Eczema is one of the most common conditions I treat in my practice. Over the years, I’ve had experience with this condition in every degree of severity from slightly annoying to it’s full-blown health devastating form. Standard treatment for eczema is steroid cream and emollients. These treatments fail because whilst they might stop the irritation in the short term, they cannot resolve the reason that the rash is happening in the first place. Eczema (and in fact most skin conditions) reflects a deeper, internal imbalance which typically originates from poor digestion. I liken using cortisone cream to fix eczema to painting a rickety house that’s about to fall down. It may look better, and you may feel better for a short period of time, but ultimately the underlying issues must be addressed.
The good news is that through much research and first-hand experience with my clients and my family, I know what works when it comes to eczema treatment. If you suffer from eczema here are a few points that you may want to consider:
Is your diet rich in anti-allergy nutrients?
Did you know that vitamin C exerts an anti-histamine effect? Or that vitamin E can help reduce circulating IgE antibodies which are raised in eczema? Vitamin E is natures’s moisturiser and is clinically shown to alleviate eczema symptoms. However vitamin E works at its best in the presence of enough vitamin C and other key nutrients.
Vitamin D helps the body fight infection and also helps quell allergic reactions in the long term by supporting the immune system. If your eczema flairs up in the winter and if the summer sun helps your skin then you most likely have a vitamin D deficiency.
Poor diet, stress and smoking can all deplete these nutrients. So too can faulty digestion because it leads to impaired ability to absorb the nutrients needed for skin health.
How allergic are you?
Did you know that an allergy or intolerance to milk, eggs and peanuts accounts for 81% of childhood eczema? Wheat, soya, chocolate and citrus are other common triggers. Any food can cause an allergy/intolerance and the symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear, making it difficult to pinpoint the culprits.
One way to find out if you have an allergy or intolerance is to follow an elimination/challenge diet for a period of several weeks. You can also do blood testing for allergies (IgE testing) and intolerances (IgG testing). See the testing options available in my clinic.
Can your skin defend itself?
People with eczema have impaired resistance to bacterial infection on the skin. Your skin’s sebaceous glands make an antibacterial substance called undecynic acid as part of a natural, protective oily layer. Many skin washes, shower gels, shampoos, creams and cosmetics contain sodium laureth sulphate or mineral oils that strip the protective layer off the skin, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria infection and to allergic reactions. Even your shower water can then cause irritation as it contains chlorine, a known skin irritant. Part of my job is to survey the products that my clients use on their skin and the chemicals that they come into contact with daily and provide alternatives where necessary. There are also some wonderful products on the market which can correct skin PH and bacteria levels but the chances are that your doctor wont have told you about them.
Is your liver function tip top?
Eczema is a symptom of impaired liver function. Your liver is responsible for over 10,000 chemical reactions needed to transform toxins into harmless substances ready for elimination. The liver needs a range of nutrients to function optimally, if you are missing any then it may struggle. Certain foods (e.g. refined foods) can impede the liver by depleting nutrients such as B vitamins, which are needed for these important chemical reactions.
Do you have lots of micronutrients?
Studies on mice showed that feeding them a diet low in magnesium and zinc induced a dermatitis-like condition. Humans also need zinc to preserve skin barrier integrity and liver function. Zinc is essential for skin repair and maintenance. Magnesium is needed for the liver and to help kill skin bacteria that can contribute to eczema. Low levels of magnesium will leave you more prone to stress, poor bowel function or lowered energy.
Is your digestive system in good shape?
If you have impaired digestion then even the healthiest diet and lifestyle will not give the results they should. If any of the following apply to you then your digestion is not all it should be: belching, bloating/excess wind, digestive discomfort, constipation, diarrhoea, pale or floating stools, discomfort after fatty meals or not chewing your food.
Are you getting enough essential fats?
It is important to eat lots of essential fats if you suffer from eczema. This is because they help to keep skin cells well hydrated. Trans fats from refined oils and excess saturated fats should be limited as they impede your body’s ability to utilise “good” essential fats. Sometimes the body’s ability to metabolise dietary omega 3 (oily fish) and omega 6 (raw seeds and nuts) becomes faulty. Improving digestion with nutritional therapy can often treat this problem.
Do you have enough healthy bacteria?
We need sufficient beneficial bacteria in the gut to reduce our body’s tenancy to allergy. Healthy bacteria reset the immune system so it doesn’t attack benign substances, only to pathogens (e.g. bacteria, viruses). Studies show that lack of beneficial bacteria is associated with a greatly increased incidence of eczema. As well as other allergies such as asthma and hay-fever. Antibiotic use and lack of breastfeeding are two common causes of inadequate good bacteria. Refined diets and steroid medications are other common causes. Treatment to boost beneficial bacteria in the gut often alleviates symptoms of eczema. A recent Finnish study showed a reduction in eczema incidence of 40% in 4 year olds by giving their mothers probiotics (friendly bacteria) during the last 2-3 weeks of pregnancy.