Can Probiotics Help With Eczema?

Probiotic food sources

Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria being explored to ease eczema, a common disorder that results in red, swollen, and itchy skin. Naturally present in the human body, probiotics are also found in foods like yogurt, kefir, and certain fermented foods, and are available in dietary supplement form.

The use of probiotic supplements is purported to protect against immune dysfunction and reduce inflammation—two key factors in the development of eczema.

There are more than 400 different strains of probiotics. Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacteria are among the strains commonly used for eczema.

What the Research Says

So far, research on the use of probiotics in the treatment of eczema has yielded mixed results. While some research shows that probiotic supplements may help to lessen the severity of this condition, other studies indicate that they may be no more effective than a placebo.

For instance, a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology found that probiotics show some promise for the prevention and treatment of atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema. Looking at findings from 13 previously published clinical trials on probiotics and atopic dermatitis, the report's authors found that probiotics (especially Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) appear to be effective in preventing atopic dermatitis. But while about half of the reviewed trials showed that probiotics helped reduce the severity of symptoms, the majority of trials found that probiotics failed to reduce inflammation.

Another research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, however, found that probiotics were no more effective than a placebo when it came to reducing the severity of eczema symptoms. The review, which included 12 clinical trials with a total of 781 participants, also found that the use of probiotics "carries a small risk of adverse events," such as infections and bowel dysfunction.

Probiotics and Childhood Eczema Prevention

Eczema is common in babies and children, possibly due to the fact that their immune systems are still developing and therefore are more vulnerable to this condition.

While research on the use of probiotics as a treatment for childhood eczema is somewhat limited, the available studies have produced conflicting results. In a review published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, for example, scientists analyzed 19 clinical trials on the effectiveness of probiotics against atopic dermatitis in children and concluded that there is not enough evidence to support their use.

A study published in Pediatrics in 2017 examined the effect of probiotics on eczema, asthma, and rhinitis in high-risk infants. Newborns were given Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (a daily dose of 10 billion colony-forming units) for six months. The researchers found that early supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG did not prevent the development of eczema or asthma at the age of two.

However, there's some evidence that children whose mothers used probiotic supplements while pregnant may have a reduced risk for eczema. In a research review published in the British Journal of Nutrition, investigators looked at seven previously published clinical trials and found that the use of certain probiotics during pregnancy helped prevent eczema in children ages two to seven. The review's authors noted that, while lactobacilli bacteria appeared to protect against eczema, supplements containing a mixture of various probiotic strains did not affect eczema development.

Side Effects and Safety

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and, due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Contamination of probiotic supplements with bacteria, fungi, or other substances is also possible.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your healthcare provider before taking probiotics. Do not give probiotics to a baby or child without consulting your pediatrician first.

If you have a compromised immune system (due to a medical condition or medication), you should avoid probiotic supplements due to an increased risk of adverse effects. Probiotic supplements may interact with certain medications, such as immunosuppressants, so if you're considering using probiotic supplements in combination with other medications, it's important to seek medical advice prior to taking the supplements.

You can get tips on using supplements here, but keep in mind that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where to Find Probiotics

Probiotics are sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements. In addition, probiotics are found in cultured dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir. However, due to differences in processing methods, the number of live organisms may vary greatly from product to product.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chi, and miso also contain probiotics. Although probiotics in normal amounts in food are generally considered safe, some consumers may experience mild digestive problems, such as gas and bloating.

A Word From Verywell

More research needs to be conducted before probiotics can be recommended as a treatment for eczema. However, it's possible that increasing your intake of probiotic-rich foods may be of some benefit to your overall health.

If you're considering the use of probiotic supplements for the treatment of eczema (or any other chronic condition), make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

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