Are you suffering from itchy skin? 

Is itchy skin getting you down? Let’s face it, everybody itches and we all scratch for different reasons.  For instance, whether it’s  bug bites, rashes, allergic reactions, or that chunky wool sweater Grandma gave us last Christmas, we all itch.  Above all, there are many different triggers that cause these annoying irritations. Subsequently, in this post we explore whether there is a connection between itchy skin and food.

Some common triggers include:

  • Irritants such as soaps and detergents, including shampoo, washing up liquid, and bubble bath
  • Environmental factors and allergens, such as cold and dry weather, dampness, and such as house dust mites, pet fur, pollen, grasses, and moulds
  • Food allergies and intolerances to cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, soya, wheat (gluten), citrus, food additives, shellfish, and seafood.
  • Certain materials worn next to the skin such as wool and synthetic fabrics

Firstly, our bodies respond to these triggers because they are filled with nerves. These ‘itching’ nerves are activated during times of an allergic reaction where our bodies release a protein called histamine. After that, this information is transferred to the brain via the spinal cord.  The main purpose of a histamine caused inflammation on the skin is to help the body fight infections (for example, from bites or abrasions).  Critically, multiple areas of the brain, including those that control emotional, sensory and motivational patterns, are activated by the itch sensation.  In addition, the antihistamines the body products are designed to block the protein from telling the brain about the itch. In turn, this helps us to stop scratching. For millions of people around the world living with itchy skin conditions, this constant itching can be debilitating.

Getting the right treatment

The frustration of watching a loved one suffering from itchy skin can be hard and we seek help.   For instance, we usually seek the advice of our doctor who will recommend a given topical lotion (often steroids) to apply to the affected skin. Unfortunately, often the root cause, or potential triggers for the itchy skin are never discussed as part of the diagnosis. As a result, the symptoms are treated in isolation.  At worst, the symptoms are attributed to a viral illness. Or, a genetic predisposition for itchy skin like eczema.  And at times, can be passed off as something that you will grow out of, or symptomatic of getting older.

Therefore, the result of misdiagnosis, is that the topical cream prescribed only provides at best temporary relief for a few weeks, or months.  Only for people to have their pre-existing condition such as eczema flare up again, thereafter. The common misunderstanding many people have is the cream has stopped working.  Subsequently, they then switch to another product only to have the cycle repeat. What they are unaware of is, that there could be a trigger in their home or work environment that is the root cause of their skin condition flaring up.  However, without any awareness of triggers (beloved family pet, washing powder, or a favourite pasta dish) their skin condition continues to be aggravated.

One of the most common triggers for itchy skin is food.  However, generally this is a link that is not routinely made with skin disorders.   In other words, could the food you eat be making you itchy?

You are what you eat

Everyone has heard this old adage, you are what you eat.   However, never before has this statement been truer than today. Over the last 50 years, we have seen a significant rise in food intolerances, disease, allergies, and behavioural disorders. Above all, many of which have been linked to food and poor dietary choices. Therefore, it’s largely thought these changes are largely environmental.  Mostly, arising from increased pollution, chemicals in water, insecticides, heavy metals, toxic cleaning products, and refined foods, preservatives, and colourings. None of which were not present in our grandparents generation, for instance.  The reality, is these environmental factors have compromised our food eco-system (soil, water, genetically modified seeds etc.).  Similarly, the consequences, are that in addition to the introduction of processed foods, the quality of the foods we eat have seriously been impacted.

What are food allergy or food intolerance symptoms?

The symptoms of food allergies and intolerances are wide and varied. Especially, because people can have different reactions based on their genetic, biochemical, and metabolic make up. For example, two members of a family may have a common allergy to shellfish.  However, each person will have an individual response to the trigger food.

Dr Rodney Ford, a pediatric gastroenterologist and allergist consultant internationally recognised as an expert on adverse food reactions, has complied a “Big List”.  If you recognise any of these symptoms, he suggests that you could have a food allergy or intolerance.

The “Big List” includes skin, respiratory, gut and brain symptoms

Skin: 

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy Skin
  • Rashes
  • Eczema
  • Dermatitis
  • Hives, Welts

Gut/ Bowel/Intestine/ Growth:

  • Constipation
  • Tummy pain
  • Refusal to eat foods
  • Problems around the mouth

Brain:

  • Tired, lethargic, grumpy
  • Irritability
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Poor concentration
  • Muscle weakness
  • Behaviour disturbances

Respiratory:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Ear troubles

Therefore, these are the first foods to consider first.  However, other food allergens that can cause a reaction are food additives, preservatives and colourings.

It is worth highlighting that specific allergies do tend to run in families.  For instance, detailed research by the British Skin Foundation shows that if one parent suffers from hayfever or pollen allergies.  In other words, the likelihood, is their children have a 20% risk of developing the same allergies, or a variation.

The importance of diet when treating skin conditions

Changing your diet can make a significant difference to your overall health. It helps the liver function properly, and if you eat alkalising foods, you can reduce the acidity in your body. In turn, this  can help control your itchy skin conditions. No matter what food belief system you subscribe to, whether it be meat and potatoes, vegetarian, or Paleo  for example. It’s a good idea to remove some common food allergens from your diet.  Specifically, when you’re dealing with skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.

Common Food Allergens:

  • Gluten
  • Wheat
  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanut
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Seafood
  • Shellfish

These are the first foods to consider. In addition, other food allergens that can cause a reaction are food additives, preservatives and colourings.

It’s important to outline that allergies tend to run in families.  Research by the British Skin Foundation suggests that if one parent suffers from hayfever or pollen allergies, their children have a 20% risk of developing the same allergies, or a variation.

Reliable diagnosis of food allergy or food intolerance is important

If you are one of the millions of people living with dry, flaky, itchy skin. Resulting in broken skin which sometimes bleeds from relentless scratching.  Then you have struggled long enough. The time has come to get answers.  More importantly, to see if your skin condition, or any ongoing health symptoms, are bought on by food allergies or food intolerances.

Your doctor or allergen specialist can help to narrow down the list of suspected food allergies and food intolerances.  This is done by doing skin-prick allergen tests and blood tests to confirm or exclude specific food triggers. Once identified, the elimination of these foods from the diet can help confirm these foods as culprits. It’s important that any child or adult who has food allergies, who may need a restrictive diet, are under the on-going care of a health professional.  Where appropriate nutritional training on food, probiotics, and multi-vitamin-mineral supplements have been undertaken.

What changes are you going to make to the foods you eat today, so you can stop being itchy?

More information on allergy tests is available on the Australian Society Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website.  They are the professional body of clinical immunology and allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand.

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