It is estimated that at any one time around 25% of the population has a skin problem that could benefit from medical care; skin conditions account for between 15 and 20% of a GP’s workload. One cause of itchy skin is eczema, a general term encompassing various inflamed skin conditions; there are more than 10 different types of eczema. Eczema is most prevalent in children, with 15-20% of children suffering. 38% of eczema sufferers are adults whose cases tend to be more severe and persistent. ‘Atopy’ is the term used for the tendency to develop eczema, asthma and/or hay fever. Atopic people have an overactive immune system and their skin easily becomes inflamed. Eczema is not contagious and, like many diseases, currently cannot be cured. However, for most patients the condition can be managed well with treatment and avoidance of triggers.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of an association between eczema and hidden food allergies, very few sufferers are tested for food sensitivity by their doctors. Tests for allergies are sometimes carried out but food intolerance, which is less easy to diagnose, is frequently overlooked. Diet plays a important role in the management of skin symptom flare-ups, however, it is difficult to determine which foods, or combinations of foods, are responsible for each individual’s condition. Everyone is unique with a different biochemical make-up to others with the same condition.
For those with eczema symptoms, acknowledging that certain food combinations can contribute, and then identifying and eliminating the specific foods from the diet, is an important step forward. The problem with attempting any dietary modification is that first you need to know what to change. Currently the best accepted method for confirming food sensitivities is by elimination diet which involves eating a restricted diet for several weeks. If there is no reduction in symptoms during this time, it is assumed that the food type that has been restricted is not the problem and the process is repeated with another food type. Using this method it is impossible to test all the different combinations of food types that may be causing the problems, it is a very ineffective process.
The most scientific approach that can be used to identify the different food types involved for each individual is a blood test that measures food-specific IgG antibodies. A recent study surveyed 183 eczema sufferers and found that a staggering 83% showed a significant reduction in their symptoms if they removed the foods from their diet that showed a positive reaction in the blood test. The fact that people saw their symptoms return on reintroduction of the foods identified by the food-specific IgG test supports the fact that this is an active and specific approach.
Dr. Gillian Hart is a Scientific Director for YorkTest Laboratories specialists in food intolerance testing. For more information on types of food intolerance and food intolerance symptoms visit www.yorktest.com.
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