Eczema: What Your Doctor Probably Isn't Telling You
If you or your child struggle with eczema, you know too well the symptoms of itching, swelling, dryness, and discomfort that interfere with everything from missed school and work, to anxiety and limited physical activity.
While most doctors will simply send you home with a steroid eczema cream or ointment, these often only provide temporary relief by masking a single symptom of what is going on inside the body (maybe). If you remember one thing from this week's blog, let it be this: Eczema is NOT a skin issue. It's an internal imbalance that no lotion under the sun can truly fix. Here is our complete guide on eczema and how you can treat it (properly).
What is eczema? Atopic dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema, is a chronic, pruritic, autoimmune disease on the skin that occurs most frequently in children, but also affects many adults. It affects 1 in 5 kids in the U.S., according to the Allergy and Asthma Network, and about 7 percent of adults. In fact, rates have tripled in industrialized countries in the past 30 years (Red flag!!!) The skin is the largest organ in the body, with a total area of about 20 square feet. It protects us from microbes and other toxins, helps regulate body temperature, and is the principal site of interaction with the surrounding world, making it imperative to keep the skin at its optimal functioning for overall health.
Common symptoms of eczema on the face and body in both children and adults
Small, raised bumps on the skin.
Thick, dry, scaly skin that cracks.
Sensitive skin that is inflamed.
A persistent itchy rash.
Itching and inflammation that lead to skin irritation and damage.
Why has eczema become so common? Eczema is one of the three parts of a triad that includes allergy, asthma and eczema – this triad is referred to as the “atopic march”, given the frequency of overlap between the three conditions. These conditions are symptomatic of immune system dysregulation. There are a number of factors that have led to frequent immune dysregulation in many people, including kids. Here’s what could be the root causes of eczema, allergies, and asthma:
Changes in the gut flora Gut health certainly has an effect on the immune system, and there’s a clear connection between eczema and gut health. This is in part due to the diet consumed by many children and families that includes large amounts of carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods. Common food additives can push microbial communities in the wrong direction, by aiding the emergence of new pathogens, and by selectively feeding certain microbes, ultimately leading to illness and even death. Typically, gut microbes are kept slightly removed from the intestinal lining by a thin layer of mucus, and the Standard American Diet can erode that protective barrier. An ideal diet, one rich in whole foods high in soluble fiber helps keep the mucus barrier thick and healthy.
In addition, changes in the gut flora could be due to changes in birth practices and infant feeding practices. In terms of birth practices, C-sections comprise 32 percent of births in the US, potentially leading to an overall lower range of diversity of gut flora and fewer beneficial strains of bacteria. This contrasts with vaginal births in which babies are bathed in microorganisms of the mother’s vagina (particularly Lactobacillus). In terms of feeding practices, breastfeeding leads to a more diversified microflora, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Overuse of medications The frequent overuse of medications, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as Motrin, and protein pump inhibitors (PPI’s), are impacting the natural ecology of the body. The lining of our intestines has tight junctions that should be closely linked without any gaps. Unfortunately, these mentioned medications cause gaps to form between these tight junctions of the lining of the intestines, a condition that is otherwise known as leaky gut syndrome. In leaky gut syndrome, fragments of protein and bacteria reach the sensitive immune centers in the gut, triggering the immune system to produce antibodies to mount a reaction against these foods. There seems to be an association between leaky gut and eczema, along with food allergies, food sensitivities, and other autoimmune diseases. Increased exposure to environmental toxins There are toxins in the air, water, soil, foods, body products, cosmetics, home furnishings and even clothing. Environmental toxin exposures can directly dampen immune system function, specifically how immune cells develop and how they function. Kids have higher metabolic rates and their bodies absorb more toxins than adults and have difficulty disposing of these toxins.
Children are exposed to these chemicals more than ever. In fact, there are approximately 80,000 chemicals produced and only 8 chemicals are restricted on a government level. This overload of toxins may trigger an immune response, and increase flares of eczema, allergies, and asthma. 6 ways to heal eczema naturally The goal in treating eczema—and any autoimmune disease—is to determine what’s causing the immune overactivity (the root cause) and reduce inflammation. Here are our top tips to help you heal eczema internally and in our opinion, the ONLY way.
Determine food allergies or intolerances Food allergy can be a trigger of eczema, especially if the onset or worsening of eczema correlates with exposure to the food. It’s important to monitor for vomiting, diarrhea and failure to thrive, as infants with eczema and a food allergy may have these additional findings. In children and adults, it might be best to start with an elimination diet, the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities, for up to 4-6 weeks. The method includes eliminating common allergens including dairy, gluten, corn, peanuts, soy, sugar, and eggs, closely following any changes in symptoms, and reintroducing foods one at a time to see how symptoms are affected. We recommend working with a provider trained in functional health and experienced with elimination diets for best results.
Optimize your gut health The microbiome is a collection of trillions of microorganisms that inhabit your body. The health of the microbiome and the integrity of the gut lining has a major impact on immune system development, and whether a child develops allergies, eczema or asthma. When there is a disrupted microbiome, or leaky gut and eczema or allergies, there’s also likely to be symptoms of abdominal bloating and discomfort. Supplements that reduce inflammation, nourish and heal the intestinal membranes and feed healthy flora can be incredibly beneficial in healing the gut. This may include the use of turmeric, fish oil, marshmallow root, zinc, quercetin, ginger and chamomile. We can help you find the best options for you in store. To help promote healthy gut flora, we recommend a high quality probiotic. We carry only the best for you and your infants and children with strands of bacteria knows for aiding in the treatment of eczema.
Let your kids play in the mud
According to the “Hygiene Hypothesis”, sanitary conditions have disrupted the delicate balance between our body’s inner ecology and the balance of the type of immune cells we produce. Interestingly, as a result of our current lifestyle, we are not getting colonized with some important bacteria, leading to poorly maintained gut integrity and subsequent immune system dysregulation. An easy solution to this is to encourage your kids to play outside, get dirty and play with other kids, avoid antimicrobial chemicals for hand-washing, and simply wash with plain soap and water.
Apply natural topical eczema treatments to the skin Topical herbal salves can moisturize, protect and heal eczema naturally. Salves containing calendula like our Delightful Skin are good for babies (or adolescents and adults) with eczema, serving as natural emollients instead of a prescription eczema cream. You can apply these salves 1-2 times daily for dry skin, at the onset of a flare and to treat active flares.
Soak up the sun
In children and adolescents, studies have shown that those who suffer from eczema were more likely to have low levels of Vitamin D. In addition to increasing sun exposure, be sure to include vitamin D rich foods in your diet including sardines, eggs, and salmon. We sometimes recommend one of our vitamin D supplement to help boost your intake, especially during flares but it's also important to remember, D3 is a hormone so we don't want to take too muck.
If you or someone you know is dealing with eczema, look to the inside. Root causes rarely start with the skin. Feel free to stop in if you have questions or are looking for a natural treatment instead of a symptom-masker. We want you feeling good on the inside so you can feel comfortable in your own skin.
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