Friday, September 26, 2014

Eczema and Food Sensitivities

I have learned first hand that food sensitivities can cause your own body to attack itself and increase inflammation.  My case was in the form of eczema, specifically, dyshidrotic or pompholyx eczema.  This is an area of skin that starts to feel very warm, then becomes very itchy, then forms tiny flesh colored bumps/blisters and then the cycle ends with severely dry, cracked and painful skin.  Oftentimes, a new cycle begins while the previous cycle is ending so it continues to get worse in the form of more pain and itch.  The sensation is as if the area is covered in a mosquito bite at its peak itchiness with rug burn on top, it's bad.

I had this form of dermatitis in the past, it wouldn't go away with avoiding doing the dishes or heavily moisturizing but all of sudden, it resolved after a year.  I had minor patches of eczema in the past but this type was much different.  The thing that was odd a couple year ago, is that it was only on the middle section of both of my pinkies and no where else.  If it was something external, it would have been in more places than that.  Fast forward to last spring, a year and half ago, the eczema returned.  It started small, then got worse as time went on.  This time, it only affected the midsection of my pointer fingers.  As it got worse, it appeared on the mid section of my pinkies again and then both eyelids with a really bad flare up.  I kept trying to find what would make it heal so I started by using only non-fragranced everything (not even masking fragrance!) and after a month I still had no relief.  I started my first job out of school, and learned that eczema in this pattern, where it is on both sides and symmetrical, indicates that it is systemic.  So something I was ingesting was causing my problem.  I had no idea what it could be considering I consume 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, eat only organic and don't have any food allergies other than preservatives and additives (which I don't eat).  I did notice that some days were better than others but with no noticeable behavior pattern, which made it more difficult.  I started researching common food sensitivities that cause dermatitis or autoimmune disease.  I cut out dairy, gluten, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes), peanut butter, avocados (because I eat a ridiculous amount of pb and avocados).  I eliminated each for 1 month and had no change.  

With nothing really left to cut out I began reading about this specific type of eczema again and found, on wikipedia believe it or not, that people have found relief following a low nickel diet.  I knew that was it instantly; I had found the cause and cure.  I was upset because I did not know nickel was so prevalent in foods.  Growing up, I got rashes from metal snaps, buttons, watches, even around my nails if I used nail polish that contained nickel its metal mixing metal ball!  The more I researched, the more I realized how common this pattern of dermatitis was and linked to nickel ingestion.  Then the list foods containing a high level of nickel appeared on my screen and I felt rather sad, it was everything I ate EVERY day/week.  I was actually enjoying one of my favorite snacks, dark chocolate on top of a spoonfull of organic peanut butter, as I read the first thing on the list: Dark. Chocolate. followed by legumes- which is a peanut.

High Nickel Foods:
  • Chocolate, especially dark
  • Legumes, peanuts, beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Spinach, kale
  • Peas
  • Whole grains (oats, rye, millet, buckwheat)
  • Seeds (sesame seeds)
  • All nuts, especially cashews and almonds
  • Questionable- bananas

Moderate Nickel:
  • Beer
  • Red Wine
  • Mackeral, tuna, herring, shellfish
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Raw Carrots
After cutting out all of these foods, my eczema started healing within a day.  When I eat most of these foods, I get a flare up within 3-6 hours.  I have tried peanut butter, chocolate and spinach and all have yielded terrible flare ups.  It now makes sense to me, why the eczema was the worst it ever was this past spring, when I made banana, spinach and peanut butter shakes each morning.  I have been finding it difficult to consume a variety of healthy, satisfying and nutrient dense food since eliminating a lot of the staples in my diet. 

Here is my list of "safe" healthy foods:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Red beets
  • Arugala (moderate amounts)
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Butternut squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Avocado
  • Mango
  • Lemon and limes
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Jalopenos
  • Red bell pepper
  • Green bell peppers
  • Mushrooms (portabella, crimini, button) 
  • Small portion of white potato
  • All dairy
  • Eggs
  • Meats
  • Salmon
  • Small portions of whole wheat bread once a day if that (like pizza dough, burger bun)
  • Salsa, glass jarred and also fresh in plastic
Something to keep in mind if you find yourself having to reduce your nickel intake, is that cooking anything acidic, such as tomato sauce, in stainless steel cookware, will leach nickel into food.  This applies to canned foods also, the metal can disassociate and nickel can end up in the food.  

It has been found that vitamin C and iron decrease absorption of nickel, so it can be helpful to drink lemon water with meals or take a nickel free vitamin c supplement with meals.

Some great resources:

  1. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/753985_6
  2. http://www.the-dermatologist.com/content/systemic-contact-dermatitis
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667300/


I wanted to share a photo of my eczema today, this is one day post flare up caused by whole grain/seed chips.  It's red, but there is no heat, pain, swelling or itch.

If you are experiencing this or have in the past please share your story in the comments section below!  As of today, I have been following this diet for 3 weeks, so I am still figuring out what I can and cannot eat, and also identifying anything containing nickel in the environment that should be avoided.

Thanks!