Why healthy foods can be unhealthy for eczema: Th2 explained
This information may be the opposite of what many bloggers recommend for eczema. And it's a common mistake practitioners have been making for years when treating eczema and other types of skin inflammation.
In fact, I made some of these mistakes when I first became a health practitioner many years ago, mainly because the research I am discussing is new. Like all scientists, I'm willing to be wrong in order to get to the truth. But often we get stuck 'defending our herbal prescriptions' rather than changing them when the new research demands it.
As I'm a nutritionist specialising in eczema, I receive hundreds of emails from eczema sufferers and I've noticed this: eczema sufferers are confused and more itchy than ever because there is so much conflicting information available.
So I'm hoping to get the word out about eczema and my advice is this: stop following general health advice. Eczema is a special condition and you need special advice. This sums it up perfectly:
One man's medicine is another man's sleepless night itching!
Here is a sample of the information I will be teaching at my eczema workshops throughout the year, and it's a good start to understanding your eczema...
Eczema and your immune system: why teas and spices could be making you crazy itchy
While some ingredients such as turmeric and green tea are healthy, if you have a Th2 dominant condition such as eczema, they can actually worsen your skin. Let me explain...
What is Th2?
(A quick lesson on the immune system... it will be brief!)
In a healthy immune system, the two types of T-helper Cells (abbreviated to ‘Th’) are called Th1 and Th2.
Th1 and Th2 do several jobs:
- They recognise foreign nasties known as 'pathogens'
- They make hormonal 'messenger' proteins (called cytokines) which travel to the source of your inflammation
- They work together to create a balanced immune system.
Now this 'balance' can be likened to a seesaw, you want both Th1 and Th2 to work synergistically, and not have one type of T-helper cells take over and dominate on a long-term basis.
Eczema and Th2 research:
- Eczema sufferers are commonly born with a significant Th2 dominant immune system (Abrahamsson, 2011).
- Researchers have firmly established that people with eczema have a Th2 dominant immune system and suppressed Th1 responses, which contributes to developing food sensitivities and allergies (refer to the seesaw diagram, below). (Eyerich, 2013)
Are you Th2 or Th1 dominant?
Diseases are usually either Th1 dominant or Th2 dominant but some autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s, can switch from one to the other. Confusing I know! But if you have eczema this information is important.
In your body, Th2 cells deal with:
- and allergens
So they are the good guys if they are kept in balance. Th2 dominance means they can overreact to foods and your environment and that worsens your eczema (but it's not the whole story, as my book, The Eczema Diet, explains).
Th2 dominant health problems and diseases:
inflammatory bowel disease
Candida albicans infestation
Foods/beverages that worsen Th2: avoid these!
If you have a Th2-dominant disease such as eczema, the following foods can worsen inflammation as they stimulate Th2.
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Matcha tea
- Iced tea
- Curcumin (from turmeric)
- Pine bark
- Lycopene (from tomato)
- Resveratrol (from grapes, red wine, peanuts, cocoa and cacao)
- Willow bark (salicylates)
- Olive leaf extract (increases Th2) (ref)
While some of the above ingredients are perceived as healthy and can be fine for people who are not Th2 dominant, if you have a Th2 dominant condition such as eczema, avoid these ingredients as a part of your recovery.
Why turmeric and green tea can make you itch
While the health benefits of green tea is well documented, it can mess with your immune system if you have eczema, as it stimulates your Th2 immune system, which is already over-stimulated.
Research on turmeric extract (HSS-888) revealed it can increase Th2 immune responses and promote a shift from Th1 to Th2 immunity (Douglas Shytle, 2012; Ukil, 2003). So while turmeric might be good for Th1 dominant diseases, it might worsen an already elevated Th2 dominant condition such as eczema.
Turmeric is also very rich in a natural chemical called salicylates (a natural pesticide), which can worsen eczema in more than 52% of people with eczema (Loblay and Swain 2006).
Caffeine (avoid this)
Chocolate, coffee and regular black tea also worsen Th2 dominant disorders including eczema, as caffeine suppresses Th1 immune function.
Cacao, Matcha tea and some soft drinks also contain caffeine which could make you itchier than ever as they stimulate Th2 (which we want to calm down, not stimulate).
Olive leaf extract (avoid this)
In animal studies, olive leaf extract significantly elevated Th2 immune system responses, so if you have eczema it may be risky to consume olive leaf extract (Park, 2013). Olive oil may be a problem for the same reasons.
Vitamin E - the Th1 and Th2 balancer (try this!)
Vitamin E is the predominant antioxidant in human skin and it is essential for preventing skin inflammation for many reasons, most notably its balancing effect on the immune system.
Five surprising facts about vitamin E:
- Vitamin E balances Th1 and Th2, by improving Th1 responses in the body.
- Vitamin E's anti-inflammatory action decreases the allergy marker immunoglobulin E (IgE) in allergy sufferers, so it can decrease the severity of allergic reactions.
- Vitamin E inhibits the production and release of inflammation-making substances called prostaglandins (Tsoureli‐Nikita 2002).
- Vitamin E is believed to stabilize lysosomal membranes, potentially inhibiting events involved in autoimmune diseases (Ayres 1978).
- Vitamin E decreases inflammation in immune cells and inhibits lipoxygenase production, which is involved in eczema, psoriasis and other skin rashes. (Meydani, 1990)
(milligrams per day)
(avoid ‘dl’ varieties as they are artificial)
4 – 5 mg (6 – 7.5 IU) from breast milk or hypoallergenic (dairy-free) infant formula
Children + teens
1 – 4 yrs: 5 – 10 mg
5 –12 yrs: 7 – 20 mg
14 –18 yrs: 14 – 20 mg
14 – 60 mg
1 mg = 1.49 IU natural vitamin E
1 mg = 2.22 IU artificial vit. E
Carrot (moderate salicylates)
Asparagus (moderate salicylates)
Note vitamin E supplements are usually GMO soy-based!
Avoid soy based vitamin E (it won't be on the label so you will have to call your supplement manufacturer to find the truth, unless the label states "Non-GMO", "soy free".
Vitamin C (try this)
While vitamin E is brilliant for eczema, no nutrient works alone. Vitamin E works best when combined with several nutrients:
- Vitamin C has a positive vitamin E recycling effect in the body as vitamin C rejuvenates/revives vitamin E after it has been destroyed by oxidation.
- Beta-carotene is another antioxidant that helps to boost the protective action of vitamin E: as beta-carotene is more lipophilic than vitamin E it's able to access and protect inside your cell membranes (lipophilic means it dissolves better in fats). (ref: Niki, 1995).
- Vitamin A (beta-carotene) deficiency causes Th1 and Th2 dysfunction (Stephensen, 2004). The vitamin A deficiency prevents proper formation of Th1 cells, which can lead to Th2 dominance.
Vitamin A: which type is best?
While a vitamin A deficiency is one of the causes of Th2 dominance (and Th1 suppression), DO NOT take vitamin A (retinol) supplements as they can make your skin flake off in droves. I learnt this the hard way and my face peeled for a week when I briefly took a vitamin A oral supplement.
Avoid: retinol types of vitamin A
Fat-soluble, retinol forms of vitamin A dry out the skin and worsen eczema so avoid retinoic acid and other forms of vitamin A.
Favour: natural betacarotene
Instead, take natural beta-carotene as it is a safe way to boost your vitamin A levels. When buying supplements, look for words such as "natural beta-carotene" and "Dunaliella salina" - a natural microalgae best known as a source of natural beta-carotene.
What is Dunaliella salina?
To survive in a salty environment, Dunaliella salina makes high concentrations of beta-carotene to protect against the intense UV light. In a similar way, the antioxidant activity of beta-carotene from Dunaliella salina, when consumed on a daily basis, provides mild sun protection for your skin. This is an extra bonus if you have eczema.
Products for eczema and preventing Th2 dominance
Vitamin E, vitamin C and Dunaliella salina are only three of many nutrients which are essential to preventing eczema.
I'm not keen to spruke my products online - please use whatever you like to become 100% eczema-free and do your own research.
However, I am guessing you have probably tried every cream, probiotic and eczema drug and you still have eczema. I get hundreds of emails and messages on Facebook and Instagram) asking for my advice on eczema products. People tell me they have tried everything and have seen dozens of specialists, spent thousands of dollars and they are depressed and disheartened and still itchy.
So to save you time and money (as I am expensive to see in person), this is what I prescribe to my eczema patients and these are the products which featured in the "Breakthrough diet for eczema" story which aired on 7 News in Australia: Skin Friend and The Eczema Diet. (Again, my apologies for the promo. If you want to know more, please read on.)
Skin Friend contains vitamin C to balance the Th1 and Th2 immune system, plus a range of anti-inflammatory nutrients which work together to prevent nutritional deficiencies and improve liver health.
Skin Friend is not another skin cream. It's a vitamin and mineral supplement. It contains no herbs so Skin Friend is also safe for children to use (over age 1).
Skin Friend used to contain vitamin E however in Australia, you cannot get quality vitamin E supplements at all!
Below is our 7 News interview which aired in Australia this year. Note my patient Georgie Broos was interviewed and you'll see she added Skin Friend to her smoothie in the news video. If you would like to purchase the eczema products, the links are below and my eczema workshops will be online from February 2017.
Can Th2 dominance be reversed permanently?
Yes, I believe so but you have to look after your health. Fixing your immune system is not a passive event where you merely take a pill, then go back to drinking coffee, eating sugar and smoking cigarettes. You've got to eat good foods, and limit your vices!
Also ensure you don't have nutritional deficiencies - I am a big advocate of supplements as they are the fastest way to reverse nutritional deficiencies. Your skin needs vitamins and minerals and a simple deficiency such as vitamin A can affect your immune system.
Remember eczema is a unique skin condition so it needs specialised health advice. If you would like more information about my half day eczema workshops, you can email me via support (at) eczemalife.com.
Karen Fischer (Eczema Life Clinic)
Watch our 7 News video here:
At Eczema Life, we recommend nutritionist Karen Fischer's low food chemical program (The Eczema Detox) along with additive-free supplements for skin health and wellbeing. Click on the images to view more details:
Abrahamsson, T., Sandberg, M., Forsberg, A., Bjorksten, B. and Jenmalm, M., A., 2011, Th1/Th2-associated chemokine imbalance during infancy in children developing eczema, wheeze and sensitization.
Park, J.H., Jung, J.H., Yang, J.Y. and Kim, H.S., 2013. Olive leaf down-regulates the oxidative stress and immune dysregulation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. Nutrition research, 33(11), pp.942-951.
Han, S.N., Wu, D., Ha, W.K., Beharka, A., Smith, D.E., Bender, B.S. and Meydani, S.N., 2000. Vitamin E supplementation increases T helper 1 cytokine production in old mice infected with influenza virus. Immunology, 100(4), pp.487-493.
Niki, E., Noguchi, N., Tsuchihashi, H. and Gotoh, N., 1995. Interaction among vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 62(6), pp.1322S-1326S.
Stephensen, C.B., Jiang, X. and Freytag, T., 2004. Vitamin A deficiency increases the in vivo development of IL-10–positive Th2 cells and decreases development of Th1 cells in mice. The Journal of nutrition, 134(10), pp.2660-2666.
El-Baky, H.A., El-Baz, F.K. and El-Baroty, G.S., 2004. Production of antioxidant by the green alga Dunaliella salina. Int. J. Agric. Biol, 6(1), pp.1560-8530.
Xue, L.X., 1993. [Experimental study on extract of Dunaliella salina in preventing NSAR-induced cancer of proventriculus in mice]. Zhonghua yu fang yi xue za zhi [Chinese journal of preventive medicine], 27(6), pp.350-353.
Douglas Shytle, R., et.al, 2012. Optimized turmeric extract reduces β-Amyloid and phosphorylated Tau protein burden in Alzheimer’s transgenic mice. Current Alzheimer Research, 9(4), pp.500-506.
Ukil, A., Maity, S., Karmakar, S., Datta, N., Vedasiromoni, J.R. and Das, P.K., 2003. Curcumin, the major component of food flavour turmeric, reduces mucosal injury in trinitrobenzene sulphonic acid‐induced colitis. British journal of pharmacology, 139(2), pp.209-218.