Eczema is a sign that the body is not functioning properly and that there is an imbalance with one or more of the body’s systems.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is as a chronic inflammatory skin condition with many sufferers experiencing acute flareups. While eczema can be triggered by an exogenous substance, it is often triggered by an endogenous agent meaning it is caused by an agent within the body.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of eczema can vary between individuals but usually include the following:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Erythema (redness)
- Lesions / papules / scaly skin
- Burning sensation on the skin’s surface
- Lichenification (pigmented thickened skin)
- Exudation (weeping skin)
There are number of causative factors of eczema. There can be a hereditary predisposition causing hyper-reactivity to environmental and dietary allergens. Immunological abnormalities are common in this condition which can result in increased histamine productivity causing symptom outbreak. Certain foods and some proteins found in foods can trigger or exacerbate eczema, even after a prolonged period of tolerance to these foods.
Poor diet and digestion can cause eczema due to a lack of specific nutrients required to support digestive processes and immune function in a healthy human. Inadequate detoxification and elimination may contribute to this condition as the body’s ability to remove toxic waste is impaired, resulting in reabsorption of waste build up from the bowel and other organs of elimination.
Sufferers of eczema often have lowered levels of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, implicating other inflammatory disorders such as inflammation of the digestive organs. In these individuals, resolving the systemic inflammation must form part of the treatment plan.
Immune function is often impaired in this condition so it’s important to support the immune system to modulate any hyper-reactivity and prevent further immune deficiency.
Central to the core treatment of eczema is digestive health, gut function and immune response.
Identifying any dietary or environmental allergens is an essential part of treatment. An elimination diet or food allergy testing may be necessary to identify any allergies or food sensitivities. Other functional testing such as comprehensive digestive stool analysis may be ordered which can identify levels of beneficial bacterial as well as harmful bacterial/fungal overgrowths.
Treatment needs to be provided on multiple levels including topical applications to provide rapid symptomatic relief together with a deeper focus on healing the internal environment of the body. Supporting the digestive system, modulating the immune function, healing and sealing the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract and enhancing stress adaptation are all part of the holistic treatment and management of eczema.
Part of treatment includes implementing dietary modifications such as increasing the intake of specific nutrients and excluding particular foods that are often damaging in eczema sufferers.
Key nutrients in the treatment of this condition include essential fatty acids, probiotics, zinc, vitamin A and E, vitamin B5, calcium and vitamin C. Foods high in indicated nutrients such as flaxseed oil, fresh oily fish, pumpkin seeds and evening primrose oil should be included in the diet. Depending on the individual and severity of the eczema, nutritional supplementation may be required for a short time to boost the intake of these key nutrients.
Damaging foods vary between individuals and what may be damaging for some may be tolerated by others. Generally speaking, dairy products and wheat are known aggravators of eczema so these foods may need to be excluded for a short time until the body can heal and strengthen. Eliminated foods may be reintroduced in a controlled manner at a later stage to determine if the body is still reactive to these foods. Foods high in histamine often aggravate eczema as do a number of other foods that are highly processed or contain preservatives, additives and artificial colouring/flavours. Again, these foods need to be identified and eliminated as part of treatment to allow the body the space it needs to heal properly.
Some lifestyle habits may need to be addressed and modified during treatment. Maintaining an optimal temperature, identifying and avoiding irritants such as household cleaning agents, cosmetics and some fabrics are important in managing eczema. Stress management, exercise and keeping the home free of dust and mould may form part of the treatment plan.
There can be an emotional aspect to eczema with stress or an emotional trauma triggering or aggravating the condition. In these cases, alternative therapies such as kinesiology or counselling may also form part of the treatment plan to support the patient at a deeper level.
Herbal medicine can be very effective in treating eczema due to the practitioner’s ability to tailor herbs to the actual presenting symptoms of the patient, however varying they may be. Being able to address multiple organs and systems concurrently is a unique strength of herbal medicine that supports the patient during the healing stage.
Unfortunately the use of topical steroid creams and other medications such as anti-histamines mask the problem and exacerbate symptoms in the longer term. They may provide instant temporary relief for many sufferers but usually result in a more severe flareup and more widely spread affected area.
Treating eczema in a timely manner is important to reduce the risk of secondary infection which is common following continuous scratching and tearing of the affected areas of skin. Individuals with eczema are at a much higher risk of contracting staph infections due to chronic skin lesions with poor inability to heal increasing the risk of exposure to Staphylococcus aureus.
Taking a natural, holistic approach in the treatment of eczema usually provides effective and long-lasting results for the patient. If you or your child is suffering from eczema our Naturopath, Belle, can provide a tailored treatment plan to help you resolve this condition and manage future flareups. Contact Belle on 0405 128 213 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book an appointment or for further information.
Belle Oneile is a fully qualified and accredited Naturopath at Northern Beaches Integrative Practitioners. She practices with full membership under the Australian Traditional Medicine Society.