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Dairy and Eczema: What’s the Connection?

Dairy products have been known to trigger the symptoms of eczema. But is all dairy bad? We explore the connection here. Eczema (sometimes referred to as atopic dermatitis) is a complex skin condition that causes an itchy rash and swelling. An estimated one out of 10 people will develop eczema at some point in their lifetime. Although it typically starts in early

  • Posted on 04th May, 2022 12:30 PM
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Eczema (sometimes referred to as atopic dermatitis) is a complex skin condition that causes an itchy rash and swelling. An estimated one out of 10 people will develop eczema at some point in their lifetime. Although it typically starts in early childhood, eczema can occur at any age.

One of the first things a person with eczema is often told to do is to avoid dairy. While it is true that some people may experience flare-ups (times when symptoms increase) after consuming dairy, there's research that certain types of dairy may actually help the condition.

This article will explore the connection between dairy and eczema and the latest research to help determine which types of dairy may be beneficial.

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What’s the Connection Between Eczema and Dairy?

Up to 30% of people with eczema also have a food allergy. When a person with eczema consumes something they're allergic to, it can trigger or worsen an eczema flare.

Dairy is a common allergen, so consuming it may worsen symptoms if you're allergic. As a result, many people choose to exclude dairy from their diet before an allergy or intolerance is confirmed.

Additionally, eczema is an inflammatory condition, and many people are advised to follow an anti-inflammatory diet to help manage symptoms. Because many people believe dairy foods cause inflammation, it is often restricted or avoided by people following this diet.

However, new research suggests dairy and milk proteins do not cause inflammation and can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet.

Is All Dairy Off-Limits for Eczema?

Foods like dairy should only be removed from a child's diet if it causes a severe or immediate reaction.

Moreover, foods in the dairy group are important because they provide vital nutrients for a person's overall health. Dairy foods are rich in calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.

For example, vitamin D is important to help your body absorb calcium, which is needed for strong bones. Although once considered rare, vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States.

Because many dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, those who avoid or restrict fortified dairy products are at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.

However, if you feel dairy is contributing to eczema flares, address your concerns with a primary care provider or a dermatologist (specialist in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails) who can evaluate the need for allergy testing or an elimination diet.

Food Allergies in Young Children

Diagnosing food allergies, including a dairy allergy, in children under age 3 is based mainly on a history of symptoms. Treatment involves eliminating suspicious foods from the diet and gradually reintroducing them. This should always be done under close medical supervision.

Foods That Cause Eczema

It doesn't appear that any particular foods cause eczema. However, when a person with eczema eats a food they are allergic to, it triggers an immune reaction that causes inflammation. This can trigger an eczema flare-up.

Food allergens that tend to cause eczema flare-ups include:

  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Seafood
  • Milk and milk products
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts

Some experts also believe foods that cause inflammation, such as sugar, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates, may trigger eczema flare-ups.

Fermented Dairy for Eczema

While some may experience flare-ups after consuming dairy, recent studies show that fermented (or cultured) dairy may actually improve symptoms.

Fermented dairy—milk products prepared by lactic acid and/or yeast fermentation—such as kefir and yogurt, are good sources of probiotics. Probiotics may be beneficial to treat atopic dermatitis in children and adults.

Additionally, some research shows that yogurt consumption during pregnancy decreases the risk of atopic dermatitis in offspring.

Other studies suggest eating yogurt daily can reduce markers of inflammation, especially in people who are overweight.

Fermented dairy also has other health benefits. For example, one study found that men who eat greater quantities of fermented dairy products like milk and cheese had a decreased risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who eat lesser amounts.

Types of Fermented Dairy

Various fermented dairy products may be beneficial for your eczema and overall health. Different types include:

  • Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Yogurt
  • Fermented cottage cheese
  • Cultured buttermilk
  • Fermented cheese
  • Cultured butter
  • Cultured sour cream

How to Incorporate Fermented Dairy Into Your Diet

There are many ways to incorporate fermented dairy into your diet. One of the easiest ways is by eating more yogurt that contains live, active cultures. If you aren't a fan of yogurt or feel like you would get tired of eating it every day, there are several other creative ways to add more fermented dairy. For example, you can:

  • Swap out regular butter for cultured butter.
  • Blend kefir, yogurt, or buttermilk into smoothies and drinks.
  • Pair veggie sticks with a cultured dairy ranch dressing dip.
  • Swap regular cheese for fermented cheese.
  • Make dips with cultured sour cream or fermented cottage cheese.

If you're feeling creative, you can also make your own fermented dairy products at home, including kefir, sour cream, and yogurt.

What Kind of Dairy Foods Should I Feed My Baby?

Both kefir and yogurt are good, easy-to-digest fermented dairy foods for babies.

Summary

As long as you don't have an intolerance or allergy, you should be able to enjoy dairy without it triggering eczema flare-ups. You may actually notice improvements in your condition after eating more fermented dairy products. Good sources of fermented dairy products include kefir, yogurt, fermented cottage cheese, and cultured sour cream.

Following a healthy diet rich in foods that fight inflammation can also help manage symptoms. If you believe dairy may be triggering eczema flare-ups, have a conversation with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Foods from the dairy group provide many important nutrients. Because restricting food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies, most experts do not recommend removing dairy from diets unless an allergy or intolerance exists. In fact, fermented dairy is rich in probiotics and may actually help improve symptoms of eczema.

If you believe dairy is the cause of your flare-ups, it's important to consult with your healthcare provider who can determine if food allergy testing or an elimination diet is appropriate.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does milk trigger eczema?

    Some experts believe that dairy and milk products may cause inflammation in certain people, which can make them more prone to an eczema flare.

  • How do you treat your baby’s eczema?

    Making sure your baby stays moisturized and gets a warm bath every day can help reduce dry skin and itching. Your healthcare provider may also recommend topical steroid creams or medical moisturizers to treat eczema.

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