How is kai (food) related to eczema?

Posted by Brendon McIntosh on

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By now, it’s common knowledge that eczema has a strong genetic link and if you have a family history of allergies or inflammatory skin conditions then chances are you may also suffer from such conditions. 

As a practicing pharmacist I see a lot of people in the pharmacy who think that because of this, they should put up with their condition and buy steroid creams and antihistamines each time they flare-up. 

However, as soon as I tell these patients that they may be able to mitigate these flare-ups and greatly reduce their symptoms just by looking at what food they are putting in their body, most are surprised to find out just how much the food we eat affects such conditions. 

With this knowledge, and the knowledge that our gene’s don't necessarily mean our destiny, it is increasingly important that we focus on what we can do in our everyday lives, to support our genes and therefore allow us to mitigate any increase in eczema flare ups. On top of the genetic predispositions and family history of allergies, other major causative or risk factors for eczema include digestive disorders, dysbiosis, liver toxicity, exposure to environmental allergens and toxic compounds and nutritional deficiencies (especially of essential fatty acids) which can all be addressed with diet change. 

Eczema triggers

Eczema can also be triggered by chemical intolerances, most of which also come from the food that we are eating. Salicylate intolerance has a major link to eczema flare ups. Salicylates are natural pesticide chemicals produced by plants for self-protection, it is important to rule this sensitivity out as any other eczema treatment will not work unless a low-salicylate diet is adhered to. Nutrient deficiencies, high chemical exposure and liver dysfunction are the top triggers of salicylate sensitivity. There are also other intolerances that are worth exploring with a trained nutritionist or dietician, these include Amine intolerance, glutamate intolerance (MSG), sensitivity to preservatives and also sulphite and nitrate sensitivity. The good news is, these can be mitigated by our diets.

There is now compelling evidence that our diets are actually the single most important environmental factor that we can self-manage in order to change how our genes get turned on or off in eczema sufferers. Essential fatty acids, dietary carotenoids, diets rich in raw vegetables and fruit all contribute to modulating gene expression and can help reduce the effects of eczema flare-ups.

Elimination diets

Many eczema ‘diet’ plans focus on what foods to avoid which is a very problematic way of looking at things and can cause some negative psychological effects which is no good for anyone. The elimination diet can be done under the care of a qualified nutritionist or dietician and I wouldn’t recommend trying it without consulting such a person. Basically it’s where we eliminate all food allergens from the diet.

The most common allergenic foods are dairy, soy, citrus, peanuts, wheat, fish, eggs, corn and tomatoes. An elimination trial may be helpful in uncovering sensitivities as you remove suspected allergens from the diet for 2 weeks and then reintroduce foods at a rate of one food every three days while watching for reactions such as upset gut, mood changes, flushing and of course exacerbation of eczema. 

The elimination diet also looks to reduce inflammatory foods including saturated fats (meats, poultry and dairy), refined foods, and sugar. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol is also recommended. 


There are 6 systems that diet can affect and therefore lead to better eczema outcomes.

1. Improve gut health
a. Some eczema sufferers can have increased intestinal permeability (leaky-gut), which allows larger food particles, pathogens and toxic substances to enter the bloodstream and can interfere with biochemical reactions and cause genetic mutations and allergic reactions. 

b. Some common causes of intestinal permeability include - alcohol consumption, allergic reactions, toxic bile, consumption of wheat, excess salicylates, consumption of artificial additives and taking anti-inflammatory drugs.

2. Promote liver detoxification of chemicals
Certain foods can help both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification pathways by providing nutrients such as Vitamin C, B6, quercetin and glycine but you can also supplement with these for additional benefits 

3. Restore acid-alkaline balance
Not only does this promote healthy blood and strong bones. Your skin will also begin to glow with the correct balance. Our Western diets are highly acidic, so adding more ‘alkalising’ kai to get us back into balance. Alkalising kai includes:
Sprouts and sprouted grains
Apple cider vinegar
A few fruits like banana, lemon and lime
Pure springwater

4. Reduce chemical load and anti-nutrients
a. Reducing chemical load involves avoiding artificial chemicals and then only for a short time, limiting natural ones such as foods with natural amines and salicylates (carrots, kumara, lettuce and beetroot).

b. Anti-nutrients interfere with the absorption of skin-repairing minerals. They require a range of vitamins and minerals in order for our body to digest and detoxify. Most packaged foods high in sugar and white flour are laden with anti-nutrients which leaves our bodies with fewer nutrients for skin repair and maintenance. 

5. Reduce blood histamine level
Via nutrients such as Vitamin C, B6 and quercetin mainly provided in papaya, pawpaw, mung bean sprouts, brussels sprouts and spring onions. 

6. Balance essential fatty acids (fat ratios)
By limiting omega 6 from no margarine consumption and limiting vegetable oils, and increasing omega 3 by increasing hemp seed oil consumption.

Keep an eye out for our next blog on the top 12 foods to include in your diet for better eczema outcomes. 

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