Probiotics, Linolenic Acid and Childhood Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis

Craig Kraffert, MD

Atopic dermatitis is the medical name for childhood eczema, a condition that is quite troublesome for many children. Also frequently called atopic eczema, this condition is in most cases best thought of as a tendency towards dry and sensitive skin during childhood. Over time, most children outgrow eczema. Though several remedies and interventions have been tried to help prevent or lessen its severity, they have yielded unclear or uncertain results.

Treatment of Childhood Eczema

As with many common medical disorders, there is more scientific information on the treatment of atopic eczema than on its prevention. Thorough, consistent lubrication and avoidance of external irritants have a beneficial impact on how well atopic eczema is controlled. Medical treatment, principally with topical corticosteroids, also helps control flares of atopic eczema. What is less clear is the possible role of dietary factors in preventing or lessening the development of these atopic tendencies in early life.

Probiotics and Prebiotics May Decrease Risk of Eczema

A recently published review in the January 2013 edition of the Archives of Dermatology has attempted to shed light on possible dietary factors that might decrease the chance of developing atopic eczema and, if the condition develops early in life, additional factors that might lessen its severity. The analysis of 21 scientifically sound published study reports (from 92 screened articles) relating to nutritional supplementation in children was completed by a group from UC Davis. Despite the extensive nature of this review, the conclusions it draws are far from certain.

The authors suggest that both probiotics and prebiotics taken by expectant mothers and newborn infants may decrease an infant’s risk of developing atopic eczema. Probiotics are live microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria that may confer a health benefit on the host. Prebiotics are non-digestible compound sugars that stimulate the growth of certain bacteria in the colon.

Based on the overall study data pool, it is possible (but not proven) that supplementing infants alone or infants and their mothers with the single probiotic Lrhamnosus GG or a mix of L acidophilus DDS-1 and B lactis UABLA-12 may help prevent the development of atopic eczema. Additionally, supplementation with the prebiotic gamma linolenic acid (GLA) may decrease the severity of atopic eczema in infants and children but does not prevent its development.

These findings on the possible effects of probiotics and prebiotics on atopic eczema development and severity may prove useful in certain limited settings. The more interesting (and humbling) findings of this new report are the inferred revelation based on the available facts of how little we understand about atopic eczema and whether or not it can be influenced by diet – either positively or negatively. Hopefully one day our knowledge of this subject will improve – but it will likely be quite some time from now.


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