Written by: Kofi Dwinfour

By Denise Reynolds RD, EmaxHealth

Originally published here

Atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema, affects almost 18 million Americans according to statistics from the National Eczema Association. For many, the condition worsens in the winter when heated homes and low humidity dry the skin.


A new study has found that perhaps a vitamin supplement can help reduce the symptoms of itchy, inflamed skin from eczema.

Researchers with Massachusetts General Hospital studied more than 100 Mongolian school children between the ages of 2 and 17. All had a history of atopic dermatitis symptoms that worsened during cold weather or around the transition from autumn to winter. Divided into two groups, one group received a daily vitamin D dose of 1000 IU while the other received a placebo.

At the end of one month, children receiving the vitamin supplements had an average 29% improvement in symptoms.

Atopic dermatitis (AD) almost always begins in childhood, usually during infancy. Its symptoms are dry, itchy, scaly skin, cracks behind the ears, and rashes on the cheeks, arms and legs. It alternately improves and worsens. During “flare-ups,” open weeping or crusted sores may develop from scratching or from infections.

Some previous studies have suggested that eczema symptoms are worse in those deficient in vitamin D. This particular study did not assess vitamin deficiency, though the authors do note that other research has indicated that as many as 98% of the population in Ulaanbaatar (where the study occurred) have low levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is not naturally found in very many foods. Food sources include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and fish liver oils, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Dairy products in the US are often fortified with vitamin D.

Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D need through exposure to sunlight. UVB rays penetrates uncovered skin and through a chemical reaction we ultimately make vitamin D3. However, during winter months, we are not exposed to as much sunlight, which may also explain why eczema symptoms worsen in winter.

Supplements of vitamin D are readily available. Children one to thirteen years require 600 IU daily to meet the RDA. Carlos Camargo MD DrPH of the MGH Department of Emergency Medicine says that parents of children with symptoms that worsen in the winter should try a vitamin D supplement for a few weeks when symptoms flare to see if it helps.


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NICE logo

Additional UK information on vitamin D supplements

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance that aims to increase supplement use to prevent vitamin D deficiency among at-risk groups including:

  • infants and children aged under 5
  • pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly teenagers and young women
  • people over 65
  • people who have low or no exposure to the sun, for example, those who cover their skin for cultural reasons, who are housebound or confined indoors for long periods
  • people with darker skin, for example, people of African, African-Caribbean or South Asian family origin.

Dietary sources of vitamin D are limited. The main natural source is from the action of sunlight on skin. However, from mid-October to the beginning of April in the UK there is no ambient ultraviolet sunlight of the appropriate wavelength for skin synthesis of vitamin D.

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