DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS FOR ATOPIC DERMATITIS, DO THEY WORK?

A dietary supplement is a product designed to add an ingredient or nutrient which is lacking or absent from a person’s diet.1

No definite proof that supplements work for atopic dermatitis.1-4

Some people say that certain supplements can help improve the symptoms of atopic dermatitis (AD). However, none of these supplements have been proven effective enough to be routinely recommended by doctors and there are even

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular supplements

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are living organisms, like bacteria and yeast, that are similar to those found naturally in the human body and may provide health benefits.3,4 Prebiotics, on the other hand, are ingredients that stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the human intestines.3  

The health benefit of probiotics and prebiotics are based on how they affect and improve digestion and immunity.3 Several studies have been done to see if they can be useful, alone or in combination, to improve the symptoms of AD.3,4

Unfortunately, no definite proof for any single prebiotic or probiotic has been found.1,3,4 There are some studies which showed promising results for a mixture of several kinds of probiotic bacteria plus prebiotics, but this still needs more research.3

You also need to take into consideration the fact that some side effects like wheezing and increased risk of infections have been reported with probiotics.3

Vitamin D, other vitamins and minerals

Vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 cream, vitamin E and zinc supplements have all been recommended for atopic dermatitis.1,3,4 There is no strong proof for any of these supplements, with most studies showing no effect, but among these supplements, vitamin D deserves a closer look.3,4

There is a possible link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased risk for both atopic dermatitis and infections.3 However, there has been no study showing that Vitamin D definitely improves AD symptoms.1,3,4 

It’s possible that supplements could be useful for people with very low levels of Vitamin D, those who also have allergies, or those who are prone to skin infections,3 but there are safety concerns, as too much Vitamin D can be toxic.1,3,4

Fish oil

Fish oils have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which many people do not get enough of in their diet.3 Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids might help reduce inflammation, which is an important underlying cause of many AD symptoms.1,3

Two studies of fish oil supplements have reported some improvement in people with atopic dermatitis.1,3 However, these studies only involved a small number of subjects, and cannot therefore be taken as proof that fish oil will work for everyone who has AD.1,3,4 More research needs to be done.1,3

Taking too much fish oil may cause diarrhea, nausea or an upset stomach.3

Evening primrose oil and borage seed oil

These two plant extract supplements have been recommended for AD, however, no conclusive proof has been found to support using them.1,3,4 Gastrointestinal side effects have been reported, and evening primrose oil has the potential to interact with some medication, and may even suppress the immune system if taken for too long.3

Chinese herbal medicines

Some people become interested in Chinese herbal medication believing that since they are derived from plants, they would be safe.3 While there are some reports that these supplements improve AD symptoms, the data is not conclusive.3

Studies on these supplements are difficult to perform, as individuals are usually given a specific mix of different herbs based on the assessment of a practitioner of Chinese traditional medicine.3 So, it’s hard to know for sure when something is actually working.3

Plus, there have been some reports of these types of supplements affecting liver and kidney function.3 Generally speaking, experts do not recommend Chinese herbal medicine for atopic dermatitis.3

While some supplements are promising, there is no real proof that they work.1-4 If you are interested in taking any of these supplements, you should tell your doctor before you start so that they can properly advise, supervise, and monitor your health.

References:

  1. Bath-Hextall, F.J., Jernkinson, C., Humphreys, R. & Williams, H.C. (2012). “Dietary Supplements for Established Atopic Eczema in Adults And Children”, https://www.cochrane.org/CD005205/SKIN_dietary-supplements-for-established-atopic-eczema-in-adults-and-children (Accessed May 20, 2022).

  2. Reference from AD Myth Busters

  3. Schlichte, M.J., Vandersall, A. & Katta, R. (2016). Diet and eczema: a review of dietary supplements for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Dermatol Pract Concept. 6(3):23-29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5006549/

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Can Oils, Probiotics or Vitamins Heal Eczema?” https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/childhood/treating/oils-probiotics-vitamins (Accessed May 20, 2022).

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Health information contained herein is provided for general educational purposes only. Your healthcare professional is the single best source of information regarding your health. Please consult your healthcare professional if you have any questions about your health or treatment.