Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria often used for the treatment of eczema. There are more than 400 different strains of probiotics, but Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacteria are two of the probiotic strains most commonly used for eczema treatment.
Naturally present in the human body, probiotics are also found in certain foods and available in dietary supplement form. Use of probiotic supplements is purported to protect against immune dysfunction and reduce inflammation (two key factors in the development of eczema).
The Science Behind Probiotics and Eczema
So far, research on the use of probiotics in treatment of eczema has yielded mixed results.
For instance, a 2008 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology found that probiotics show some promise for the prevention and treatment of atopic dermatitis (or AD, a common form of eczema). Looking at findings from 13 previously published clinical trials on probiotics and AD, the report's authors found that probiotics (especially Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) appear to be effective for AD prevention. But while about half of the reviewed trials showed that probiotics helped reduce the severity of AD, the majority of trials found that probiotics failed to reduce AD-associated inflammation.
What's more, another research review published the same year in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that probiotics were no more effective than placebo when it came to reducing the severity of eczema symptoms. Including 12 clinical trials with a total of 781 participants, the review also found that use of probiotics "carries a small risk of adverse events" (such as infections and bowel dysfunction).
Using Products to Treat Eczema in Children
Eczema is most common in babies and children, possibly due to the fact that their immune systems are still developing and therefore are more vulnerable to this condition.
While research on the use of probiotics as a treatment for childhood eczema is somewhat limited, the available studies have produced conflicting results. In a 2010 review published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, for example, scientists analyzed 19 clinical trials on the effectiveness of probiotics against AD in children and concluded that there is not enough evidence to support their use.
However, there's some evidence that children whose mothers used probiotic supplements while pregnant may have a reduced risk for eczema. In a 2012 research review published in the British Journal of Nutrition, investigators looked at seven previously published clinical trials and found that use of certain probiotics during pregnancy helped prevent eczema in children ages to 2 to 7. The review's authors noted that while lactobacilli bacteria appeared to protect against eczema, supplements containing a mixture of various probiotic strains did not affect eczema development.
Are Probiotics a Safe Treatment for Eczema?
Although probiotics are generally considered safe, some consumers may experience mild digestive problems (such as gas and bloating).
It's important to note that probiotics may interact with certain medications, such as immunosuppressants. Therefore, if you're considering using probiotic supplements in combination with other medications, it's important to seek medical advice prior to taking the supplements.
Where to Find Probiotics
Probiotics are sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.
In addition, probiotics are found in cultured dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir. However, due to differences in processing methods, the number of live organisms may vary greatly from product to product.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kim chi, and miso also contain probiotics.
Should You Use Probiotics to Treat Eczema?
More research needs to be conducted before probiotics can be recommended as a treatment for eczema. However, it's possible that increasing your intake of probiotic-rich foods may be of some benefit to your overall health.
If you're considering the use of probiotic supplements for treatment of eczema (or any other chronic condition), make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.
Betsi GI, Papadavid E, Falagas ME. "Probiotics for the treatment or prevention of atopic dermatitis: a review of the evidence from randomized controlled trials." Am J Clin Dermatol. 2008;9(2):93-103.
Boyle RJ, Bath-Hextall FJ, Leonardi-Bee J, Murrell DF, Tang ML. "Probiotics for treating eczema." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD006135.
Doege K, Grajecki D, Zyriax BC, Detinkina E, Zu Eulenburg C, Buhling KJ. "Impact of maternal supplementation with probiotics during pregnancy on atopic eczema in childhood--a meta-analysis." Br J Nutr. 2012 Jan;107(1):1-6.
van der Aa LB, Heymans HS, van Aalderen WM, Sprikkelman AB. "Probiotics and prebiotics in atopic dermatitis: review of the theoretical background and clinical evidence." Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2010 Mar;21(2 Pt 2):e355-67.