Dealing with eczema can be a daily struggle. About a third of people who have the condition report spending 1-3 hours a day treating it. Could probiotics be the answer?
Eczema can affect a person's quality of life. In severe cases, skin can become crusty and may bleed. As such, people are always looking for new ways to treat the condition. Some health food and natural remedy supporters suggest the use of probiotics as a way to treat eczema.
But why would these be an appropriate treatment and is there any evidence to support the fact they work?
This article explores how probiotics work and whether research supports their use in treating eczema.
- Eczema is an immune system reaction, so probiotics to boost the immune system may help.
- Probiotics provide many other established benefits, including healthy digestion.
- Though studies are promising, more research is needed to say with certainty that probiotics work.
- Other treatments in combination with probiotics provide the best benefits for eczema.
Why use probiotics for eczema?
There are many different types of eczema, but the most common type is atopic dermatitis. Learning what causes this helps us understand why some people use probiotics to treat it.
Eczema and the immune system
Including probiotic foods, such as drinking yoghurt, in a healthy diet may help to treat eczema.
Atopic dermatitis can be made worse by environmental factors and irritants, but these are not the cause. The cause is a faulty immune response, which prompts the skin to become inflamed, dry, and cracked.
As the cause is an immune response, people may ask how they can fix this. One avenue that people have explored is treatments that support a healthy immune system, such as probiotics.
Healthful bacteria and probiotics
The balance of bacteria in the digestive system is one factor that affects the immune system. The reason many people use probiotics is that they believe they increase healthful gut bacteria.
People who use probiotics for eczema believe they make the immune system stronger. They reason that by strengthening the immune system, people can combat the faulty immune response that causes eczema.
Do they work?
Eczema is an extremely common condition causing irritation.
There is some evidence that giving children probiotics may help to prevent them from developing eczema.
A 2010 study, found that children with allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis have a very different intestinal flora from healthy children. This finding supports the idea that taking a supplement to improve intestinal bacteria may be beneficial.
The same study also found slight clinical improvements in atopic dermatitis with the use of probiotics. However, the findings were not significant enough to say with certainty that probiotics are an effective treatment.
A 2016 study noted that there is some research that suggests probiotics may have a positive effect on atopic dermatitis treatment. These effects depend on:
- specific probiotic strains used
- time of administration
- duration of exposure
This study notes that there is still a lack of reliable evidence to support the use of probiotics in the treatment of eczema. Based on the research available, medical professionals cannot say with certainty that probiotics are an effective treatment for eczema.
While there have been some clinical improvements, further research is needed before probiotics become a recommended treatment for eczema.
There are other treatments available for eczema. These include:
- emollients (moisturizers) that can be used daily to prevent dryness
- topical corticosteroid creams that reduce swelling and redness
- antihistamines to reduce itching
- bandages to allow affected areas to heal
There are also lifestyle changes that people can make to avoid aggravating their condition. These include:
- wearing natural fabrics to reduce skin irritation
- keeping the environment cool if heat is an irritant
- avoiding soaps, detergents, lotions, and perfumes that are heavily scented
- avoiding any foods that have triggered flare-ups previously
How probiotics work
Kefir and other fermented foods, such as kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut, are high in probiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that add to the "good" bacteria in our gut, supporting a healthy digestive system. Some foods are naturally rich in probiotics. These include:
- dark chocolate
- raw cheese
- apple cider vinegar
Probiotics are also available as supplements, the most common types being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
The live bacteria in probiotics attach to the gut wall, leaving less space for undesirable or "bad" bacteria to grow. This promotes a healthy balance of bacteria in the digestive system, improving its function.
Other benefits of probiotics
Eating foods rich in probiotics or taking them as supplements has other health benefits, beyond the potential treatment of eczema. These include:
- improved digestive function
- stronger immune system
- less likely to develop urinary tract infections
The connection between healthful bacteria and the immune response in eczema support the idea that probiotics may be a viable treatment. There have been some positive clinical indications that support the case for further research.
However, looking at research to date, it is not possible to conclude that probiotics are a proven, effective treatment for eczema.
It is important to note that people should not rely on probiotics as the sole means of treating eczema. Probiotics are not harmful and may be used as a complementary medicine for eczema. Using them in this way means people may also benefit from improved gut health and a strengthened immune system.
People with eczema are advised to continue using the treatments their doctor recommends. Doctors will continue to give this advice until further research proves the effectiveness of probiotics in eczema treatment.