Eczema is a frustrating condition. It often starts when children are very young and is itchy, disfiguring and can become easily infected.
It’s not surprising parents try all sorts of creams and ointments to improve this. And I am in full support of them. Every child is different and parents need to find what works best for their child. There is, however, one current trend that I wish to advise some caution against: COCONUT OIL.
One of the current theories on food allergy development is called the DUAL ALLERGEN EXPOSURE HYPOTHESIS. It suggests that food allergies are caused by exposure through the skin to food protein. Let me explain:
We know that almost all children with food allergies has or had eczema. Eczema is an inflammatory condition where the skin lacks certain proteins that normally hold water in the skin. The skin therefore becomes dry, itchy and doesn’t function very well as a barrier. This allows irritants, bacteria and food proteins to get through. When food protein gets through the skin, inflammatory cells take this up and say, “This is something that got through my line-of-defence.” They prime the immune system to treat this as something foreign and harmful. When a child then eats this food, the body mounts a large immune response. This can lead to anaphylaxis – a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.
When a food is eaten BEFORE a child has gotten exposure through the skin, cells in the stomach called REGULATORY CELLS take this up and tell the immune system, “This is a food and not something harmful.” They down-regulate the immune system so that it doesn’t mount a response.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A VERY SIMPLIFIED VERSION OF THE DUAL ALLERGEN EXPOSURE HYPOTHESIS. There are other cells and mechanisms at work, and again, this is presently just a theory. However, there is very good evidence that continues to mount in support of this theory. For example, if you take a mouse model that has eczema and rub peanut butter on the skin, you can cause a peanut allergy in that mouse.
This theory also explains why EARLY INTRODUCTION OF FOODS CAN HELP PREVENT FOOD ALLERGIES IN CHILDREN.
So how does this relate to coconut oil?
Coconut is a drupe – a dry fruit – not a nut. For full botanical information on coconut, see here (https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/coconut.html). Coconut is not a common allergy – at least not in the top 10. That said, coconut allergy appears to be increasing over the past several years. I myself have seen approximately 5-10 children with true coconut allergies in the past 3 years. And all of these children had a history of coconut oil use on their eczema.
So while coconut oil might help the eczema, it might also lead to coconut allergy. As there are many alternatives, I suggest avoidance of coconut oil on eczema. This is not published data and has not – to my knowledge – been studied in a large, formal trial. This is simply based on my – and several other allergist’s – observations.
Hope this is helpful. Please feel free to comment below but keep in mind, I cannot answer specific medical questions about you or your children.