Great news for Canadian parents who have children that suffer from eczema (aka atopic dermatitis). New research shows that doctors, pharmacists and families now have an additional treatment tool to consider for kids with moderate to severe eczema: probiotics.
Probiotics are a safe and effective way to help heal the irritated, itchy skin of atopic dermatitis. Probiotics are the "good" bacteria that naturally live in and on our bodies. Together with other live microorganisms, they form a microbiome. You may be familiar with probiotics already. Maybe you've heard about the “friendly” bacteria in yogurt, or bought some capsules when a stomach flu swept through your house. It can seem a little innovative to think a probiotic powder can dramatically affect the skin, but it makes sense once you know how it works.
So, how does it work?
It starts with the microbiome, which is unique to each person. When balanced, the microbiome works to help your body function smoothly.
When researchers studied kids with atopic dermatitis, they noticed that there was an imbalance in the microbiome of these kids, compared to kids who didn’t have atopic dermatitis, explains Dr. Kevin Lee, a paediatrician in Markham, Ontario. “The probiotics work by restoring balance to the gut microbiome, which ultimately results in influencing the immune response that occurs in eczema or atopic dermatitis.” How does the microbiome get disrupted in the first place? It’s most likely due to a combination of factors, including your birth environment (more microorganisms pass from mom to baby during a vaginal birth compared to a C-section for example) and the genetic makeup of the child, says Dr. Lee.
There are many different strains of probiotics available, with many different purposes. Some, for example, are used to treat colic in infants, says Dr. Lee. The probiotic strains that have been studied and found to successfully treat atopic dermatitis are Bifidobacterium lactis CECT 8145 (which features antioxidant properties), Bifidobacterium longum CECT 7347 (which features anti-inflammatory properties) and Lactobacillus casei CECT 9104 (which also features antioxidant properties and promotes microbiome diversity in the gut). They’re found in a product called ProZema, a small amount of flavourless powder that you mix once a day into food or liquids, for three months. Supported by research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology (JAMA Dermatology), ProZema is clinically proven to reduce the symptoms of eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Results show that after 12 weeks, 96% of patients have improved SCORAD results (the system that doctors use to evaluate the severity of eczema). They also had a better, balanced and more diverse microbiome status, and 91% of patients had cleared or almost cleared their symptoms. The clinical study also showed that there was no need for corticosteroids after six weeks of treatment.
Side effects are both mild and rare, says Dr. Lee, but can include bloating, constipation and/or gas. ProZema is gluten-free and lactose-free, doesn’t contain any sugars or major allergens and can be used by kids ages four and up. It shouldn’t be used in hot foods, which would destroy the live probiotics. If your child is immunocompromised or taking antibiotics, check with your doctor before using probiotics.
The standard treatments for eczema include topical steroids, antihistamines and calcineurin inhibitors. These do have side effects, so being able to cut down on using them is considered a bonus by many. “As physicians, we are concerned about the overuse of the topical steroids because it can cause skin atrophy and that leads to skin discolouration,” says Dr. Lee. Taking antihistamines for a long period of time can cause a tolerance for the medication to build up, requiring a higher dose. He adds, “It's been very frustrating to treat eczema, as many parents will tell you. Nothing seems to work for some of these children—there's always these recurrences of the eczema. And so we as doctors are always looking for something that's a little bit better, for something that can help their kids through this.”
When your child is taking ProZema, it’s important to continue using the other treatments that your doctor has prescribed, says Dr. Lee. However, over time, he says, you will likely be able to cut back on the other medications your doctor has recommended. “So if you're using, say, a topical corticosteroid, you'll notice that you may be using less of it, and you may be using it less frequently. The eczema starts to settle down, and you're finding that the flareups are much, much, much less.”
For more information on ProZema and whether it might be right for your child, visit their website.