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Can Probiotics Help Treat Eczema?

Where probiotics come in

Your body is full of both “good” and “bad” bacteria. Probiotics are considered “good” bacteria because they help keep your digestive system healthy.

Depending on your diet, you’re probably already eating foods that contain probiotic bacteria. They’re commonly found in yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and dark chocolate. Probiotics are also available in supplement form.

In recent years, it’s become clear that probiotics can help more than just your digestive system. Taking probiotics could be beneficial for people with eczema. It’s thought that adding bacteria to your diet could limit or reduce your number of eczema flares.

Keep reading to learn how probiotics may help treat eczema, how to add them to your regimen, and potential side effects to look out for.

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Research

What the research says

Although there’s some evidence to suggest that probiotics may have some benefit for people with eczema, the research is mixed at best.

A 2010 update from laboratory and clinical data assessed the results of a number of meta-analyses and systemic reviews before concluding that no recommendations can be made at this time.

Researchers noted that many of the meta-analyses and systemic reviews they assessed combined the results of studies on different types of probiotic bacteria. This skews the results and can prevent researchers from knowing which bacteria to attribute with which result.

Additionally, much of the research assessed failed to differentiate between allergic diseases. For example, participants with atopic asthma and atopic eczema may have different reactions to probiotic bacteria. If it isn’t clear which participants experienced a given result, researchers are unable to draw specific conclusions about efficacy.

That said, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that probiotics may have any adverse effects on people with eczema. It just isn’t clear whether probiotic bacteria or another factor can be credited with reducing outbreaks.

Clearer research is needed to assess whether certain probiotic bacteria may help reduce the frequency or severity of eczema symptoms.

Other benefits

Other benefits of taking probiotics

Although it’s unclear whether probiotic bacteria has an impact on eczema, there are several proven benefits to probiotic consumption.

Probiotic bacteria can:

  • boost your immune system
  • improve digestive function
  • help prevent urinary tract infections
  • reduce the incidence of eczema in children if taken prenatally

Research is currently underway to determine whether probiotic bacteria can help:

  • combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • fight ulcer-causing bacteria
  • treat inflammatory bowel conditions

Learn more: Surprising benefits of probiotics »

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Use

How to use probiotics for treating eczema

If you decide to add probiotics to your regimen, talk with your doctor. There are many different types of bacteria. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common supplements and have unique benefits. Your doctor can help you decide which type or combination is best for you and where to find it.

Lactobacillus bacteria are typically found in yogurt and other fermented foods. These bacteria are said to help ease diarrhea and may be beneficial for people who are lactose intolerant.

Bifidobacterium bacteria are also found in yogurt and some other dairy products. They’re thought to help with irritable bowel conditions.

Other probiotic-rich foods that you can add to your diet are:

  • kefir
  • cultured vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi
  • kombucha
  • miso
  • tempeh
  • raw cheese
  • apple cider vinegar
  • dark chocolate

You may also wish to take an over-the-counter probiotic supplement. If you do, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.

Taking a supplement on an empty stomach can cause side effects, so always take your supplement with food. It may take some trial and error across probiotic brands before you find the supplement that best suits your needs.

Check out: Are probiotics healthy for children? »

Risks and warnings

Risks and warnings

Probiotic-rich foods and supplements are generally safe to consume. Your first choice should be naturally, through foods.

However, if you have any of the following conditions, you should consult your doctor before using supplements:

  • compromised immune system
  • bowel conditions
  • other chronic illness

Women who are pregnant should exercise caution when using probiotic supplements. Infants and young children shouldn’t take probiotic supplements.

There usually aren’t any side effects associated with consuming probiotic-rich foods or drinks.

When taking a probiotic supplement for the first time, or switching to a new probiotic supplement, you may experience an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues while your body adjusts.

This includes:

  • gas
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea

You may find it beneficial to start with a lower dosage and slowly work your way up to taking the full dose. This can help mitigate some of the side effects.

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Pregnancy, probiotics, and eczema

Probiotics for eczema in babies

Many children develop eczema early on. Approximately 15 percent of children will experience temporary eczema. In most cases, temporary or chronic eczema will develop by age 2.

Genes are typically at the root of this condition. If one parent has eczema, asthma, or hay fever, a child has a 1 in 4 chance of developing the condition. This risk increases to a 1 in 2 chance if both parents have eczema, asthma, or hay fever.

Although more research is needed, there is slight evidence to suggest that taking a probiotic supplement can help prevent your children from developing the condition.

Researchers in one 2014 study found that some infants born to women who took probiotics experienced less atopic sensitization common to food allergens. This may reduce their risk of developing eczema in early childhood.

More long-term research is needed to truly understand the potential impact probiotic bacteria may have on a fetus.

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Takeaway

The bottom line

There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that probiotic bacteria can help reduce your eczema flares or prevent you from passing the condition on to your offspring.

However, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that eating probiotic-rich foods or taking probiotic supplements may be harmful to people with eczema. In fact, there are a number of other proven benefits to probiotic bacteria consumption, including improved immune function, hormone regulation, and digestion.

Talk with your doctor about whether probiotics are right for you. They can go over your options and provide more information on your individual benefits and risks.

Learn more: How probiotics can help balance your digestive system »

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