If you have tried everything for eczema, but nothing has worked to clear it up, it may be time to consider leaky gut-eczema connections. After all, your skin cells and your gut cells are the same types of cells.
Because of this, it isn’t a big stretch to imagine that what impacts your gut also impacts your skin and vice-versa.
Additionally, research shows that people with atopic eczema also have leaky gut [R]. Another name for leaky gut is increased intestinal permeability.
Skin conditions like eczema can be very difficult to identify and treat. Why? The skin is our first line of defense from the rest of the world and is exposed to thousands of substances a day. These substances come from both the inside of the body and out. One rash can look almost identical to another kind as well!
In this post, find out how leaky gut and eczema are connected and how you can eat and supplement to help begin the healing process.
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Leaky Gut Eczema Research
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a symptom that is caused by the breakdown of the skin barrier, resulting in inflammation and discomfort.
Here are the main concepts behind eczema and leaky gut.
Leaky skin means a leaky gut
The outer layer of skin protects our body from losing moisture. In eczema, the skin loses too much moisture or becomes “leaky”. Eczema patients can have defects of both the outer layer barrier and the antimicrobial barrier of the outer layer of the skin [R].
Much as the skin is “leaky” the gut is leaky in eczema as well. One study found that all people with atopic eczema had leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability [R].
Autoimmune genetic defects in people with eczema can reduce the fat amount of on the skin as well, allowing more moisture loss.
Patients with mutations in the FLG gene (filaggrin) are 3 times more likely to get eczema due to skin fat loss than those who do not have this gene [R].
Food allergies and eczema
People with food allergies also often have a mutation in the FLG gene, which connects the leaky gut and leaky skin theories [R].
When the intestinal barrier is compromised or “leaky,” the body receives unwanted compounds that can cause inflammation in the body, including the skin. This is thought to be the reason that leaky gut is connected to eczema and other dermatitis conditions.
Why does a leaky gut cause eczema?
If you have eczema, your diet can cause your immune system to overreact as well as make the skin leaky and gut leaky. By the way, most autoimmune conditions are related to leaky gut according to research in Clinical Reviews of Allergy and Immunology [R].
The skin is also like an immune mirror; it reflects our diet, our digestive health, and more. One important note about eczema; our bodies are all very different, so finding your best-individualized plan may take some time.
Changing eating habits can be a challenging aspect for many people because there can be many factors at play, but an elimination diet may be helpful for your skin barrier and help reduce the leaky condition and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Foods to eliminate if you have leaky gut and eczema
Food allergies are present for most people with atopic eczema and can make symptoms of eczema worse. The root cause of this may be a leaky gut [R].
A consultation with a functional medicine practitioner, including a functional nutritionist can help you sort these food allergies out.
You will want to remove allergens, intolerances, sensitivities, and processed foods. These trigger foods can make the inflammation of eczema and leaky gut worse.
At this point in time, some food sensitivity testing is available but isn’t 100% reliable. The only way to know if you are sensitive to food for sure is a 5-6 week complete elimination of that food.
Foods that trigger anxiety should also be minimized or removed. For example, coffee and eczema may not go well together, but it is best to cut back gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal. Common food triggers for eczema and leaky gut can include:
- Gluten or wheat
- Dairy products
Before embarking on an elimination diet, have a plan and discuss how to best do this type of meal plan with a registered dietitian trained in food allergies or functional nutrition first.
Minimize sugar and processed foods
Sugar and processed foods are inflammatory and will ramp up inflammation everywhere, including your skin. Be aware of how much sugar is in your cereals, beverages, entrees, and more. Watch out for the daily flavored lattes too!
Processed foods also throw off hormones that help protect our body as well. The insulin surges from these foods are highly inflammatory for the skin and digestive tract.
Eating lots of sugar and processed foods can also lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which causes inflammation in the skin too. Think not only of eczema, think junk food and acne too.
Foods to add
When leaky gut eczema symptoms have been present for a long time, your body will need nutritious foods to heal. This step is as important as the elimination step.
Make sure to include plenty of nutrient-rich foods like:
- Chicken liver
- Grass-finished beef
- Wild salmon
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sprouted vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Celery juice
- Chia seeds
Add fermented foods
Eczema flare-ups typically don’t stand a chance when the gut balance is restored. This is likely because probiotics can help reduce leaky gut according to research [R].
Adding fermented foods helps restore healthy bacteria. Sometimes additional probiotics are beneficial too. Research in the area of eczema and probiotics is very promising [R].
- The most commonly studied supplemental probiotic strains for eczema are Lactobacillus strains [R].
- B. Longum strain may improve leaky gut symptoms and reduce small intestinal bacterial overgrowth as well [R].
- Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and this is good news for eczema. Clinical studies are showing some impressive benefits of probiotics for eczema.
- For example, infants given probiotics were almost 3 times less likely to develop eczema than infants who did not get probiotics [R].
Remember, functional nutrition is an individualized approach.
Start slow, 1 tablespoon per day of fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, and work your way up. If you notice any side effects, do not continue. Most importantly, listen to your body. No two people are the same, so each autoimmune disease is different too.
Make sure to add lots of vegetables to provide prebiotics too. Prebiotic foods are also helpful, such as kelp.
Related: Kelp Benefits for Skin.
Eczema vitamins and nutrients
Leaky gut and eczema both are nutrient-intensive conditions that may require supplements to heal. This is because of the related inflammation that comes along with them and the nutrients that are required to heal the skin.
Adding some of the following supplements may be beneficial for you:
Natural Vitamins and Minerals
|Probiotics help restore gut health and may reduce leaky gut.
Natural vitamins and minerals help support the healing process and research shows they may even help increase probiotic diversity in the gut of children [R].
|Choose foods like chia seeds, artichoke hearts, chicory root to help feed your gut bacteria.
|A nutrient that may help repair your gut lining [R].
|Choose foods like chia seeds, artichoke hearts, and chicory root to help feed your gut bacteria.
|Improves leaky gut after exposure to toxins in clinical research [R].
Cod Liver Oil
|Dampens inflammation in the body and supports healthy cell membranes in the skin and gut [R].
Digestive enzymes may reduce symptoms of eczema by improving nutrient absorption [R].
|Reduces histamine production in the body and dampens inflammation [R].
When your gut and skin have been inflamed due to eczema, your body also may not be making enough enzymes.
Supplemental digestive enzymes helped improve eczema symptoms and improve leaky gut according to research published in Pediatric Drugs [R].
L-glutamine is an amino acid that is an important fuel source for digestive cells.
More glutamine may be required by the body in the following situations: stress, food allergies, alcohol, antibiotics use, digestive disorders, and malnutrition.
Supplemental glutamine can help improve intestinal permeability or leaky gut, so adding L-glutamine to your health routine can’t hurt and might help if you have eczema [R].
We are unable to make glutamine during stressful conditions like trauma and infection. Glutamine is fuel for intestinal cells, and immune cells, and helps our body maintain balance in protein and blood sugar.
Cod Liver Oil
Most people fall short in omega-3’s so it is a reasonable addition to any healthy lifestyle. Natural eczema treatment should always include fish and high omega 3’s in the diet to help reduce inflammation.
Quercetin is an antioxidant found in foods like apples and onions. This powerful antioxidant is gaining popularity as a supplement because it works as a natural antihistamine in the body [R].
- Atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis are inflammatory conditions that are related to food and environmental allergies. The body’s allergic response is to release a lot of histamine into the body.
- Quercetin in early research reduces atopic dermatitis by reducing an inflammatory compound called IL6 [R]. By reducing antibodies like IgE and antigen response, such as TH2, quercetin may be very helpful in eczema treatment [R].
- If you have eczema, quercetin, taken in combination with vitamin C, may be very helpful for you.
Get some sun if at all possible if you have eczema. Most people benefit from the extra vitamin D that the sun will provide.
For sun exposure, mid-day sun gives the most vitamin D-rich rays. Unfortunately, if you live in the north, the sun’s rays are predominantly UVA and too weak until mid-summer.
Watch out for tanning beds, though; they often give off the wrong type of UV!
When to Use a UVB Light
If you live in a very cold, northern climate, a UVB lamp may be helpful.
- UVB LIGHT- Uses UVB fluorescent bulbs that emit a proper balance of UVB rays onto your skin, naturally generating the benefits of the sun’s rays.
- Full-spectrum lamps and bulbs aren’t the right kind of light for getting vitamin D
You will not get vitamin D benefits from a full spectrum or general “mood” light.
As with anything, make sure you are moderate in your sun or UVB lamp exposure. If you buy a UVB lamp, make sure to follow package directions to avoid skin damage and burning.
A Note about Sunscreens
Sunscreens block your skin’s ability to make vitamin D3 in the skin.
Further, recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association is demonstrating that many chemical sunscreens aren’t safe.
One study showed that the level of sunscreen chemical that enters the bloodstream is 7 times greater than the amount of nicotine you might have in your blood after smoking a cigarette [R]!
Be mindful of your limits in the sun, and avoid sunburns. You can find a nontoxic sunscreen brand that contains all-natural ingredients here.
Manage your stress for leaky gut and eczema
Stress increases inflammation in the body and ramps up an imbalance of hormones in the body.
It also likely makes the gut more leaky and inflamed, which in turn, can make the skin more inflamed and susceptible to eczema.
Importantly, take time for yourself and find ways that you can really relax at least once a day. Find ways to cope. Try meditation, yoga, slow breathing techniques, and take time to nurture yourself.
Another great stress reliever is to drink herbal tea or try Coffee Break. (link)
Certain plant compounds help support a healthy gut lining, so it makes sense to include healing herbs in the diet for eczema.
- Marshmallow root
- Slippery elm
You can incorporate these herbs into your diet by supplementing them or drinking teas.
If you have eczema, you may benefit from treating a leaky gut by improving your diet and health routines.
Because skin and gut tissues are closely related, treating food allergies and eating healing foods can be really helpful for your whole system, including your skin.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.