Dietary Supplements, Foods, Herbs, and Teas
Claims that “all natural” products can
safely treat — or even cure — eczema are widespread. The truth is
that if a food, herb, or tea could cure eczema, it would be making
headlines worldwide. Your dermatologist would tell you about it. The
products marketed as “a miracle cure” or as a “breakthrough
discovery” do not cure eczema. Some can even be harmful. Here is
what the science shows:
Researchers have looked at the effects of borage oil, evening
primrose oil, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin E, and zinc. As all
of these supplements are said to relieve eczema, researchers were
surprised by the findings. Most supplements had no effect. The most
noticeable effect was seen in one study in which adults with
moderately severe atopic dermatitis took borage oil. The patients
who were given 500 milligrams of borage oil every day for 24 weeks
noticed a slight improvement. Those given the placebo did not
experience this slight improvement.
Even evening primrose oil, which earlier studies suggested could
relieve eczema, did not prove beneficial. Researchers are, however,
cautiously optimistic about one dietary supplement.
Preliminary studies indicate that probiotics may benefit children
with atopic dermatitis. A few studies indicate that taking a
supplement containing probiotics — when used along with medication —
may help reduce the severity and extent of atopic dermatitis in
children. While these findings are promising, more research is
needed. Each study tested a different blend of probiotics. The
appropriate blend and dose for treating atopic dermatitis have not
When it comes to diet, dermatologists recommend that patients with
To learn if food can trigger a
reaction, dermatologists recommend that the patient (or parent) keep
a food diary. If a certain food seems to trigger a flare-up, conduct
your own research. Remove the food from the diet and see what
happens. Does the eczema subside? Does the eczema flare when the
patient again eats the food?
Foods that can potentially trigger atopic dermatitis, especially in
children, include nuts, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. It is important
to realize that these foods do not trigger eczema for everyone.
If a food triggers eczema and needs to be removed from the patient’s
diet, dermatologists recommend that a healthcare provider carefully
monitor the diet. Children can suffer from severe protein and
calorie deficiencies when placed on an elimination diet, such as one
that substitutes rice milk for milk.
Herbs and Teas
While herbal products are often marketed as “natural” alternatives,
this does not mean they are safe.
Blends of Chinese herbal medicines that have proven effective in
controlling atopic dermatitis also have proven toxic. One poison
unit in London reported 21 cases of liver toxicity in patients
taking Chinese herbal medicine to relieve skin conditions. Two
patients who used Chinese herbal medicine to treat their eczema
developed end-stage kidney failure and needed kidney transplants.
Herbal creams also can cause unwanted side effects. Some herbal
creams that claim to control eczema and psoriasis are effective
because they secretly contain potent corticosteroids. Long-term use
of potent topical corticosteroids can cause thinning skin, dilated
blood vessels, stretch marks, infection, and excess body hair.
Reports of serious side effects after using chamomile, a common
herb, also have occurred. Said to calm the skin and alleviate itch,
many people try to get these benefits by either applying chamomile
to their skin or drinking chamomile tea. Some who do this develop an
allergic reaction. A few cases of anaphylaxis, a severe and
potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, have occurred.
Anaphylaxis makes blood pressure drop suddenly. Breathing becomes
difficult. Some people lose consciousness, and some die.
Drinking regular tea appears to be most beneficial — and without
life-threatening side effects. A study conducted in Japan found that
several patients who continued their treatment plan and began
consuming one liter of oolong tea every day saw significant
improvement. Of the 118 patients with recalcitrant (not responding
to treatment) atopic dermatitis who completed the study, 63% showed
marked to moderate improvement after one month. This effect was
noticed after 1 or 2 weeks.
Speak with Your Dermatologist First
If supplementing your diet or trying an herbal product seems
appealing, be sure to speak with a dermatologist before trying one
of these therapies. A food supplement or herbal remedy can interact
negatively with prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some
products can be harmful. Stopping your current treatment to try an
alternative treatment can cause serious side effects.
The Truth About “Other” Therapies for Atopic
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developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
The herbal creams that
claim to control eczema and psoriasis often are
effective because they contain potent corticosteroids.