Is there a link between body weight and eczema?

The link between body weight and eczema

Atopic dermatitis affects approximately 10-15% of Australians. It’s estimated two-thirds of Australians are considered overweight or obese.

Eczema is a multifactorial condition, meaning many factors can contribute to its onset and drive its severity. Genetics, gut health, diet, allergies, topical products are just some facets to explore, but have you assessed if your body weight is playing a role in your eczema presentation?

A growing body of evidence suggests a higher body mass index (BMI) may increase the risk of atopic dermatitis and its severity.

Why? There could be several aspects that support this relationship:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Genetics
  • Skin barrier dysfunction
  • Chronic stress
  • Gut microbiome imbalances
  • Chronic inflammation

It has also been suggested eczema could be a driving factor in weight gain or obesity. Here are just some examples being explored:

  • Eczema sufferers, particularly those with severely inflamed skin, may be less inclined to exercise regularly to avoid the discomfort caused by sweat and workout apparel.
  • Sleep disturbances caused by chronically itching skin can also lead to a lack of sleep and weight gain.
  • Underlying inflammation driving eczema could also be fueling metabolic imbalances and increased weight.
  • Gut microbiome imbalances may also be relevant. While gut health has been linked to inflammatory skin conditions and obesity separately, whether they are interlinked has not been ascertained yet.
  • Stress or anxiety can lead to increased cortisol which can cause immune system dysregulation and inflammation of the skin. Eczema can be an emotionally charging condition. Cortisol stimulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism, increasing energy. This results in an increase in appetite and a craving for fatty, salty and sweet foods which can in turn lead to weight gain. The body can also hold onto fat as a survival mechanism in states of stress.

The condition between obesity and eczema needs to be explored more thoroughly with larger studies, however, there is indication this relationship is applicable for both adults and adolescents.

Can losing weight help with eczema improvement?

If there is a link between eczema and high BMI, it makes sense losing weight could help with symptom improvement.

Whether weight loss correlates directly with eczema improvement is yet to be seen in large scale studies.

A study of 40 eczema sufferers found that those who undertook a weight loss program which included a calorie-restricted diet and aerobic exercise regime experienced significant improvement in their symptoms and the eczema severity. Although the study was very small, it does show promising signs that losing weight to achieve a healthy BMI can not only improve your overall health and reduce your disease risk, it may also be key in managing your eczema.

We also know there is a very strong correlation between weight gain and increased inflammation in the body. As atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease, addressing the systemic inflammation is one of the main focuses. The surprising result may not be the eczema symptom improvement, it may be the reduction in your waistline!

Tips for weight loss with eczema

Losing weight with eczema requires a little more thought than just being in a calorie deficit and exercising regularly. Here are some tips if you’re an eczema sufferer looking to reduce your body weight.

  • Consider adopting a balanced anti-inflammatory diet that has been designed specifically for you. Doing so will ensure it excludes the trigger foods for your eczema, but is rich in foods that fight inflammation.
  • Reconsider a trending weight loss diet, especially if it is high carb and low fat. Healthy dietary fats are important for your skin health and although calorie-dense, fats can be enjoyed as part of a weight loss diet. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be problematic for eczema, especially refined carbs.
  • Understand your caloric requirements so you’re consuming enough calories to support health and healing but not too much that you’re storing body fat. Working with a health professional such as a qualified nutritionist or dietitian can be invaluable in getting your foundations right.
  • Ditch the weight loss replacement drinks as a lot of these products have artificial, refined and allergenic ingredients that could be causing your eczema flare ups.
  • Choose a protein powder wisely. Protein powder can be helpful in increasing your amino acid requirements and also filling you up, thus it is often recommended for weight loss. If you have a casein allergy or your eczema is triggered by casein, a whey protein powder may not be suitable. In this case, you may find a plant-based protein powder more suitable.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day and during any physical activity to help prevent your skin from drying out. Rehydrate again after your workout and avoid a long hot shower.
  • Adapt when and where you work out to suit the nature of your eczema. Some people’s eczema flares up in humid weather. Others find grass exposure causes irritation. Create an exercise regime that works for you in an environment that doesn’t inflame your skin.
  • Choose workout attire that doesn’t irritate your sensitive skin. Opt for loose clothing made of natural materials like cotton or hemp. Steer clear of clothing that is tight and made of synthetic materials.
  • Ensure you’re moisturising before and after exercise with appropriate products. We often recommend Soratinex products to help soothe the skin, provide nourishment and hydration, and help to improve your skin barrier function.

Our biggest takeaway is to consider your weight and eczema as potentially interlinked whether that’s because of genetic, diet, lifestyle or biochemical drivers. When you look at improving an aspect of your health, you need to approach it holistically. Addressing the root cause of your eczema in consideration with your body weight struggles may actually result in positive improvement in both aspects.

Ascott, A., et al. (2020). Atopic eczema and obesity: A population-based study.

Jung MJ, Kim HR, Kang SY, Kim HO, Chung BY, Park CW. (2020) Effect of Weight Reduction on Treatment Outcomes for Patients with Atopic Dermatitis.

Silverberg JI, Simpson EL. (2014) Association between obesity and eczema prevalence, severity and poorer health in US adolescents. Dermatitis

Yew, Y.W., Loh, M., Thng, S.T.G. et al. (2020) Investigating causal relationships between Body Mass Index and risk of atopic dermatitis: a Mendelian randomization analysis

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