritionist and author Karen Fischer shares her top tips to help beat eczema.

By Indiana Munn
Eczema is a common skin disorder, with between 10 to 25 per cent of Kiwis experiencing it. Nutritionist and author Karen Fischer’s bestselling book The Eczema Diet - 2nd edition (Exisle Publishing, $34.99) features tried and true advice to help you become eczema-free, and includes emergency itch-busters, diet advice, recipes and much more.
The Weekly caught up with Karen to discover her top tips to help beat eczema.

What causes eczema?

Abnormal digestion of fats can occur before the onset of eczema, according to Italian researchers. For example, when the milk of nursing mothers was tested, those with elevated levels of omega-6 and low levels of DGLA in their milk had children who later went on to develop eczema. There are strong links between eczema and allergies, chemical sensitivity and food intolerances. Other causes include digestive dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies and candida albicans, which is a fungal infection.

Are there specific eczema triggers ?

Research has found families who use margarine or cook with vegetable oils (especially during pregnancy or before conception) are more likely to have a child who develops eczema by the age of two. Foods such as margarine contain artificial additives and damaged fats, however, natural chemicals such as salicylates can also trigger flare-ups.

What foods and beverages can irritate and cause flare ups?

The most common allergy foods in order of severity are; eggs, peanuts, dairy products, other nuts, sesame seeds and wheat.
Recently, food manufacturers have introduced processed foods containing artificial colours, preservatives, sweeteners and flavour enhancers, all of which can trigger eczema symptoms. This may be associated with the sharp rise in eczema which has tripled in the last 30 years.
Common food triggers also include; salicylate-rich tomato, grapes, avocado, sauces and oranges. However, you can prevent salicylate sensitivity with supplementation and dietary changes, so salicylate-rich foods can, in time, be enjoyed without triggering eczema.

Are there specific foods or beverages that will help minimise flare ups?

Consuming a range of anti-inflammatory foods and supplements can minimise flare ups. Try traditional broth, linseeds and supplements such as biotin and zinc, which help normalise fat metabolism.
The body needs time to strengthen so it’s also important to avoid trigger foods for a period of time (see the Eczema Diet Stage 1, which is about 12 weeks). While continuing to avoid allergy foods (until given clearance by a doctor), I recommend people with eczema gradually eat a wider variety of healthy foods (see Stage 2 foods).


What else can we do to prevent eczema?

Once a person has eczema, their broken skin allows irritants to enter the skin. This can create external sensitivities to dust mites, carpets, perfume, skincare products, grass, household cleaners and fabrics (wool and synthetics). It can be helpful to avoid or minimise contact with potential irritants and favour “sensitive skin” products.

What advice would you give parents of children who suffer from eczema?

See your doctor for a formal diagnosis if you haven’t already. Also, dietary changes can be easy if you have a range of eczema-friendly, nutritionally balanced recipes.
For more information on how diet can impact eczema, see Karen’s best-selling book The Eczema Diet The 2nd Edition (Exisle Publishing, $34.99), which is available at book stores or purchase online here. Also, take a look at her website, theeczemadiet.com.
Take a look at this article about how to stay healthy as you age here.
Image: Rob Shaw/bauersyndication.com.au

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