Surprising link between diet and common skin condition – affecting 1 in 10 Americans

Consuming just one extra gram of sodium per day, equivalent to the amount in a Big Mac, can increase the likelihood of eczema flares by 22%.

Eating high amounts of sodium may raise the risk of eczema, according to a recent study by researchers at UC San Francisco. The study published in JAMA Dermatology, found that consuming just one extra gram of sodium per day, equivalent to the amount in a Big Mac, can increase the likelihood of eczema flares by 22%.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition characterized by dry, itchy skin. It’s incredibly common, affecting over 31 million people in the United States. This condition has become more prevalent in recent years, particularly in industrialized nations, suggesting that environmental and lifestyle factors, such as diet, play a significant role.

The Role of Sodium in Eczema

Sodium, which people mainly consume through salt, is widely recognized for its role in increasing the risk of hypertension and heart disease. However, recent research has uncovered that sodium is also stored in the skin, where it might contribute to the inflammation associated with eczema.

Dr. Katrina Abuabara, an associate professor of dermatology at UCSF and the corresponding author of the study, noted that reducing dietary sodium could be a straightforward way for eczema patients to manage their symptoms. “Most Americans eat too much salt and can safely reduce their intake to recommended levels,” she said.

Challenges in Managing Eczema

Eczema flares are often unpredictable, making the condition particularly challenging for patients. Dr. Abuabara, who is also an associate adjunct professor of epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, explained, “Eczema flares can be difficult for patients to cope with, especially when they are unable to anticipate them and don’t have recommendations on what they can do to avoid them.”

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional study using data from the UK Biobank, which includes health information from over 215,000 individuals aged 30 to 70. This data includes urine samples and electronic medical records, allowing the researchers to estimate sodium intake and assess eczema diagnoses and severity.

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The analysis revealed a clear link between sodium intake and eczema. Specifically, each additional gram of sodium excreted in urine over a 24-hour period was associated with:

  • An 11% increase in the likelihood of being diagnosed with eczema.

  • A 16% increase in the likelihood of having an active case of eczema.

  • An 11% increase in the likelihood of experiencing more severe symptoms.

To further validate their findings, the researchers examined data from 13,000 U.S. adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They found a consistent pattern: consuming just one extra gram of sodium per day was associated with a 22% increase in the odds of having an active case of eczema.

Implications for Eczema Management

These findings suggest that reducing sodium intake could be a valuable strategy for managing eczema. While more research is needed to understand the precise mechanisms through which sodium influences eczema, the evidence points to a significant relationship between sodium consumption and the severity of this skin condition.

For those living with eczema, monitoring and potentially lowering sodium intake could be an actionable step toward reducing flare-ups and improving quality of life. This study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that lifestyle choices, including diet, play a crucial role in managing chronic health conditions.

With more than one in ten Americans affected by this chronic skin condition, understanding and implementing dietary changes could help many manage their symptoms more effectively.

High sodium intake and other health conditions

According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive sodium intake has also been linked to other conditions, such as:

  • heart failure

  • kidney problems and kidney stones

  • oedema (fluid retention)

  • stroke

  • stomach cancer

  • left ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of heart muscle)

  • osteoporosis.

A high level of salt intake increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine, which may also contribute to osteoporosis and increased risk of fracture.

The balance of sodium and water in the body can also be disrupted if there is not enough water. This may be caused by a damaged thirst mechanism or by limited access to water. Hypernatremia is a very serious condition that occurs when your sodium blood levels rise above 145 milliequivalents per litre (mEq/L). It can lead to death. A major symptom is thirst and treatment usually involves controlled water replacement.

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Joshua Shavit
Joshua ShavitScience and Good News Writer
Joshua Shavit is a bright and enthusiastic 17-year-old student with a passion for sharing positive stories that uplift and inspire. With a flair for writing and a deep appreciation for the beauty of human kindness, Joshua has embarked on a journey to spotlight the good news that happens around the world daily. His youthful perspective and genuine interest in spreading positivity make him a promising writer and co-founder at The Brighter Side of News.