Have you noticed a link between sugary snacks and itchy nights? Did you know that high glucose levels in your blood can have a dramatic and unwelcome affect on your skin? Find out why cutting out sugar completely can help as part of a holistic skin maintenance regime, as we explore the connection between sugar and eczema.
A sugar-free diet won’t cure eczema, but it could make things a lot more manageable!
The Holistic Approach
Eczema is a condition you’re born with and not something you can entirely cure, but effective management strategies make a big difference. That’s because although they affect the surface of the body, frequent breakouts of itchy, sore, red or scaly skin are a sign that something is wrong on a much deeper level. However much emollient you use, however strong the steroids, anything you put on your skin is only going to be tackling the symptoms, not the root causes of eczema. This is why, along with our natural emollients, Purepotions recommends a holistic approach to managing eczema.
What Causes Eczema?
Fundamentally, eczema is all about an imbalance in the immune system. The immune system is your defence mechanism, there to protect and heal the body when it’s in danger from injury or under attack from viruses or bacteria; it reacts by sending out histamine and other chemicals, increasing blood flow to the area as it rushes to protect and mend the damage.
In the case of eczema, an imbalance in the way your immune system works means your body is over-reacting as it tries to protect you. The immune system alarm bells are set off ringing at full volume, even when the body is not genuinely in danger.
The resulting inflammation causes the red, swollen and maddeningly itchy areas that anyone with eczema knows so well.
What Does That Have To Do With Sugar?
Sugar affects your skin in three significant ways:
It Spikes Insulin: high levels of sugar cause insulin spikes and those can trigger an inflammatory immune-system response just like cat hair or the synthetic perfume in your cosmetics. And while you might find you have an immediate reaction to sweets or sugary drinks that manifests itself as itchiness and redness, high amounts of sugar in your diet can also exacerbate chronic inflammation, meaning that the problem drags on long-term.
It Affects Gut Flora: a diet high in sugar knocks the healthy balance of flora in your gut out of whack, because it encourages the growth of harmful sugar-loving yeasts etc. That also reduces the absorption of the healthy nutrients your body needs and affects the efficiency of the immune system, so that the body struggles to respond appropriately to triggers, again leading to chronic inflammation.
- It AGEs Skin: the higher the glucose levels in the blood, the more the body produces substances called AGE (advanced glycation endproducts) which prevent the skin from repairing and regenerating itself as well as it could. This could mean that skin damage from scratching at eczema patches takes longer to heal, and that the skin barrier is less effective than it could be, letting in allergens and losing moisture, leading to - you guessed it! - yet more itchiness, dryness and cracked skin.
So What Can I Do About It?!
Cutting sugar down or out of your diet completely is not going to be easy in a world where everything, even things like soup and pasta sauces, seems to contain sugar, whether in the form of fructose, glucose or sucrose, all of which have similar effects on the body. However, knowing how badly sugar could be affecting your skin might be just the nudge you need to change your eating habits.
Here are some tips for the sugar-free life:
- Keep a lid on sugar consumption: the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends keeping your sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy intake but a further reduction to below 5% (or roughly 25g/6 tsp) per day would be even better if you’re trying to control your eczema.
- Check labels: sugar is everywhere, but there are often alternatives to brands which use less or no sugar.
- Ditch the processed food: it is very likely to contain sugar or be high in carbs, which convert to sugar! Try recipes from The Bootstrap Cook if you want to cook healthy food on a budget.
- Swap sugary snacks for healthier alternatives such as fruit, nuts, rice cakes, chopped veggies etc. If you’re really craving sweet things, eat something protein-based or try some very dark chocolate instead of pure sugar.
- Try not to rely on sweeteners: cutting out sugar works best when you’ve recalibrated your tastebuds so that you end up not needing food to taste so sweet. Artificial sweeteners, even though they don’t affect your body in the same way, make this process harder, as they actually encourage cravings! They may also trigger flare-up reactions in some eczema sufferers, so treat them with caution.
- Think ahead for Halloween and Christmas! If you’re going trick or treating with the kids, be prepared with fruit, savoury snacks or sugar-free sweets so they don’t felt left out of the fun.
- Keep on using the emollients: even if you cut sugar out of your diet, you’ll still need to look after your skin with a daily maintenance regime. Chose a nourishing, protective emollient (like Skin Salvation) and use it frequently, even when your skin isn’t in flare-up.