Although fast food probably doesn’t cause acne, it has been linked to eczema and other allergic reactions in kids, according to researchers. Studies looked at eating and sleeping patterns and eczema symptoms among six- and seven-year-olds and among teenagers. In both groups, fast-food consumption—more than three times a week—was associated with more severe symptoms. Scientists think saturated and trans fats in fast food may be to blame. Three or more servings of fresh fruit per week, the study found, had the opposite effect.
Another possibility is that fast food somehow affects the balance of intestinal flora. Intestinal flora are generally harmless bacteria that live in the gut and are involved in digestion. Imbalances in these bacteria, too much or too little of certain types, can cause various health problems. Infants with eczema were discovered in a recent study to have a greater diversity in these flora than those without, with adult levels of a certain subtypes of a kind of bacteria called clostridium.
What directly causes eczema, however, is still largely a mystery. It appears to be related to stress, but while that can be a trigger and can affect the severity, it does not appear to be a cause. The prevailing theory is that immune system malfunction combined with dry skin leads to the condition, and that there is a genetic basis for that malfunction. Eczema often, though not always, occurs alongside asthma or hey fever, and families in which one of those conditions is present almost always have members with the others as well. All told, more than 30 million Americans are estimated to have eczema, with two-thirds diagnosed before age one and 90 percent showing signs by the time they were five.
Treatment for eczema is usually topical, relying on creams and lotions applied directly to the skin. Particularly useful compounds include gamma linolenic acid, lactic acid, and ceramides, and products containing these are particularly recommended. Antihistamines and corticosteroids, taken internally, have also been used to provide some relief. New studies focusing on the nature and location of the immune system issues involved in eczema hold promise for developing more fundamental treatments in the future.