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It’s a familiar story that many people with eczema have heard: To manage your eczema, you have to stop eating dairy.

This is often the go-to advice for treating eczema. The problem is that many people don’t experience any change in their eczema symptoms even when they eliminate dairy from their diets.

This is because the advice is oversimplified. Not all dairy is the same.

In fact, new research shows fermented dairy could actually help to treat eczema and reduce the chances of developing eczema in childhood, adding another side to the argument.

Dairy products are a common source of food allergies, and consuming dairy may make eczema symptoms worse if you’re allergic.

As a result, many people who experience eczema exclude dairy from their diet. However, the story is more complicated than that.

Dairy foods are nutrient-rich, providing a range of vitamins and minerals that are vital to a healthy diet. These include vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium.

A high-dairy diet has also been linked to lower blood pressure in middle-aged adults.

Dairy is a key source of calcium for children and adolescents. A 2019 study has shown that when dairy is excluded, many people don’t increase their intake of other calcium-rich foods to compensate.

On top of that, simply cutting out dairy completely may not be the most effective way to treat eczema.

While dairy can aggravate symptoms of eczema for some people, a 2019 study has shown that some types of fermented dairy can actually help eczema.

Fermented dairy, such as yogurt, is an important source of probiotics, which can treat eczema by improving the gut and skin microbiome. Daily consumption of yogurt has also been linked to reduced inflammation.

Additional research supports this theory, showing that children whose mothers consumed fermented dairy during pregnancy were less likely to experience eczema.

Some types of dairy could be more effective at treating eczema than others. A 2020 study has suggested that goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk and may be linked to a reduced chance of allergic diseases in infants.

Researchers in Turkey found that children living with a cow’s milk allergy and atopic dermatitis were also sensitive to goat and sheep’s milk but had no reaction to camel’s milk.

A Polish study showed that drinking mare’s milk could be beneficial for a range of chronic conditions, such as eczema. This included drinking fresh mare’s milk or fermented mare’s milk, known as kumis, a traditional drink in Central Asia.

Kefir and yogurt are the types of probiotic-rich fermented dairy that have been studied the most.

While not strictly a fermented food, there’s also evidence that raw milk could be beneficial for treating eczema.

There are many types of traditional fermented dairy foods and drinks that are an integral part of folk medicine around the world, including:

  • smen in Algeria
  • kurut in Tibet
  • dadih in Indonesia
  • amasi in Zimbabwe and South Africa

These foods haven’t received a lot of scientific attention. As a result, the evidence for their influence on eczema is only just starting to be explored.

In most modern western diets, there tends to be a limited understanding of fermented dairy products. Most people are familiar with yogurt and kefir, but there’s actually a whole range of fermented dairy products out there.

Many of these foods and drinks have a completely different texture and flavor to most of the products you can find in your local store.

Some fermented dairy products that may be beneficial for your health and your eczema include:

I developed eczema in my first year of college, but over time I’ve learned how to manage my symptoms through my diet. I chose not to cut out dairy, but I do make sure that most of the dairy I eat is fermented.

If you’re looking to increase the amount of fermented dairy in your diet, I recommend looking for some diverse fermented products. Eating yogurt with every meal would definitely get boring!

I like to make my own yogurt, labneh, kefir, and clabber. I also find loads of ways to use whey, a byproduct of making strained yogurt and cheese. I use it for baking, smoothies, and salad dressings.

Try to find artisanal products that haven’t been pasteurized. Make sure you read the label so you know what you’re buying.

You can also get inventive with how you eat fermented dairy by including both sweet and savory dishes. Some ideas include:

Look for these phrases when buying

  • “Raw”
  • “Live and active cultures”
  • “Contains probiotics”
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Many popular foods are fermented. However, the beneficial microbes may have been killed off through pasteurization.

In the United States, most of the dairy you can find in stores has been heat-treated to help extend the shelf life and eliminate the risk of potentially pathogenic bacteria.

The downside of this is your body doesn’t benefit from the probiotic bacteria that naturally occur in fermented dairy and help to support gut health.

How can you get around this?

For starters, you can try making your own fermented dairy products at home, including yogurt, kefir, and sour cream.

It’s easier than you think!

Everyone’s body is different, and it’s important to find a diet that works for you. If the chance of a dairy allergy or intolerance has been ruled out, dairy can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

You may find that eating more fermented dairy could help treat your eczema.

Elizabeth Harris is a writer and editor with a focus on plants, people, and our interactions with the natural world. She’s been happy to call many places home and has traveled across the world, collecting recipes and regional remedies. She now splits her time between the United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary, writing, cooking, and eating. Learn more on her website.