Eczema is the most common form of dermatitis, a term which literally means “inflamed skin.” The condition can affect people young and old and encompasses a number of red, itchy skin conditions. Eczema may look like a dry, scaly rash or weepy, oozing blisters. It is often triggered by an allergy to food, pollen, animal dander or other substances and is most often seen running in allergy-prone families.
The following three supplements are among those that have been proven to help ease symptoms of eczema.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is a great source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an important omega-6 fatty acid. For more than 50 years, scientists have known that a deficiency of omega-6 can lead to inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. More recent research has verified this link. A study published in 2002 found that after taking evening primrose oil, 42.8% of eczema patients were clear of itching and skin lesions, and only 28.6% had mild itching without lesions.
In another recent study, researchers found evidence in eczema patients of a problem in the natural conversion of linoleic acid to GLA in the body. They concluded that “atopic eczema may be a minor inherited abnormality of [essential fatty acid] metabolism” that leaves patients GLA-deficient. Other good sources of GLA include borage oil and black currant seed oil.
Recent studies also suggest that probiotic supplements containing “beneficial” bacteria might be useful in the management of eczema. One of these studies looked at two probiotic Lactobacillus strains (Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri) which were given in combination for six weeks to children with eczema aged 1 to 13. These probiotics are commonly found in “acidophilus” supplements sold in natural food stores. Changes in the children’s condition were measured using a few different means, including the scoring atopic dermatitis (SCORAD) score, and blood markers of inflammation. The researchers found that after active treatment with probiotics, 56% of the patients experienced improvement of the eczema, whereas only 15% believed their symptoms had improved after taking a placebo.
The mineral zinc is important for general skin health as well as proper immune system function. Some research has indicated that people with eczema may be low in zinc. Given that zinc is also vital in the process of converting linoleic acid to GLA, many experts recommend zinc supplementation for the treatment of eczema.
Sources: Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; Health Fats for Life by Vanderhaeghe & Karst, Quarry:2003; J Allergy Clin Immunol 2003;111:389-95; Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:367S-372S