Natural Relief for a Common Skin Condition
Skin affected by eczema might seem to be crying out for creams and salves to ease itching and inflammation, but what’s on the inside might be more important than what’s on the outside. A new study found that supplementing with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) helped relieve symptoms in people with eczema.
In the study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, 44 adults with eczema received either 5.35 grams of DHA per day or placebo for eight weeks. At the study’s beginning, mid point, and end, scores were given to each person based on symptom severity, including the size of the affected area, redness, swelling, crusting, scabbing due to scratching, thickening, dryness, itching, and sleeplessness.
Symptom scores in people using DHA improved over the course of the study, but scores for those in the placebo group did not change significantly. In particular, the size of the affected area decreased 42% in the DHA group but did not change in the placebo group.
Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition that is typically treated with topical and occasionally oral steroids. People with eczema often have other inflammatory conditions such as asthma, allergies, and food sensitivities. Many people with eczema notice that flare-ups can be triggered or exacerbated by stress.
DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fish. Their anti-inflammatory effects are well established, and a number of studies have found that fish oil or EPA-DHA combinations are effective in treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. One previous study found that taking about 2 teaspoons of fish oil per day reduced symptoms in people with eczema.
“Our findings suggest that DHA might be helpful in supporting the standard treatment of eczema,” commented the principal investigator of the study, Dr. Margitta Worm, at the Charite-Universitatsmedizin in Berlin, Germany. “This is the first study to look at DHA alone in the treatment of eczema, so more research is needed to confirm our findings and identify the amount that would result in greatest improvement.”
Save your skin
People with eczema can take the following steps to reduce their symptoms:
• Identify food sensitivities and avoid reactive foods. Some of the most common reactive foods in people with eczema are wheat and other grains with gluten, dairy, eggs, and corn, including corn syrup.
• Manage stress through exercise and relaxation.
• Supplement with 3 grams per day of evening primrose oil or 2 or 3 teaspoons per day of sunflower or safflower oil, which have anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
• Eat plenty of cold-water fish that are rich in EPA and DHA such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring. Or consider a supplement with these omega-3 fatty acids.
(Br J Dermatol 2008;158:786–92)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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