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Atopic Dermatitis

Cause and symptoms

Eczema is a skin condition that is suffered by 10-20% of the world’s population. It causes the skin to become red, itchy and flaky. This is a result of the skin’s inflammatory response to physical or environmental irritants. Anybody can get eczema, although those with a family history will have a greater predisposition to the disease.

Normally, skin acts as a barrier to protect individuals against disease and infection. This protection is compromised when oversensitivity to external irritants causes a negative immune response, resulting in an eczema reaction. When the skin heals, it thickens and can have a leathery appearance; this process is known as lichenification. Allergic reactions to foods, particularly milk products, animals, dust, cosmetics, and viruses can all trigger an episode of eczema. Environmental factors, such as stress, can also trigger a reaction. This skin condition can appear in infants, children and adults, on any part of the body.

It has been suggested that some people develop atopic diseases, such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and atopic eczema, due to alterations in their intestinal microflora. It is therefore suggested that live bacteria supplements might help to prevent and treat atopic disorders by altering intestinal microflora. Distinctive alterations in the composition of the gut microflora have been found in people with atopic diseases, which suggests that there is interaction between the intestinal immune system and specific microfloral strains in the development of these conditions1.

Many children with allergic conditions have a delay in the development of the gut microflora at weaning. A study began treatment with Lactobacilli spp. at, or around, birth and observed allergic symptoms for the next two years2. It was found that those receiving probiotic live bacteria were half as likely to develop atopic eczema as those infants who did not. Probiotic supplements may therefore be potentially beneficial to the maturation of an infant’s immune system. Adding live bacteria to the daily diet of children with food allergies has helped to reduce eczema symptoms.

Preventing atopic disorders
It has been suggested that infants, who due to family history are at risk of developing atopic conditions, may benefit from their mothers taking probiotic supplements. In a trial, probiotics were given to women before they gave birth. The same supplements were then given to the infants themselves for six months3. The frequency of atopic eczema in the live bacteria-supplemented group was half that of the placebo group, suggesting that live bacteria are effective in the prevention of early atopic disease in high-risk children.

It is known that breastfeeding offers some protection against atopic disease, but probiotic supplementation of the pregnant and lactating mother may add to this immunoprotective effect. Supplements were given to mothers during pregnancy and lactation. Their infants were monitored for the next two years and those whose mothers had received the liver bacteria were significantly less likely to have atopic eczema4.


  1. Rautava S., Isolauri E. (2001), “The development of gut immune responses and gut microbiota: effects of probiotics in prevention and treatment of allergic disease”, Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 3(1):15-22.
  2. Kalliomaki M., Isolauri E. (2003), “Role of intestinal flora in the development of allergy”, Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 3(1):15-20.
  3. Kalliomäki M., Salminen S., Arviolmmi H., Kero P., Koskinen P., Isolauri E. (2001), “Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial”, Lancet, 357:1076-9.
  4. Rautava S., Kalliomaki M., Isolauri E. (2002), “Probiotics during pregnancy and breast-feeding might confer immunomodulatory protection against atopic disease in the infant”, J Allergy Clin Immunol., 109(1):119-21.

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