Dietary Approaches to Eczema

Mary Roe was a medical ward sister in the 1970s but she now works as a food intolerance tester and advisor. Over the past 2 years she has kept a record of how the dietary manipulation she has advised has benefited her eczema clients.

I was a medical ward sister in the seventies, but for the last 20 years I have been learning about food intolerances and, for the last 10, have been working as a food intolerance tester and advisor. I see many clients who have eczema and over the past two years I have been compiling a study into how much I help my clients. These are my results for 56 eczema sufferers seen over a six month period:

• 20% of clients have completely clear skin when following the dietary advice I gave them.
• 45% of clients see a very good improvement in their skin.
• Another 9% see a moderate improvement, enough to continue following my advice.
• 2% do not manage to do the diet.
• 20% do not reply to my questionnaire.

This means that 74% of clients stick to my suggestions because their skin gets better. And these are all people who have been to their GP, many have seen a skin specialist and many have tried Chinese medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture or kinesiology, all without success.

Vega Machines

I use a combination of a Vega machine test and very detailed questions about their eating habits to identify clients’ intolerances. Although widely used, the Vega machine has had a bad press and is regarded as worse than useless by many doctors. Studies* done on the machine as a diagnostic tool for allergy have not been encouraging, but trials have not been carried out on the machine as a way of diagnosing food intolerance which is where I feel its major use lies. Moreover, many Vega practitioners have only done a weekend course in which the practical tuition and practice time is only a few hours. The results they get when they try to use the machines are worse than meaningless and only bring its reputation into further disrepute. This is unfortunate and unhelpful as, used properly, I feel that the Vega machine is a valuable tool in the treatment of food intolerance.

* 1. Lewith GT, Kenyon JN, Broomfield J, et al. Is electrodermal testing as effective as skin prick tests for diagnosing allergies? A double blind, randomised block design study. BMJ. 2001;322:131-134. 2. Semizzi M, Senna G, Crivellaro M, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the diagnostic accuracy of an electrodermal test in allergic subjects. Clin Exp Allergy. 2002;32:928-932. 3. Krop J, Lewith GT, Gziut W, A double blind, randomized, controlled investigation of electrodermal testing in the diagnosis of allergies. J Altern Complement Med. 1997;3:241-248.

My Approach

I read everything I can from as many and as varied publications as I can find and am constantly open to client feedback.

I question and assess client’s eating habits very carefully as a person’s symptoms will not be relieved if they are still eating or drinking something to which they are intolerant.

I routinely test foods that other vega testers and kinesiologists do not - e.g. malt (in some bread and nearly all breakfast cereals), peppermint (in Polos and Trebor mints), peppermint flavouring (in chewing gum), hydrolysed vegetable protein (in stock cubes and some gravies), aspartame, cranberry and anything unusual that a person eats or drinks regularly several times a day. The Vega test kit does not include these foods.

Why Doctors Don't Believe in Food Intolerance

1. It is not in their training. Most doctors are unwilling to look at alternatives and are unwilling, understandably, to recommend something they know nothing about.
2. Very few conventionally trained doctors are willing to accept any medical phenomenon which has not been confirmed by a series of double blind placebo controlled trials.
3. They do not realise that there is a difference between food intolerance and allergy.
4. Because allergies remain fixed, doctors find it hard to understand that intolerances can change, and are influenced by other factors e.g. hormone fluctuations, stress, fatigue etc
5. When doctors/dietitians do suggest an exclusion diet they are often outdated in the foods they suggest. In the last 2 years I have not found one client with eczema who has reacted to wheat, and yet most articles that I read will suggest wheat as the most probable ‘intolerant’ food.

Some of the Patterns I have noticed with Food Intolerance

1. Food intolerance
Food appears to play a similar role for both adults and children. 95% react to cow's milk products, 10% to yeast, tea or coffee especially if drunk 4 or more times a day, and many to their favourite fruit, juice or squash, especially if eaten or drunk more than twice daily.
Children who only drink apple juice, or ribena are typical. 40% of children react to aspartame.
Problem foods are likely to be frequent foods and could be something unsuspected e.g. cranberry, peppermint, Ribena etc

2. Reaction to products
99% of my clients were reacting to washing products, even non-bio, and even the product which is recommended by the National Eczema Society (Persil non-bio). All were reacting to fabric conditioners.
My recommendation to use ‘Surcare’ (washing liquid) and NO fabric conditioners resulted in a marked improvement in the condition of their skin.
Many people, both adults and children, have NEVER been advised that soap, bubble baths etc could exacerbate their condition. I can use my Vega machine to test any product that the sufferer uses.

3. Zinc deficiency
90% of clients were zinc deficient. Zinc is needed to maintain a healthy skin. When zinc levels are normal, the person’s skin is far less likely to break down. A zinc supplement helps considerably.

4. Stress
If the above causes are dealt with, the normal stresses of life can be coped with without a bad skin reaction.

My Eczema 'Treatment' Protocols

1. A TEMPORARY strict exclusion diet.
• Avoid cows milk products - I suggest alternatives. About 5% of my clients also have intolerance to other animal milks.
• Question and assess carefully what other foods the person eats regularly, either by habit or preference. If they regularly eat or drink anything (sweeteners, diet or sugar free drinks, tea, coffee, peppermints or chewing gums) 3 or more times daily, stop that too.
• Mothers of breast fed babies should adjust their diet as well. Mothers of formula fed babies should daily alternate Nanny Goat formula (0800 328 5826 and a soya based formula milk.
• Do diet for at least one month, preferably three. Carry on using
alternative milks long term to prevent redeveloping the intolerance. Try out food at 4 day intervals to see if any reaction occurs. If no reaction you are free to have a treat once every 4 days, and after 3 months maybe daily.

2. Products
• Stop using all normal washing powders liquids etc even non-bio.
• Wash EVERYTHING in Surcare, obtainable from large supermarkets.
• Use NO fabric conditioners including Surcare.
• Stop using bubble baths and soaps.
• If eczema is on scalp or hands use Simple shampoo, and/or Surcare
washing up liquid. Use cotton lined rubber gloves when necessary.

3. Zinc Supplementation
• For older children and adults suggest they take a lactose free zinc
supplement. (Large man 30 mg daily evenings with food; women and over 12's 15 mg daily evenings with food.)

A Few Other Tips/Notes You Might Find Useful

• Families
My experience is that eczema runs in families with any allergic or intolerant history (headache, migraine, IBS, arthritis, catarrh, glue ear) not just asthma, eczema, hay fever.

• Food Intolerance and Age
I do not find that food intolerance resolves with age. Eczema may change to other symptoms (children grow out of eczema but grow into another manifestation of food intolerance - headache, migraine, IBS etc).
There are many people who have a history of food intolerance throughout their life. Food intolerance only resolves when the person avoids the food strictly and then is careful not to have it too much in the future.

• Exclusion Diets
Many people are concerned about exclusion diets - both the nutritional and the psycho social consequences. However there are a wealth of alternative nutritious foods which can be substituted for dairy or any of the other foods you may be excluding.
I would have thought that the psycho social consequences of visible eczema are a good deal more severe than a change of food for a few months. Thereafter a child can eat normally in public as long as at home they do not have too many of their problem foods.

• Long Term Skin Sensitivity
Many of my clients, having given their skin a rest from products and food, find their skin sensitivity much reduced. Perceived wisdom suggests that some clothing fibres can be very irritating to the skin but I find that use of Surcare and avoidance of fabric conditioners enables many people to wear previously impossible fabrics without exacerbating their eczema.

• House Dust Mites
Many of my clients are convinced that they have a problem with house dust mite. At the moment I give no advice about house dust mite and still help many people. Perhaps it's the fabric conditioner on the sheets and not the Teddy in the bed?

Mary Roe lives and works in Purley in Surrey.
You can find her at


First published 2004


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