It is thought that essential fatty acids (EFAs) play a role in the development of atopic disease. Linoleic acid (LA), part of the n-6 EFA series, is derived from food and subsequently converted into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and longer-chain polyenes (LCPs) such as dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and arachidonic acid (AA). Although LCPs of the n-3 EFA series can be derived from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the major source of n-3 LCPs is food.
Studies have found higher concentrations of LA and lower concentrations of LCPs in the blood of patients with atopic dermatitis (eczema). Additionally, newborns with a family history of atopic disease have been found to have lower concentrations of n-6 LCP in umbilical cord blood prior to developing atopic disease (AD).
Researchers suggest that this may be due to a reduced conversion of LA into GLA and subsequent LCPs, possibly as a result of impaired activity of the enzyme linoleoyl-CoA desaturase (delta6-desaturase).
Further, other studies showed that breast milk from mothers whose infants subsequently developed AD contained less n-6 LCP than milk from mothers of unaffected infants. Recently, some brands of infant formula are being enriched with LCPs, such as GLA. Prior to this, infant formulas, unlike breast milk, contained only LA and ALA as EFAs.
Several studies have looked at whether GLA supplementation in patients with AD could reduce the severity of existing eczema, however results have been inconsistent.
An additional study has found a possible role of GLA in the prevention of atopy in early life. Researchers based their suggestion on several observations: mothers of atopic infants have lower concentrations of n-6 LCP in their breast milk than mothers of non-atopic infants; the amount of EFAs in newborns is dependent on their supply while in utero and later on diet of either breast milk or infant formula; and infants who have atopic symptoms at 1 year of age have significantly lower mean concentrations of n-6 LCPs in umbilical cord blood and in serum at 1 months and 3 months of age than infants with no atopic symptoms.
Moreover, prostaglandins derived from n-6 LCPs are thought to play a role in the maturation of the immune system.
Since the conversion of LA to GLA is thought to affect the rate of the total chain of conversions, supplementation with GLA in infancy might compensate for the lower n-6 LCP concentrations and therefore prevent atopy or decrease its severity in infants, especially if the mother is predisposed to AD.
Among four trials, which investigated whether GLA supplementation protects against the development of atopy in formula-fed infants with atopic mothers, one showed that GLA supplementation reduced the severity of eczema compared with a placebo.
According to researchers, the results show an effect of GLA on the severity of AD, which indicates that GLA supplementation has a beneficial effect on the inflammatory component of AD.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition April, 2003;77(4):943-51 (Free Full Text Article)
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a very common problem in children, and it is all too frequently mismanaged.
The reason it is so common is that most children are far removed from consuming an optimal diet. This generally extends to the parents and the breastfeeding mother.
One of the first things that can be done if the child is breastfeeding is to have the mother switch from pasteurized milk to real, raw milk. Pasteurized milk is damaged and can easily contribute to major immune and skin dysfunctions in the breastfed child. You can read the links below for further information on the dangers of pasteurized milk.
Next it will be helpful for the breast-feeding mother to stop all gluten products. Gluten is frequently a major contributing factor to these types of skin rashes. If the child is eating foods, then all grains should be avoided. I expand on the reasons for this in Chapter 2 of my book, Total Health.
Ideally, the infant should be breastfed. If he/she is on formula, all soy formula needs to be stopped immediately. Most commercial infant formula is close to junk and should also be stopped. If breastfeeding is not an option, you can use raw milk to produce a healthy infant formula.
I can't tell you how many patient's mysterious rashes, including eczema, have disappeared entirely after removing ALL wheat from their diet. Many people have hidden gluten sensitivities that frequently results in skin rashes, so if you struggle with eczema and do not recieve improvement from stopping pasteurized milk, excluding wheat clearly should be next on your list.
After the milk and grain issues are addressed, you can modulate the mediators of inflammation, prostaglandins, by providing the correct substrates for their formation.
This means providing beneficial omega-3 fats in the form of krill oil.
Exposure to sunlight on the affected skin is also frequently of benefit.
Often, the above combination is fabulously successful for eliminating eczema. I have seen quite a few children who suffered from bleeding rashes from head to foot and had been to the top pediatric university dermatologists in Chicago. I don't believe there is one child that we have not been able to help with this problem.
They all seem to respond amazingly well to the above protocol.