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Is Eczema Caused By Bacteria?

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A new study has found that Staph A. bacteria could be responsible for some eczema outbreaks. Find out how this could revolutionize eczema treatment below.

If you suffer from eczema, you know how frustrating it can be to suddenly find a flare-up of red, itchy, and flaky skin anywhere on your body.

Although there are many theories on what causes eczema, from too much gluten in the diet, to a lack of vitamins and minerals, to autoimmune disorders, there have been no studies that clearly link eczema with a particular cause. What works for some person may not work for another.

A battle with eczema is simply a test of moving from one “cure” to another, trying to find what works for you. Now, however, there may be less guesswork involved in finding the cause- and consequent solution, to eczema. Finding an actual cause for the condition could be key to finding a universal treatment method. Experts estimate that up to 30 percent of children and 5 percent of adults currently suffer from some form of eczema. If a cause is found, then finding treatments will become much easier.

The University of Michigan Medical School has inadvertently run across a possible cause for some types of eczema flare-ups. The researchers have published their findings in the October 2013 issue of “Nature Journal.” The researchers found that a toxin produced by the common bacteria Staphylococcus aureus usually referred to as staph, can cause the immune cells in the skin to produce eczema rashes.

Study Details

In a different study funded by the National Institute of Health looking at the staph bacteria, the researchers accidentally stumbled across the possible link between the bacteria and eczema. The researchers found that some forms of staph produced a delta toxin that was responsible for provoking skin cells to have an inflammatory response that led to outbreaks of eczema on the skin.

The researchers determined to set up another study to look at the delta toxin more in-depth. This study was also funded by the NIH, and the results of this study were published in Nature Journal. In the study, mice were exposed to staph A. bacteria with delta toxins. The mice quickly developed eczema on the skin.

How it works: Staph bacteria with delta toxin create immune-related mast cells in the skin to release small granules to irritate the skin. Staph bacteria that do not have delta toxin, however, do not create the same response on the skin. The inflammation leads to patches of red, itchy, inflamed skin that we know as eczema.

The link with eczema: The study researchers saw a clear link between staph bacteria toxins and mas cell degranulation. However, the researchers did not believe that delta toxin alone was responsible for causing the eczema flare-ups. One other probable cause is a genetic susceptibility to increased immune response.

The link to humans: Although the study was conducted on mice, and there have been no similar studies on humans, past studies have shown that individuals with eczema do show high levels of staph A. delta toxin in the skin. Up to 90 percent of eczema patients have increased staph bacteria levels on their skin, according to the study researchers. This indicates a high likelihood that this bacteria is somewhat responsible for creating some version of eczema in humans. Before, the link was thought to be secondary, but researchers now believe that the link may be primary.

In fact, in the past, some eczema patients taking antibiotics for another issue saw a reduction in eczema flare-ups. This provides solid evidence that the staph bacteria toxin is a cause of eczema symptoms in at least some cases. Normally, however, antibiotics are discouraged as a long-term solution for the treatment of staph bacteria, because the overuse of antibiotics is leading to the creation of many antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria. Multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is already a problem, which would become worse if antibiotics were used to treat chronic conditions.

Paths for future study: According to the researchers, the best way to test the theory is to find a way to inhibit the effects of delta toxin without using treatment methods that will strengthen the staph bacteria. One theory is to create a receptor blocker that will prevent the delta toxin from binding to mast cells, and eliminating the irritant before it becomes a problem. Further studies about delta toxins and why they are created by staph bacteria would also be helpful.

Researchers currently believe that delta toxins are created as a response in nearby bacteria, called quorum sensing. Researchers believe that delta toxins are a bacterium’s own defense strategy for fighting off competing bacteria. The inflammation suffered by the host (the person with eczema), may just be fallout from the war between bacteria.

Things that Increase Staph A. Risk

Birth Control

According to a 2012 study from Germany, women on hormonal birth control (such as the traditional birth control pill) were more likely to be carriers for staph bacteria. In fact, women on birth control were twice as likely to be a carrier for the bacteria. The study indicated that about 20 percent of women who are carriers for the bacteria are carriers because they are on hormonal birth control.

Reduced Immunity

If you have a lowered immune system, your body will have a harder time fighting off staph bacteria. In addition, MRSA staph bacteria are on the rise, making it harder for your body to find off the bacteria naturally. This could account for some of the increase in eczema cases in recent years.

Contact Sports

Contact sports, particularly ones with shared equipment or prevalent injuries, increase a person’s risk for getting staph bacteria. Towels and clothing can carry the bacteria from one person to another, and the bacteria can easily transform into an infection in cuts, bruises, and scrapes.

Close Quarters

Any area with close quarters is a breeding ground for staph bacteria. Prisons, hospitals, military camps, and any other location where a lot of people are thrown together in a small space is likely to have a high staph bacteria rate.


Children in daycares, hospitals, schools, and other close quarters are likely to be carriers for staph bacteria. A high prevalence of cuts, scrapes, and other injuries also leads to a higher infection rate for children than adults. A 2003 study conducted by Birmingham Children’s Hospital indicated that children are more likely to get staph infections in pediatric settings than ever before.

Exposure to Stock Animals

According to a 2009 study conducted by the European Food Safety Authority, pigs, cattle, and poultry grown in close quarters, like in conventional farm settings, are likely carriers for staph bacteria. Any person coming into close contact with these stock animals could be at risk for additional exposure to the bacteria.


Genetics are responsible for your odds of getting staph-induced eczema. Staph bacteria can easily pass from mother to baby, and certain genetic lines may have an increased susceptibility to staph bacteria and other kinds of eczema.

Preventing Staph-Related Eczema

If you want to cut down on your chances of seeing an outbreak from eczema due to a staph bacterial colony, there are a few steps you can take that will lower your risk and help your body fight off the invading skin bacteria. Follow these steps to ensure you minimize your exposure to staph bacteria and are prepared to fight it naturally:


There is some thought that probiotics may be helpful in preventing the spread of eczema. If eczema is caused by staph bacteria, giving your skin the probiotics necessary to fight off the staph bacteria could be one way to cut down on flare-ups. However, there have been few studies looking at the results of probiotics on adult eczema cases. Most studies have looked at unborn children and infants. However, the results of these studies were positive.

A 2012 study published in “The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology” showed that probiotics during pregnancy and in the first 6 months of life could lower a child’s risk for developing eczema. Of 241 infant-mother pairs with mothers who had eczema currently or as a child, supplemented with various probiotic forms. Mothers who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium longum during pregnancy and gave their babies probiotic supplements showed a reduced chance of getting eczema in the first 24 months of life (95 percent of babies on this supplement were eczema-free at 24 months).

A 2013 study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand also studied the effects of probiotics on preventing eczema in babies and children. Mothers and babies were supplemented with Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 bacteria from 35 weeks of gestation until 2 years of age. At the age of 6, the children were about half as likely to develop eczema as children who did not take probiotics. These results indicate a possibility that supplementing with probiotics could help control staph levels in the skin, leading to a reduction in delta toxins that cause inflammation and eczema.

Boost the Immune System

An overly sensitive immune system could be responsible for your susceptibility to eczema. The hygiene hypothesis (which states that too-clean environments may negatively impact the immune system and cause it to overreact to everyday substances), is one possible cause for some cases of eczema. However, improving your immune system and giving it an overall boost could help you restore normal immune system function, particularly when fighting staph bacteria. Use the following supplements to boost your immune system:

Supplements for the Immune System

Zinc: Zinc is a necessary mineral for t-cells to do their job effectively. T-cells are responsible for fighting off invading pathogens. If you have a zinc deficiency, you could be at risk for a lowered immune system. Supplementing with a small amount of zinc (15-25 mg) each day can help strengthen your immune response.

Milk Thistle: Milk thistle is a protector of the liver, because it reduces pro-inflammatory leukotrienes, which can interfere with proper liver function. It also helps detox the body and eliminate total inflammation, which can be helpful in fighting eczema and boosting the immune system.

B Vitamins: B vitamins are crucial for your immune health, according to Harvard Medical School. Vitamin B2 was able to resist bacterial infections in mice. Vitamin B6 has a restorative effect on a lowered immune system. Vitamin B12 can provide extra energy and fuel for the immune system.

Magnesium: A 2003 study conducted by the Instituto de Nutrición e Higiene de los Alimentos in Cuba showed that magnesium was an essential nutrient ineffective immune system function. Magnesium also fights inflammation throughout the body.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is an antimicrobial and antibacterial vitamin. Exposure to sunlight kills a variety of pathogens, including tuberculosis, and maybe even staph bacteria. When possible, get sun exposure each day, or if not, supplement with vitamin D3.

Don’t Share Personal Items

One of the easiest ways to cut down on your risk for spreading staph bacteria and harboring delta toxins is by keeping personal items personal. Don’t share towels, uniforms, clothing, or any other personal items with another person. Use a protective barrier on shared equipment, like gym equipment.

Consider Stopping Hormonal Birth Control

Women on hormonal birth control who suffer from eczema may want to consider getting off of it. If your eczema is influenced by staph bacteria in any way, remaining on birth control may be making your flare-ups worse. Another form of birth control may help you control eczema flare-ups.

Avoid Exposure to Animals

When possible, try to avoid handling stock animals. Even store-bought meat can be a carrier for the bacteria. One 2011 study from the Translational Genomics Research Institute indicated that up to 47 percent of meat in US grocery stores were carriers for staph bacteria. Half of the infected meat was resistant to the three main antibiotics used to treat staph infections.

Reduce Bacterial-Induced Eczema

If the link between staph bacteria and eczema is true, it could open a whole world of new treatment options for eczema sufferers. If you suffer from eczema, engaging in the above preventative measures will help reduce your exposure levels to the staph A. bacteria and lower your skin flare-ups. In addition to other treatment methods, this could be one way to stop eczema before it occurs- right from the source. Supplementing for immune system support and anti-inflammatory action in combination with avoiding staph-carrying activities and products will help you see clear, healthy skin year-round.





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