Soothe your skin naturally
Meghan van Drimmelen, ND
Those who have experienced eczema know how uncomfortable the skin rashes can be. Fortunately, three simple steps can help us manage this condition, naturally.
In Canada, it is estimated that 17 percent of the population will suffer from eczema at some point in their lives. Those who have experienced eczema know how uncomfortable the red, itchy skin rashes can be. Fortunately, three simple steps can help us manage this condition—naturally. What is eczema? Atopic dermatitis or eczema is characterized by dry, irritated, inflamed, itchy skin, usually found behind the knees; in the crease of elbows, wrists, and ankles; as well as on the hands, neck, and face. It most commonly starts in infancy or childhood, but can develop at any point in a person’s life. Children who have eczema are more likely to develop asthma and environmental allergies and often have family members who have these concerns. Standard medical treatment Standard medical treatment involves the use of topical steroidal cream. This anti-inflammatory cream will take out the itch and redness but unfortunately doesn’t get to the underlying cause of the skin disorder. So, once you stop using the cream, the itch and redness can come back with a vengeance. The naturopathic approach A naturopathic approach to healing eczema targets the root cause of skin inflammation and is a long-term answer to managing skin health. The cause of eczema seems to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Specifically, we know that eczema is associated with a malfunction of the immune system. In individuals with eczema, the immune system is misguided, and rather than just attacking bacteria and viruses that invade the body, it starts to attack the skin cells, causing inflammation. When our bodies attack our own cells, it is viewed as autoimmunity. So, to treat eczema, we are actually targeting the immune system. Follow these three simple steps with the help of your naturopathic doctor to naturally ease your eczema for good. Step 1: Identify food allergies and sensitivities Immune reactions to food can cause inflammation in various parts of the body. In the case of eczema, this immune reaction presents as inflammation on the skin. There are two main types of immune-related food reactions—immediate onset allergies (IgE reactions) and delayed onset food sensitivities (IgG reactions)—and two main ways to identify them: blood testing or an elimination and challenge diet. Food allergies While food allergies tend to be related to hives, breathing problems, and anaphylaxis, they can also be related to skin disorders such as eczema. These reactions are immediate in nature and a skin flare-up is typically noted soon after the trigger food is ingested. Food sensitivities Food sensitivities, on the other hand, are delayed in nature and can take up to 72 hours to manifest on the skin after the food trigger is ingested. They tend to be harder to pinpoint and may be associated with eczema and other chronic health concerns such as irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches. Blood testing With blood testing, we are actually measuring the amount of antibodies (IgE and IgG) you are producing in response to various types of food. The higher the antibody levels, the more sensitive or allergic you are to the food. The elimination and challenge diet The elimination and challenge diet, on the other hand, involves the elimination of the most common food triggers for a period of four to six weeks. After four to six weeks, we start to slowly introduce each food one by one, looking for skin flare-ups along the way. If adverse effects are noted, we have found the food culprit. Some of the most common food triggers associated with eczema are dairy, egg, gluten, and soy. When to test Food sensitivities can be tested in children over the age of two, while allergies can be tested in infants six months and older. For breastfed infants, a health care practitioner may recommend food testing and a change in diet for Mom. Food allergies and sensitivities can change over time and are largely influenced by the health of our digestive tracts. Once food triggers are identified, your health care practitioner may recommend a full elimination for three months while you work on healing the intestinal lining and balancing the immune and digestive system. After these three months, occasionally these reactive foods can be eaten again in moderation. However, in some individuals, long-term elimination is required. Step 2: Heal the gut We know that 80 percent of the immune system surrounds the gut. So it makes sense that any imbalance in our digestive system may lead to immune imbalance and autoimmunity and contribute to conditions such as eczema. A basic protocol for healing the gut involves supplementation with a high-dose multi-strain probiotic, omega-3 fish oil, and L-glutamine. Probiotics Probiotics are naturally occurring good bacteria that line our digestive tract. Supplementing with probiotics helps to re-establish a healthy balance of good to bad bacteria, which helps to modulate the immune system. Because of this, we are now seeing numerous studies showing the clinical benefit of probiotics in the treatment and prevention of eczema. Omega-3 fish oil Omega-3 fish oil is anti-inflammatory in nature. Increasing your fish intake and supplementing with omega-3 fish oil can help decrease inflammation in the gut and skin and may ameliorate symptoms of eczema. L-glutamine Lastly, L-glutamine is an amino acid that acts as fuel to heal damaged intestinal cells. By restoring intestinal health and decreasing intestinal permeability, there is less immune reactivity and systemic inflammation. Step 3: Moisturize your skin While working on healing the skin from the inside out and addressing the underlying immune imbalance, soothing skin itchiness with a natural moisturizing cream or ointment can be helpful. Look for an all-natural coconut oil or manuka honey-based cream, and apply to problem areas two times per day.