Q: I've struggled with eczema my whole life. I'm allergic to seafood and nuts—foods that contain omega-3 fats, which I've heard are good for skin. Could my eczema be due to an omega-3 deficiency? — Shannon Murphy, West Paterson, New Jersey
A: Nuts and fish aren't the only source of these healthy fats: Seeds contain omega-3s, for example, as do vegetable oils such as canola and olive; plus, there are trace amounts in other foods. As a result, true omega-3 fatty acid deficiency syndrome is rare.
Still, with your allergies you could be falling short. I believe most Americans are slightly deficient in this fat. Humans evolved eating a diet with a lot more omega-3 fatty acid than we currently get—processed foods offer very few. Because omega-3s help the body manufacture some important anti-inflammatory hormones, continually falling short could contribute to conditions related to chronic inflammation, such as asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease—as well as your problem, eczema. Symptoms of a severe deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids can be dry skin, hair loss, and an impaired immune system.
You can try eating fewer foods that may be tied to inflammation, which include meat, cheese, and anything containing saturated or trans fat. And you can increase your intake of omega-3s while navigating around your allergies. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are concentrated sources of omega-3, although they're not quite the same type—nor as potent—as those found in fish. Add one tablespoon of the oil or the freshly ground seeds to your food daily. An allergy to seafood may not rule out a fish oil supplement; check with your doctor. Whether or not your eczema is due to omega-3 deficiency, there is good reason to hope that the fat can minimize some of the symptoms.