Is the decrease in our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids connected to the rise in itchy skin conditions? Some scientists think so. Here are the facts.
Feeling itchy and scratchy? You’re not the only one. During any given two-week period, 8-9% of us will experience pruritus, or itchy skin.
Cases of eczema or dermatitis have more than doubled over the past three decades, and one in five of us can now expect to be affected by a skin rash, such as hives, at some point in our lives.
This surge in the incidence of itchy skin conditions coincides with a decrease in our consumption of omega-3-rich oily fish. There may also be a link between the boom in vegansim and vegetarianism.
At the same time, we’re eating more processed foods that are laden with omega-6 fatty acids. Coincidence? Some scientists think not.
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Itchy skin tends to result from an inflammatory response to something the body believes is an allergen or irritant. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory substances, such as leukotriene B4, which are known to play a role in eczema.
Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, tend to promote inflammation. Consuming too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can throw us off balance, increasing our susceptibility to inflammatory skin conditions.
People with eczema tend to have significantly lower levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, in their systems. However, taking omega-3 supplements can help reduce inflammation in the body and improve symptoms of itchy skin by up to 25% over eight weeks.
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Itching and immunity
Itchy skin sometimes results from an allergic or autoimmune reaction in which the body mistakes a harmless substance or element of its own tissue for a toxin, triggering a defensive inflammatory response. Omega-3 appears to protect against a wide range of autoimmune disorders.
Furthermore, the children of mothers who take fish oil supplements while pregnant and breastfeeding are less likely to develop eczema or allergies.
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Repair and rebuild
Itchy skin conditions are also associated with defects in the skin’s barrier function. Omega-3 supplements may help to repair and rebuild skin-cell membranes, enhancing the skin’s capacity to absorb and retain water, repel toxins and expel waste products: a soothing prospect.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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