By Dr. Mercola
Beneficial bacteria such as those found in fermented foods and probiotics thrive in your intestines to perform a magnificent symbiotic relationship with you, improving not only your overall health but even your skin.
Signals from these gut microorganisms are known to interact with organisms on your skin and research suggests these interactions, or another unknown probiotic-skin connection, can help with skin conditions, including eczema.
Beneficial Bacteria Halve Infants' Eczema Risk
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is very common in infants and young children. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, it affects between 10 percent and 20 percent of all infants, resulting in red, itchy patches or rash on the skin (eczema is often known as "the itch that rashes," meaning there's really no rash until you start scratching the itchy area).
Eczema is more than just a skin problem, however, as it is an indication that there is a problem with your immune system. In fact, eczema is said to be one of the first signs of allergy during the first days of life, and about three out of four children with eczema later go on to develop asthma or hay fever.
What does this have to do with the beneficial bacteria in your gut?
Most people, including many physicians, do not realize that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive tract, making a healthy gut a major focal point in your efforts to achieve optimal health. In fact, the root of many health problems is related to an imbalance of intestinal bacteria.
You may be surprised to learn that the bacteria in your gut outnumber the cells in your body by a factor of ten to one — you have approximately 100 trillion bacteria living in your GI tract, comprised of as many as 500 different species and 7,000 different strains. Collectively, each of us carries around several pounds of bacteria inside us!
The beneficial bacteria in your gut has actually been found to help prevent allergies by training your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens and respond appropriately – and this may be one reason why they also appear so beneficial for eczema.
According to the latest research, a review of 21 studies that included 11,000 participants, in children at risk for developing eczema, supplementing with a type of beneficial bacterial called Lactobacillus rhapsodic GG or Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain HN001 cut kids' risk of developing eczema in half compared to those taking a placebo.1 Children that took other various mixtures of probiotics also had their risk of eczema at least halved.
Please note that this does not mean that this strain of beneficial bacteria is the only one that provides the benefit. It happens to be the one that was studied. These studies are not free and someone has to pay for them. But it is likely that most beneficial bacteria, especially lactobacillus strains, provide similar benefits.
A Simple Way to Lower Your Child's Risk of Eczema
That probiotics are beneficial for preventing eczema in infants is not a new finding, but rather one that I've been reporting on since at least 2001, when researchers also found infants receiving probiotics supplements were half as likely to develop the skin condition.2
In 2008, another found that children with only a limited variety of bacteria in their intestines one week after birth were more likely to developed eczema by the age of 18 months.3 Still more research published in 2009 also found that daily supplements of probiotic foods may reduce the risk of eczema in children by 58 percent.4
It's thought that one reason giving an infant probiotics helps to stave off eczema and other allergic diseases is by beneficially altering the early colonization of bacteria in their gut, which may help the child's immune system to develop and mature. At birth the human gastrointestinal tract is sterile, but in the first days, months and years of life a rapid colonization of bacteria occurs until a stable indigenous gut microflora is established.
Babies that are given the best start nutritionally by being breastfed (the major source of your immune-building good bacteria following their initial implantation through the birth canal) also tend to have intestinal microflora in which beneficial bacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria. So, the best way you can encourage your newborn's gut health to flourish is by breastfeeding.
The most benefit from probiotics, at least in terms of eczema, may happen very early in life. After three months of life, the 2009 study above found no difference in the incidence or severity of eczema between groups given probiotics or a placebo, noting that the preventive effect appeared to be established within the first 3 months of life, although it appeared to be sustained during the firs two years.
What this means is it is essential that your baby to receive plenty of beneficial bacteria in the first few months of life and continuing through childhood and adulthood.