The interest in probiotics and their potential health benefits for children and adults with eczema has increased over the years. Currently, probiotics are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of eczema, also called atopic dermatitis. However, research is starting to show that certain probiotics can provide eczema symptom relief, especially in infants and children.
Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that naturally live in our body to help keep us healthy. Many people associate the word “bacteria” with sickness, but probiotics are a good type of bacteria. They help get rid of the bad bacteria that make their way into our body, help keep our gut balanced and working properly, and help remove toxins. Probiotics can be found in the lungs, mouth and gut, vagina and urinary tract, and, importantly, the skin.
Probiotics can also be found in fermented foods, dietary probiotic supplements, and some beauty products. The majority of probiotics are marketed and sold as dietary supplements, which do not need approval from the FDA. Common fermented foods containing live and active bacterial cultures include:
The most common probiotic strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which have been shown to improve digestion, eliminate cells that cause disease, and produce vitamins.
Research on the effectiveness of probiotics in providing eczema relief is limited. A few recent studies have shown health benefits when used proactively. Evidence showing that probiotics are effective when treating an active case of eczema is still developing. Currently, clinical trials have not shown that probiotics are effective for atopic dermatitis, but studying probiotics is difficult because there are many different types to study. However, more studies are needed to determine the efficacy of probiotics.
Experts believe that people with eczema likely have a disturbance in the natural skin microbiome, meaning they may not have the good bacteria that create a healthy skin barrier. A healthy skin barrier helps protect the skin from irritants and allergens that lead to itchy skin and other symptoms of eczema.
Adding support to this idea, a recent study found a significant improvement in eczema symptoms in children treated with a topical application of a live strain of Roseomonas mucosa. This type of good bacteria is typically found naturally on the skin. When the probiotic was regularly applied to the children’s skin affected with eczema, researchers found it helped clear up symptoms.
Like a disturbance in the skin’s barrier function, there may also be a correlation between eczema and leaky gut syndrome. The theory is that undigested particles and other germs in the gastrointestinal tract cross the gut barrier and leak into the bloodstream. This disturbance can trigger inflammation and an immune response that can result in secondary issues, including eczema. As a MyEczemaTeam member shared, “I’ve been reading that fixing our gut with probiotics is key for eczema.” Probiotics may help restore the healthy function of the gut barrier.
For those who are treating an active flare-up of atopic dermatitis, probiotics can be taken orally and used topically. Typically, oral probiotics are used to restore the gut microflora, and topical probiotics are used to balance bacteria on the skin.
A MyEczemaTeam member shared that probiotics have been beneficial: “Since taking the probiotics, I no longer itch during the day, and I don’t scratch when I’m sleeping.” Another member shared, “I have been taking probiotics for a month now. I have noticed that I am not itching, and I no longer have eczema on the back of my legs. My back is almost clear.”
Eczema affects approximately 20 percent of children, but research suggests proactive use of probiotics may prevent eczema from developing in some cases. For instance, one study discovered that infants and children whose mother took probiotics containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Propionibacterium while pregnant had a significant risk reduction for developing eczema later in life. More research needs to be done to support these claims.
Researchers also found that infants who were given these oral probiotics for two to 13 months after birth also showed a risk reduction in developing atopic dermatitis.
Because the microorganisms that make up probiotics are naturally found in our body, the use of probiotics is typically considered safe. However, there are a few exceptions. People who have a weakened immune system, serious illness, or recent surgery should check with their doctor before taking probiotics.
For these people, in particular, there are risks to consider when supplementing with probiotics, including possible allergic reactions. Other risks include:
Check with your dermatologist or doctor to see if probiotics might be a good choice to help reduce your eczema symptoms.
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Do you use probiotics for eczema symptom relief? Share your experience in the comments below or on MyEczemaTeam.