I cured my eczema by eliminating potatoes from my diet. That’s right, potatoes were causing my eczema.
From the time I was a toddler into my 20s I had eczema. It manifested as red itchy sores in my elbow and knee bends, my eyelids, as cracks on my knuckles and at times random patches elsewhere.
My primary care doctor and dermatologist diagnosed my eczema as contact dermatitis, i.e., something was irritating my skin. I was encouraged to use hypoallergenic laundry detergents, wash my hands less frequently, and wear gloves. All these things I did but the eczema persisted.
I was prescribed cortisone cream which I applied religiously in addition to over the counter “dermatologist recommended” lotions like Curel, Aveeno, and Cetaphil, though these provided some relief, the itchiness and sores never went away. In fact even if I had the self control to not itch, I would still have bloody cracks on my hands and rough oozing patches elsewhere.
I resigned myself to living with eczema, and never finding a cure. This all changed after a fateful conversation with my girlfriend, now wife.
In the early stages of dating I jokingly feigned that I was going to take a bite out of a raw russet potato. She stopped me by stating urgently, “don’t you know raw potatoes are poisonous?”
I had no idea. In fact, I didn’t believe her, so I had to Google it, and her claim was validated. Apparently raw potatoes especially younger greener potatoes have high concentrations of a glycoalkaloid toxin called solanine. This toxin is somewhat neutralized through cooking, but traces of that toxin always remain.
It was in that moment that I had a major epiphany. What if my eczema was caused by my diet? What if it was actually atopic dermititis? I had long suspected that the eczema came from within. Why would I have eczema on my eyelids for instance? I don’t wear makeup or face lotions. Nothing really touches my eyelids over the course of a day, and yet they had these oozy patches. At times the eczema on my hands and in the bends of my arms and legs seemed to ooze. It felt like acid was coming out of my body and burning my skin.
After this epiphany I eliminated potatoes from my diet and within a matter of 3-4 weeks, my eczema had completely disappeared. I was blown away. I was upset. Why had no doctor ever suggested diet played a role in my eczema?!
My eczema was cured by not eating potatoes, but my research continued.
Potatoes as it turns out are a post-Columbian food. Though they’re closely associated with several European cultures today, they were not introduced into the European diet until after Christopher Columbus.
Potatoes are part of a family of plants called nightshades. Named after the deadly nightshade, which got it’s name from having toxin levels so high it’s used in poisons. Tomatoes, peppers (not peppercorns), eggplant, okra, tobacco, and goji berries are all in the nightshade family, and they all have varying levels of this nightshade toxin, which I surmise was the cause of my eczema.
The strange thing is, no other nightshade seems to cause eczema in me. I can have occasional tomatoes and hot sauces without having a eczema breakout. Tomato sauce on pizza seems to be okay. Perhaps tomatoes and peppers don’t manifest this toxin the same way potatoes do? Perhaps they’re digested differently?
Maybe it’s not the nightshade toxin at all. Maybe it’s something else in or on potatoes? I once ran into a woman from the potato industry at SeaTac airport. She was on her way home from a produce conference. I don’t recall how it came up, but we got on the topic of potato storage. She told me that potatoes are essentially spoiled after they sprout. Both light and moisture causes sprouting, so freshly harvested potatoes are stored with some dirt still on and in massive semi-subterranean storage warehouses, both to protect the potatoes from light.
When it comes time to go to market the potatoes are washed, dried, then fumigated with an anti-sprout chemical. At grocery stores and in homes potatoes will be hit with a lot of light so this chemical prevents sprouting. Perhaps this chemical is a factor in my eczema too?
When it comes to other nightshades though, I am sensitive. Tomatoes and eggplant seem to cause stomach irritation, and more alarmingly stiffness in my joints, especially in my neck and knees. Growing up I had recurring knee issues and often got sore necks. I wonder if the liberal indulgence in potatoes and tomatoes were the culprit?
Lifestyle Changes; Potatoes are in Everything
From time to time I have eczema flair ups and I can almost always trace in back to potatoes or potatoes byproducts like potato flour, potato starch (often an ingredient in Maltodextrin, a food additive).
These potato byproducts are in soups, soup stocks, breads, chips, tortillas, frozen dinners and more. If the food is processed there’s a chance there’s one potato based ingredient. For this reason I read ingredient labels carefully.
After one recent flair up I discovered that my beloved Taco Bell uses Maltodextrin or outright potato starch in some recipes. After reducing the frequency I was eating at Taco Bell (I went from weekly, to once every couple months), the eczema flair up went away.
This is that potato caused, albeit mild eczema flair up:
Compared to my potato eating days, the pictures above are actually much milder than how my eczema looked. Cracks would span my joints, oozing and bleeding.
The horrible thing about this, is that like most people I adored potatoes. They are a truly great food that has a lot of diversity.
For me however, the health trade off of having eczema is not worth it. I’ve been essentially eczema free since eliminating potatoes from my diet about eight years ago. I have no intention of going back.