Many alternative and complementary treatments such as vitamins and dietary supplements may benefit children and adults with eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis). Eczema is a skin condition that can cause itchy, dry skin that may ooze or weep, likely due to an overactive immune system and decreased skin barrier function. Eczema is more common in infants and children, who may grow out of the symptoms, although eczema also occurs in adults.
If you or your child has eczema, it may help to understand the potential effectiveness of certain vitamins and supplements such as probiotics and fish oil for your skin’s health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved vitamins, probiotics, and fish oil as safe for general consumption. Still, these treatments should not necessarily replace the medical treatments or other therapies recommended by your doctor. Research is limited and studies have mixed findings — making it especially important to speak with your health care provider before adding vitamins or supplements to your diet.
Here’s what to know about the potential benefits and risks of vitamins and supplements for eczema.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your immune response function, specifically in maintaining a healthy skin barrier. “I’m taking vitamin D, which keeps my skin smooth and moisturized to some extent,” wrote a MyEczemaTeam member.
Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D in people with eczema are associated with flare-ups. Two trial studies observed children ages 2 to 17 years old with winter-related eczema. After one month of taking 1,000 international units (or IU) of vitamin D daily, the participants’ eczema symptoms improved. However, this study does not provide enough evidence to support the effectiveness of vitamin D in treating all types of eczema in children.
Studies on adults with eczema have mixed results. One randomized controlled trial in adults with eczema observed significant improvements in flare-ups after people took 1,600 IU of vitamin D daily for two months. Another study in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology used 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily for 21 days and did not find significant improvements in eczema.
The use of vitamin D supplementation in children and adults needs further research to understand the ideal dose and duration of treatment. Although vitamin D is known to help regulate the immune system and the skin barrier, its role in eczema needs to be more clearly defined.
Per the Mayo Clinic, depending on a person’s age, the daily recommended amount of vitamin D is between 400 and 800 IU. Vitamin D can be harmful in large doses, causing nausea, constipation, and other issues such as kidney damage. Do not take extra vitamin D unless you are instructed to by your doctor.
Vitamin D can also interact with some medications, such as certain steroids or heart medications.
Vitamin C is found in many foods such as citrus fruits and potatoes and is an essential nutrient for your health. This vitamin helps produce collagen, promotes wound healing, and boosts your immune system. Vitamin C can also stimulate ceramide production, improving the skin’s barrier function. One study found that oral vitamin C supplementation improved chronic inflammation and increased ceramide levels in people living with severe eczema.
Eating a well-balanced diet will generally provide you with enough vitamin C. However, people who have vitamin C deficiencies may benefit from the use of vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C supplementation is generally safe when taking 15 to 90 milligrams per day, depending on your age, sex, and if you are pregnant.
Larger doses (over 2,000 milligrams) of oral vitamin C may cause side effects such as:
Taking vitamin C supplements can also interfere with some medications, such as:
If you’re thinking of adding vitamin C supplements to your diet, remember to consult with your doctor or dermatologist and discuss any medications you are currently taking. Although topical vitamin C-containing products have antioxidant properties, which help fight sun damage and aging, their role in fighting eczema has not been well studied.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that supports your skin’s health. It is naturally found in vegetables, vegetable oils, and nuts. In one study, participants with mild to severe eczema took 400 IU of vitamin E daily for three months. All participants reported improvements in their eczema lesions and itchy skin.
Scientists have found that vitamin E can decrease immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels in the blood. IgE plays a role in developing eczema and often occurs at high levels among people with eczema. Decreasing levels of IgE may help reduce eczema symptoms.
Vitamin E supplementation is generally safe in adults at a daily dose of 15 milligrams. It has antioxidant effects and has been shown to regulate the immune system. However, vitamin E can be harmful in large doses, causing side effects such as:
Vitamin E supplements may interfere with some medications such as blood thinners, chemotherapy drugs, statins, niacin, and vitamin K. Vitamin E may be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Vitamin E may also increase the risk of heart attack or stroke in people with a history of heart disease. People with diabetes, liver disease, bleeding disorders, vitamin K deficiency, or cancer should consult their health care provider before adding probiotic supplements to their diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that you can consume as a supplement or in various fermented foods. Consuming probiotics can help stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria to boost the immune system and control allergies, especially in children.
Maternal probiotic supplementation means that a child’s mother took probiotics during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Maternal probiotic supplementation may have a protective role in the development of eczema. A review of more than 1,500 studies found that probiotics taken during the pre- and postnatal periods decreased the risk of eczema in children, including those who were at high risk.
Findings are mixed in children and adults with eczema who supplement probiotics in their diet. One study from the Archives of Disease in Childhood observed a total of 56 children ages 6 to 18 months with moderate to severe eczema. Those given the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum twice daily had significant improvements in eczema symptoms. In contrast, a larger-scale study from the Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews looked at 39 studies in people with mild to severe eczema ages 12 months to 55 years. Researchers found no significant difference in eczema symptoms between people who received probiotics versus those who did not. At this time, it is not a recommended treatment for eczema.
One study found that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain increased wheezing bronchitis in infants who had used probiotics during their first one to three months of life. More research needs to be done to determine the safety and effectiveness of probiotic supplements. In particular, people with weakened immune systems, serious illness, or recent surgery should consult their health care provider before adding probiotic supplements to their diet.
Read more about eczema and probiotics here.
Fish oil is essential for cell growth. The oil contains eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oil also reduces leukotriene B4, an inflammatory substance that plays a role in eczema.
In one study, people taking fish oil had improved symptoms of eczema after 12 weeks. However, a study in the International Journal of Dermatology on infants with a high risk of eczema reported no difference in eczema prevalence.
Consuming too much fish oil may cause side effects such as diarrhea or nausea. In some cases, fish oil may increase the risk of stroke in people with a history of heart disease. Taking fish oil and medication such as aspirin, which reduces inflammation, may slow blood clotting. Fish oil can also interact with some blood pressure medications and birth control.
Vitamins and supplements can improve eczema symptoms in some people, but what works for others may not work for you. Current research is limited, and scientists have not provided enough evidence to support vitamins and supplements as safe and effective treatment options for eczema. Further research and more randomized, large-scale controlled trials need to be done before health care providers can make solid conclusions and recommendations.
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