5 Facts About Eczema & IBS - Connecting the Dots to Inform Treatment

5 Facts About Eczema & IBS - Connecting the Dots to Inform Treatment

Posted by Sophie Brand on

Do you suffer from eczema? If so, you may be more susceptible to other chronic health disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is especially true for individuals with Atopic Dermatitis (AD) – the most severe form of eczema. 

In a classic chicken-and-egg scenario, you may wonder about the connection between eczema and IBS. Does one medical condition precipitate the other? Can eczema flare-ups worsen IBS symptoms, or vice-versa? How can these conditions be successfully treated in tandem?  

Before connecting the dots, we need to better understand the signs and symptoms of each disorder.

What is Eczema?

According to the National Eczema Association, eczema is characterized by inflamed skin and describes a variety of skin conditions including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis. 

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the large intestine, as defined by the Mayo Clinic. This chronic condition may include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation. 

5 Facts – Connecting the Dots: 

Now that we have a working definition of each disorder, we can highlight the proposed relationship between eczema and IBS. To date, there has been limited research conducted on this topic and little known about causation. There are, however, a handful of studies and articles that seek to illuminate what is often called the ‘gut-skin axis’, specifically from the Indian Journal of Dermatology and Healthline

Five emerging facts you should know about eczema and IBS:

  • The physical environment plays a significant role. The three systems through which your body interacts with the external environment are the skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal tract. Mast cells are elevated in all three of these systems and produce a variety of inflammatory mediators. This may be one of the reasons why people with allergies, asthma, and/or IBS often suffer from eczema, and vice-versa.
  • Genetics are part of the equation. While both eczema and IBS are deeply affected by the environment, early research suggests that DNA is a factor as well. You may have a genetic predisposition to eczema and/or IBS.
  • Inflammatory conditions are linked to mental illness. Individuals with both eczema and/or IBS may experience increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some experts refer to the gut as the ‘second brain’ and believe that our stomachs can mirror our emotions. Over 70 years ago, two dermatologists first identified an overlap between the gut, mood disorders, and skin conditions. Despite the passage of time, we are still in the infancy stages of understanding this phenomenon. 
  • Stress amplifies the physical symptoms of each condition. Whatever your health condition, stress can wreak havoc on the body. The skin and gut are no exception. Everyone knows what it feels like to have “butterflies” in their stomach or break out in a rash right before a big presentation. These are just mild examples, but eczema and IBS flare-ups can cause great pain and discomfort. Recent evidence suggests that each condition has the potential to adversely affect the other. Those with eczema are more likely than the average person to develop IBS. On the other hand, those with IBS are more likely than the average person to develop eczema. While there is no definitive answer to which came first, these two conditions are connected in myriad ways. Symptoms of one may exacerbate symptoms of the other. 
  • There is hope for managing both conditions with one treatment approach. Eczema and IBS are both inflammatory disorders. They affect different areas of the body, but their triggers can be quite similar. For example, allergies may produce a skin or gut reaction. There is now growing research to support the theory of a unified solution for the skin and gut. In a 2012 study, a drug prescribed for the skin disease psoriasis inadvertently improved symptoms of Crohn’s disease in patients suffering from this inflammatory illness. Someday, eczema and IBS may be successfully managed with the same treatment.

  • The Treatment:

    Although there is much to learn about the gut-skin axis, the information available today can still make a vital difference to our skin and overall health! Take a look at the following suggestions for how to manage eczema and IBS from the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation:

    • Adopt an integrative and functional approach towards your health by using good skincare products while paying close attention to what’s happening inside your body. After all, a great complexion can only be achieved when everything is working together in harmony.
    • Try to minimize gut irritation and inflammation by examining your food, beverage, supplement, and medication use. Nutritious food is certainly important, but what you absorb is crucial to maintaining optimum skin health. Your diet should include skin-supporting nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and E, in addition to minerals like omega-3 fats.
    • Assess your stress levels, including the amount of sleep that you typically get at night. You may wish to develop a mindfulness practice to help alleviate your stress through activities like yoga or meditation. In general, doctors recommend between 7-9 hours of sleep a night for healthy adults.
    • Consider getting tested for possible food allergies to find out how to support a healthy gut microbiota/bacterial population. As mentioned above in Five Facts, allergies are very common among those with eczema and IBS. Part of any successful treatment plan is awareness and prevention.

    Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this article is the need for continued research and discussion on the topic of inflammatory disorders. It is clear that a connection exists between eczema and IBS, but further studies could potentially enhance our knowledge of each condition and broaden specific treatment options. In the meantime, a holistic approach to skin and gut health can reduce symptoms and promote healthier living.

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