A Deficiency in THIS May Contribute to Eczema
Zinc deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency among eczema patients especially in children with the skin condition. Because zinc is found in every enzyme group in the body, its contribution to human health is diverse. Zinc can help the body fight infections, reduce oxidative stress and boost immune system. But can these medicinal properties translate into clinical benefits in the treatment of eczema? Read on to find what studies say about zinc and eczema.
by Brad Chase
Although the human body needs zinc only in trace amounts, it is still an essential mineral. Zinc is a central component of about 300 enzymes and it is present in every class of enzyme produced in the body.
After iron, zinc is the second most abundant metal found in humans. The body holds a store of 2 – 4 g of zinc. Most of this zinc store is found in the prostate gland, eye, brain, liver, kidney, bones and muscles.
Besides serving as an important part of many enzymes, zinc is involved in signal transduction and learning in the central nervous system; in the metabolism and expression of genetic materials; and in the maturity of the male reproductive system.
The recommended daily intake of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men.
Although zinc deficiency can be caused by regularly eating zinc-poor foods as well as impaired absorption of the mineral, it is also caused by a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, sickle cell, skin diseases as well as liver and kidney diseases.
Lastly, vitamin A and D deficiencies can also cause zinc deficiency. This happens because both vitamins determine the amount of zinc found in the plasma.
Epidemiological studies indicate that at least one-third of the world’s population suffers from mild zinc deficiency.
One of the main causes of zinc deficiency is malabsorption of the mineral. Poor absorption of zinc in the intestine can be due to changes in the permeability of the gut.
Such changes in the nature of the absorptive surface of the gut can be triggered by pathogenic microbes.
One of the established causes of eczema is leaky gut syndrome. It results from the destruction of the healthy gut flora and its replacement by pathogenic bacteria and fungi.
When these pathogens damage the gastrointestinal mucosa, they allow the passage of undigested foods, toxins as well as other pathogens into the blood. On the other hand, this damage to the gut reduces the absorption of needed micronutrients such as zinc.
Studies show that pathogens that destroy the lining of the gastrointestinal tract can increase the fecal excretion of zinc.
Besides pathogens in the gut, zinc deficiency can also be established in eczema patients because of vitamin A and D deficiencies. Both vitamin deficiencies are quite common among eczema patients and these vitamins are often given as supplements in the treatment of eczema.
Therefore, when both deficiencies are not well controlled, zinc deficiency may result.
The combination of leaky gut syndrome and vitamin deficiencies depletes the zinc store of the body. It is no wonder then that zinc deficiency is one of the common nutritional deficiencies in eczema.
A congenital disorder known as acrodermatitis enteropathica is caused by zinc deficiency and involves eczema.
Acrodermatitis is a metabolic disorder characterized by impaired uptake of zinc. This inherited form of zinc deficiency is commonly diagnosed in infants and characterized by eczema affecting the diaper area and the face.
Other signs of acrodermatitis enteropathica are eczema in the limbs, diarrhea and hair loss. The condition is also sometimes known as congenital zinc deficiency.
Studies show that the eczema lesions that appears on the skin of acrodermatitis patients are colonized by the pathogens, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. Both of these pathogens are known to be responsible for leaky gut syndrome as well as the destruction of the protective layers of the skin.
The only treatment for acrodermatitis enteropathica is daily supplementation with high-dose zinc.
When treating eczema with zinc, it is best to take chelated zinc supplements. In chelated zinc, the zinc is bound to an amino acid that help transport it through the gastrointestinal tract.
Chelated zinc is recommended because free zinc is toxic to humans. Even in the body, zinc is bound to carrier proteins such as albumin as it is transported in the blood.
Although zinc supplementation has produced mixed results in studies investigating its use in the treatment of eczema, quite a lot of eczema patients have reported dramatic improvement in their symptoms with zinc even after the standard treatment failed.
Most eczema patients specifically report that zinc relieves their itching and skin inflammation.
In one 1999 study published in the journal, Contact Dermatitis, 73% of the eczema patients recruited for the study were “cured” of their eczema flare-ups with 60 mg/day of zinc given for 1 month. The rest of the patients improved significantly.
So, how does zinc improve eczema? First, zinc has been shown to promote the release of stomach acid.
The increased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach can help restore the right growth environment for normal gut flora while getting rid of harmful pathogens.
By contributing to the restoration of a healthy gut flora, zinc can help treat leaky gut syndrome. This stops the bacterial colonization and inflammatory reaction in the skin that trigger eczema.
However, the major reason for the effectiveness of zinc in the treatment of eczema is its role in the enzymes responsible for fatty acid metabolism.
Studies show that people with eczema have low levels of zinc-dependent enzymes needed for the synthesis of fatty acids. Therefore, they produce lesser essential fatty acids than healthy people.
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, zinc can help relieve the itching and inflammation associated with eczema because it raises the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body.
Besides its indirect anti-inflammatory property, zinc also has a direct antioxidant effect because it is a major component of antioxidant enzymes.
The antioxidant effect of zinc has been shown to promote healing as well as slow down ageing in the skin.
Basically, zinc protects the skin from free radical and microbial toxin damage. This means that zinc can heal eczema lesions and reduce the destruction done to the skin by the pathogen colonizing it.
Lastly, zinc is known to influence every aspect of the human immune system. Therefore, it can boost the activity of “attack” immune cells to help fight off the pathogens colonizing the skin and gut. This immunomodulatory effect can also help lower inflammation triggered by certain cytokines released by cells of the immune system.
A 2009 study published in the Turkish Journal of Dermatology investigated the serum levels of trace metals in patients with hand eczema.
The researchers measured the serum levels of selenium, copper, zinc, iron and lead in 35 patients with hand eczema and 35 matched, healthy controls. Their results showed that the serum levels of trace but essential minerals (selenium, iron and zinc) were lower in the eczema patients than in controls.
In contrast, the researchers found no difference between the serum levels of copper and lead in both groups.
Just as importantly, the results of the study showed that zinc levels were strongly linked to the levels of iron and selenium.
This study shows that eczema patients have lower levels of essential minerals such as zinc, selenium and iron. This result is important because those 3 minerals are involved in almost every metabolic process in the body.
For example, selenium and zinc are needed for their antioxidant properties and iron is required to maintain the oxygenation of every cell of the body.
The researchers concluded that low levels of zinc, selenium and iron contributed to the development of hand eczema. Their conclusions suggest that supplementation with these essential minerals should be considered in the treatment of eczema.
An earlier paper published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 1981 also reached a similar conclusion.
The paper described a case study of an elderly woman with severe, non-ulcerating eczema. The researchers detailed the link between the eczema and her low plasma zinc level. Following oral zinc supplementation, the eczema fully resolved.
Low zinc levels is an especially common feature of childhood eczema.
A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics discussed causes of dermatitis triggered by zinc deficiency in 10 breast-fed, preterm infants.
The researchers reported that these infants developed severe periorifical eczema (in the mouth and diaper area) at 10 weeks of age. Before the infants were rightly diagnosed with zinc deficiency, they had been treated with topical corticosteroids and/or antibiotics as well as oral antibiotics.
The researchers noted that all 10 children responded to oral zinc gluconate or zinc sulfate supplementation within 24 hours.
As early as the 3rd day of supplementation, some of the infants no longer had skin lesions. The last lesions cleared on day 14.
The researchers believed that similar cases were often misdiagnosed and needlessly treated with skin-thinning corticosteroids and harsh antibiotics when zinc supplements would do.
In addition, they pointed to the increased demand for zinc in preterm infants as the primary cause of the zinc deficiency. However, this was compounded by the low zinc content (and poor bioavailability) of breast milk.
In conclusion, the researchers called for regular check of serum zinc levels in breast-fed infants especially in pre-term infants.
A 2010 study published in the journal, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, measured the serum levels of 6 heavy metals in a group of children with skin diseases in order to determine the impact of environmental factors on these diseases.
The researchers measured the serum levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, selenium, copper and zinc in 110 children with eczema and 41 children with other skin conditions.
The results of the study showed that none of the heavy metals was present above the permissible upper limit. However, zinc and copper were found in lower levels. The results also showed that low zinc level was more pronounced in eczema than in the other skin conditions considered. However, copper levels were comparably low in both groups of patients.
The researchers noted that their results confirmed the common observation of low zinc and copper levels in skin diseases affecting children.
They called for more studies to determine the significance of this observation.
In a previous study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 1987, serum zinc levels of 65 children with atopic eczema were measured and compared with the serum zinc levels of 79 healthy children who served as controls.
The results of the study showed that the children with eczema had significantly lower zinc levels than the controls.
In addition, the researchers showed that children with the lowest serum zinc levels were more likely to suffer from recurrent skin infections too.
This study showed that zinc deficiency is an important consideration in eczema in children.
It also showed that oral zinc supplementation should be included in the treatment of childhood eczema. Zinc supplementation is also recommended to prevent eczema lesions from getting infected.
Multiple studies have confirmed that oral zinc supplementation can help relieve eczema, but can topical zinc preparations help too? According to this study, the answer is yes.
Published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology in 2008, the study compared the efficacy of clobetasol + zinc sulfate with clobetasol only.
The researchers randomly assigned each of 47 patients with hand eczema to a cream containing 0.05% clobetasol + 2.5% zinc sulfate or a similar cream containing only 0.05% clobetasol. After 2 weeks, the patients were followed up for another 6 weeks.
The results of the study showed that the clobetasol/zinc sulfate combination was more effective than clobetasol alone.
In addition, recurrence was lower among the patients who received the combination treatment.
The researchers, therefore, recommended this combination in the treatment of eczema. They believed topical zinc had clear benefits in the treatment of eczema because it significantly reduced the scaling and redness of the skin affected by eczema as well as itching.
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