Eczema is characterized by papules in areas such as the elbows and knees and sometimes on the face and neck.  People can occasionally get these over their abdomen and in other places. They itch and feel dry and seem to get worse if scratched. 

Allergies to Foods?

There seems to be a sensitivity to a variety of inhalants, food and microbial agents. There are two types of eczema; ‘intrinsic’ which is not associated with an immune response and ‘extrinsic’ which is associated with an immune response.  Approximately one-third of people have ‘extrinsic’ type eczema. Finding which food is causing an allergic reaction does not always mean that the person’s eczema is caused by that food. Elimination of the food or foods can in many cases have no effect on the manifestation of the eczema. 

I had never had eczema as a child nor in my 20’s but started to get it in my 30’s and 40’s.  During my 30’s and 40’s I also developed an intolerance for gluten and wheat based products and initially associated the eczema onset with having products containing wheat or gluten.  Elimination of these products didn’t stop me from getting bouts of eczema. The bouts of eczema seemed to coincide more with elevation in my stress levels.  During this time my digestion which had never been fantastic gradually got worse.  Not only that my blood sugar levels were elevated and my cholesterol was rising and I felt a little depressed. I had candidiasis and tinea.  All of these things I now know are associated with either low zinc or elevated copper.

These are the things I did to eliminate bouts of eczema:

  • Reduce my stress levels – I ceased being a lawyer and started studying kinesiology. I left city life and went to live at a less hectic pace in the country. I realise not everyone can make such dramatic changes in their lives but there are things that you can do to reduce stress.
  • Started taking B complex and zinc. I took the B complex to help me cope with the stresses in my life and zinc because I had noticed that I had white flecks on my fingernails which I was told was a sign of zinc deficiency often relative to copper which blocks the action of zinc in the body. Zinc is a natural antibiotic and is essential for good skin and good digestion as it is needed to make stomach acid and is contained in digestive enzymes required to break down food
  • I noticed that the less stressed I became (and this did not happen just because of the events named above) the less intolerance I seemed to have for wheat and gluten. My feeling is that taking the zinc supplementation help here as well because I could breakdown my food better. I also increased my vitamin C intake as this vitamin oxidizes copper in the body and helps you remove it from the body.
  • A significant reduction in coffee, tea and alcohol intake as these are diuretics and B and C vitamins are water soluble and are easily eliminate in the urine.
  • An increase in magnesium by way of supplementation. Copper blocks magnesium in the body. Our nervous system relies on magnesium to stop it firing; in a sense to relax it. I found that eczema seems to be related to an overactive nervous system which occurs in times of stress and a magnesium deficiency tends to exacerbate the condition.

Is it hereditary?

Many babies and young children have their mother’s mineral profile which they inherit whilst in the womb.  Low levels of zinc and magnesium have in my experience almost always been associated with eczema and this could explain why many texts on the subject talk about eczema being a hereditary condition.  During pregnancy mothers accumulate more copper unless they eat a lot of zinc and vitamin C containing foods or supplement with anti-copper nutrients.  Copper blocks the action of zinc and magnesium in the body along with a long list of other vitamins and mineral.  So mother and daughter can both have the condition.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

Many years after I had ceased to have bouts of eczema I had a hair tissue mineral analysis performed and found that I had quite high levels of copper and although my zinc levels were reasonable I still had white fleck on my finger nails indicating I had a relative zinc deficiency (i.e. relative to copper).  I also found that my magnesium levels were low.  One of the reason I had the hair test was because I had developed tachycardia (rapid heart rate).  Magnesium is required for proper regulation of the nervous system and is blocked by copper.  Taking magnesium, zinc, vitamin C (as it directly antagonises copper) and a liver support (liver dysfunction is associated with high copper levels) fixed that problem quickly.  I cannot help but think that I had this mineral profile for a very long time and that it largely came about because of my elevated stress levels over a considerable period.

Possible Causes and Treatment 

Although it might not be fashionable to say it eczema is much more likely to be associated with stress and vitamin and mineral deficiencies as it is with allergic reactions to food or other substances.  Food and other substance intolerance can be exacerbated by stress and appear to be the cause but in many instances will not be the cause of your eczema as elimination of the allergen does not get rid of the eczema.  I always look at eczema in these terms even if there are allergies to substances.

In the lists below I have highlighted the symptoms I experienced.  I suggest you do the same.

Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency

Symptoms of Copper Excess


Dry skin





Hair loss


Stretch marks

Brittle nails



Chest infections

Poor sleep

Poor memory


Temper outbursts

Low stress tolerance

Hyperactivity in children

Low stomach acid and salicylate intolerance

Poor digestion

Raised cholesterol

Alcohol intolerance

Ear infections


Feeling hot and then getting migraines


Raised cholesterol

Poor liver function



Hormonal imbalances

Menstrual difficulties

Thyroid dysfunction

Candidiasis and fungal infections


Salicylate intolerance

Easy bruising

Gastritis and poor digestion


Iron deficiency


Changes in emotional patterns

1.       Anxiety, worrier, depressed, insomnia

2.       Constantly needing attention, emotional, hypochondriac.

3.       Surly, aggressive, pushy, beligerent


The above lists are from the Visual Textbook of Nutritional Medicine by Igor Tabrizian (NRS Publications Education Series)

Note: B vitamin and zinc supplementation can make some people feel nauseas especially young children.  Supplements should always be taken with food and in the case of children under the age of 12 should be given with the assistance of a naturopath.  Foods containing these nutrients are listed under Foods and Nutrient Lists in this blog. 


Low stomach acid is prevalent in adults with the condition so supplementation with betaine hydrochloride, zinc and B complex (available from a health food store) is essential.  If copper excess is suspected then vitamin C supplementation is essential and in the case of adults a liver support should be considered.  If you have tinea or suspect you might have candida then read my article on candida (candidiasis).

Case Study

A young man in his early 20’s who was a student. He had eczema when he was born on his forearms and the back of his hands.  Relief was obtained by applying cortisone cream.  The skin looked angry and scarred.  He was not handing stress well. I suggested he change his diet to include more zinc containing foods such as fish and to increase the variety of fresh fruits and vegetable he was eating.  Within 6 weeks of this change his eczema was almost completely gone.  The area still looked scarred but not angry. Did he get his mother’s mineral profile? Probably.