Living with eczema can be incredibly difficult not just for those who suffer from it, but also for their family members. Eczema itself stems from the Greek word that means ‘to boil over’ and those who suffer from the condition will tell you that it is a very accurate description. Eczema causes itchy, inflamed, red patches during flare-ups, which can be mild, moderate, or severe. The medical term for eczema is ‘atopic dermatitis’, which is also the condition’s most severe form.
What Causes Eczema?
If a body is healthy, it produces a skin barrier made from natural oils that keep the acidity level of the skin between a pH of 4.5 and 6, which is slightly acidic. If it is at the optimum level, which is pH 5.5, it also leaves the skin feeling soft. The most important role of these oils is that they help to fight various bacteria. If these oils cannot be produced, however, the skin barrier becomes damaged because it is too dry. This means it is more likely to catch infections. Additionally, the body’s immune system also plays a role in people who suffer from eczema, in as such that it often overreacts to very common products and substances, leading to inflammation and further skin damage.
Scientific research on eczema are ongoing and it is still not entirely clear why some people struggle to produce these essential oils. It is believed that the enzyme D6D (delta-6-dehydrogenase) is the most important. When we consume linoleic acid, which is found in various dietary fats, D6D converts it into GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which is the fatty acid that is essential to having a healthy skin. People with eczema (and, interestingly, people with diabetes), often have malfunctioning D6D. In most cases, they also have deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals required to produce D6D. As a result, most people with this skin disorder are advised to supplement their vitamin and mineral levels.
Research on Eczema and Vitamin D
What is known about eczema is that it is an inflammatory skin disorder and that it is chronic. Many people suffer from it during the winter, which is believed to be due to the fact that people have less sun exposure during this time. Studies have tested this hypothesis and found that people who supplemented with vitamin D had significantly less uncomfortable symptoms normally associated with eczema.
It is not known how many people find their eczema to worsen during winter, although it is believed to be at least half. This means it is a significant group of people and they are known to have low levels of vitamin D. Taking a supplement daily, which is safe, affordable and widely available, has been proven to be incredibly beneficial.
It is also very common for people with eczema to receive controlled ultraviolet light treatment. This treatment stimulates the body to produced more vitamin D. The conclusion of the most recent piece of research is that people who have a vitamin D deficiency are also more likely to have more significant eczema flare-ups in winter time.
In one study, some 107 children between the ages of 2 and 17 were tested in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. This piece of research was commissioned by the Health Sciences University of Mongolia. Each of the 107 participants suffered from atopic dermatitis, and each noticed that their symptoms were at their worst during the fall to winter transitions. The children were divided into groups, with one group receiving 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, and the other group received a placebo.
The symptoms of all children were evaluated at the start of the study, and the evaluation was repeated after one month, at the end of the study. Parents of the children were also involved and they were asked whether or not they had noticed any improvement in their children’s condition. At the end of the study, it was found that children in the vitamin D group saw a 29% improvement. The children who took a placebo noticed just a 16% improvement.
Unfortunately, the study was inconclusive. This is because no tests were carried out at the start of the study to determine whether or not a vitamin D deficiency was present in any of those children. Researchers said that this was unnecessary, since it is already known that 98% of children in Mongolia have the deficiency. However, this does mean that the study will need to be extensively peer reviewed, particularly in order to determine causality.
More studies are clearly required in order to be able to conclusively say that vitamin D can help sufferers of eczema. However, the conclusion of the study was that people who suffer more significant flare-ups during winter months should take a vitamin D supplement for a few weeks. If their condition improves, they can continue to take them. The advice is that parents of children with eczema discuss this as an option with their general physician.
Eczema and Vitamin D
The problem with eczema is that it is not entirely clear what causes it. It is most common in young children and infants although, in some cases, it does also present in adults. Scientists believe that both the environment and genes play a part in causing the disorder. It is also known that their skin barriers do not work properly, and that they have a weakened immune system.
Additionally, it is known that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a number of significant skin disorders. Some research have also pointed to the fact that people who have both eczema and low vitamin D levels are more likely to experience skin infections.
Whether or not vitamin D is an effective treatment has not been determined yet. It is also unclear whether a supplement is needed, or whether people could simply benefit from more sun exposure. However, since it is believed that the vast majority of adults and children in the developed world have too little vitamin D in their system, the reality is that it certainly will not worsen the condition. As such, it is now quite common for physicians to encourage their patients with eczema to take a supplement. At the same time, it is very important that people understand that vitamin D is not meant as a replacement for any other eczema medication they have been prescribed.
Resources and References:
Vitamin D in Atopic Dermatitis, Asthma and Allergic Diseases – Role of vitamin D in atopic dermatitis, asthma and allergic diseases. (NIH.gov)
Living with Eczema Advice for people with eczema. – (National Eczema Association)
Eczema – General information on eczema. (Vitamin D Council)
Correlation Between Serum 25-Hydroyxvitamin D Levels and Severity of Atopic Dermatitis in Children – Relationship between vitamin D and atopic dermatitis in children. – (Medscape.com)