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Introducing you to the whole food plant-based diet: How can it help reverse eczema

A plant-based diet alone doesn’t denote a healthy diet. But choosing the right options might be a huge relief to your eczema condition.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

To date, there isn’t a universal definition of a ‘plant-based diet’. Yet, they all share a common feature – consuming foods primarily from plants and reducing intake of animal products. The proportion of plant-based foods you consume depends on the type of plant-based diet that you follow.

A list of common plant-based diets and what they look like.

Whole food VS Refined/Processed food

A plant-based diet alone doesn’t denote a healthy diet. Give this question a thought – are French fries and potato chips healthy options? Perhaps not. Although both are derived from potatoes and are plant sources, they undergo deep-frying procedures and are likely to be added with flavourings and artificial chemicals. Instead, we should aim for whole foods that are minimally processed or refined and are free from artificial substances and additives.

How can a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet help with Eczema?

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin disease and one of the potential triggers of inflammation is red meat intake, for instance, beef and pork. Research has shown that high consumption of red meat is significantly associated with higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress markers. On the contrary, plant-based proteins like soy, legumes and pulses contain phytonutrients and healthy fats which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Vegetables and fruits are rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants and play a significant role in dampening inflammatory responses. Nut and seeds also contain healthy fats like omega-3 which are rich antioxidant sources.

Refined carbohydrates and added sugar can easily elevate blood glucose levels, which in turn leads to increased production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Consuming whole grains which are minimally processed and are high in fibre content can reduce the occurrence of inflammation. Moreover, processed foods are usually high in additives and food chemicals which could be triggering for eczema patients.

What is the evidence behind this agenda?

Refined carbohydrates and added sugar can easily elevate blood glucose levels, which in turn leads to increased production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Consuming whole grains which are minimally processed and are high in fibre content can reduce the occurrence of inflammation. Moreover, processed foods are usually high in additives and food chemicals which could be triggering for eczema patients.

Data from 169 participants showed that removing foods like white flour products, junk foods, alcohol and dairy led to complete clearance or improvement of atopic dermatitis.

In a study, 20 patients suffering from atopic dermatitis followed a vegetarian diet for 2 months. Throughout this period, there is a significant reduction in the severity of all skin symptoms and also the activity of specific inflammation markers.

Another study investigated on patient-reported outcomes after making certain dietary modifications. Data from 169 participants showed that removing foods like white flour products, junk foods, alcohol and dairy led to complete clearance or improvement of atopic dermatitis. On the other hand, the addition of vegetables, fruits and organic food contributed to positive responses in alleviating symptoms of atopic dermatitis.

Due to the lack of research in this area, we are unable to draw any solid conclusions regarding the effectiveness of plant-based diets in treating eczema. However, evidence has suggested that consuming more vegetables and fruits while reducing intake of animal products and processed foods could potentially lead to the relief of symptoms among eczema patients.

Therefore, a whole food plant-based diet is worth trying and it can also bring you other health benefits that could help to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

TIPS FOR ACTION

  1. Everyone is different, especially for eczema patients who may be allergic or intolerant to specific foods. Be aware of your individual needs.
  2. You do not need to be 100% whole food plant-based to experience relief of symptoms. Choose the dietary pattern that suits you best and you feel the most comfortable with.
  3. Start with small and achievable steps. e.g. reduce red meat intake for one meal per week then gradually increase the frequency of meat reduction according to your own pace.
  4. Replace the food item(s) that you have decided to stop eating with healthy alternatives to ensure that you are still getting the nutrients needed.
  5. If you have other health conditions or you are unsure about how to make these changes, consult a healthcare professional for more personalized advice.

References

  • Chai, W et al. (2017). Dietary Red and Processed Meat Intake and Markers of Adiposity and Inflammation: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 36(5), 378-385.
  • Harasym, J & Oledzki, R. (2014). Effect of fruit and vegetable antioxidants on total antioxidant capacity of blood plasma. Nutrition, 30(5), 511-517.
  • Montonen, J et al. (2013). Consumption of red meat and whole-grain bread in relation to biomarkers of obesity, inflammation, glucose metabolism and oxidative stress. European Journal of Nutrition, 52(1), 337-345.
  • Nosrati, A et al. (2017). Dietary modifications in atopic dermatitis: patient-reported outcomes. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 28(6), 523-538.
  • O’Keefe, J.H et al. (2008). Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51(3).
  • Peng, W & Novak, N (2015). Pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, (45), 566-574.
  • Ricker, M.A & Haas, W.C. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory Diet in Clinical Practice: A Review. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 32(3), 318-325.
  • Tanaka, T et al. (2001). Vegetarian diet ameliorates symptoms of atopic dermatitis through reduction of the number of peripheral eosinophils and of PGE2 synthesis by monocytes. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science, 20(6), 353-361.
  • Williams, K.A & Patel, A. (2017). Healthy Plant-Based Diet: What Does it Really Mean?, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(4).

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