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NATURAL MANAGEMENT OF ECZEMA
Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, can be a chronic, inflammatory skin
disorder. It is mostly characterized by small blisters which dry to become scaly,
itchy rashes because too much moisture is lost from the skin‟s upper layer. This
leaves the skin without protection, making it easy for bacteria and viruses to
penetrate. Eczema may occur episodically; in other words, there may be periods
when symptoms are severe (flares/breakouts) and times when there are no
symptoms at all (remission).
This skin condition can be anything from mildly irritating to almost completely
debilitating, depending on it‟s severity. The unpleasant manifestations of dryness
and recurring skin rashes are characterized in different individuals as redness,
skin oedema, intense itching, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing and
bleeding - or dry, leathery areas with more or less pigment than their normal skin
tone (called lichenification) – which make it uncomfortable, embarrassing and
sometimes socially awkward.
Although eczema mostly starts in childhood, it can also appear in adulthood, at
times seemingly out of the blue. In children it commonly manifests in under 2year olds and starts to show on the cheeks, elbows, or knees. In adults, it tends
to be located on the inside surfaces of the knees and elbows, but can spread to
anywhere on the body. Although 65% of cases appear before the age of one
year old, up to 90% of cases become evident before the age of 5.
Causes
The question is often asked: is this an internal problem (ie. food intolerance,
medication) or is it an environmental problem (ie. allergy to animals, house dust,
pollens etc). The short answer is that it can be either - or both. Perhaps the best
way to approach this would be to do all you can to change the things that can be
changed, and manage those you can‟t. You are able to control everything that
goes into your mouth, and up to a point, control certain environmental factors –
but for the most part, the environmental factors will be the most difficult to control.
Foods which may noticeably aggravate symptoms include dairy products, glutenbased grains, sugar and fructose. There are other foods as well, but by avoiding
these foods which are most commonly associated with eczema for a season, you
may notice a swift improvement. Keeping a journal of what you have eaten and
noting down your observations and reactions, will give you a fairly good idea after
around a month or so as to which foods are problematic. Learn to „listen‟ to your
body by journaling what you eat, how you feel, what your skin looks like and
whether there is a marked improvement after avoiding the food(s) for a while,
and you will frequently be able to identify the food culprit all on your own if food is
in fact the problem.
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Stress makes everything worse it seems, particularly in the case of eczema.
Susceptible individuals will testify that stress can cause severe breakouts. By
controlling stressors you may be able to prevent breakouts.
Laundry detergents, especially those with sodium laurel sulphate (SLS or SLES)
should be avoided, by everyone in fact. Don‟t be misled either by the „natural‟
washing powders around – most seem to still have some toxic chemicals
present. Soaps, deodorants, detergents, skin creams and cigarette smoke can
all contribute to – or cause – eczema. Choose products wisely, and read labels
extensively.
Other Contributing Factors
You might want to consider the presence of parasites in your system – in which
case a good herbal parasite cleanse wouldn‟t go amiss. A quick way to find out
whether you have parasites is to eat a large handful of pumpkin seeds on an
empty stomach once or twice a day for about a week. Chew these very well, and
have water with them. Often there is evidence of parasites appearing in the loo a
few days later! If this is the case, find a health professional who will guide you in
a proper parasite elimination strategy.
Bowel flora can be so severely compromised after a course of antibiotics, that
eczema breaks out – and by reintroducing several strains of probiotics there is
often a remarkable reversal of this condition. A fungal infection can also be
mistaken for eczema if not diagnosed by a professional, in which case using tea
tree oil on the affected part whilst taking probiotics will also improve the condition
significantly. One of the manifestations of candida albicans is extremely itchy
skin, so if you suspect you have candida, follow a simple diet to eradicate this
condition – it may well be the answer to what you thought was eczema all along.
There are many other suspects like house dust, pets, wool, moulds, medications
– but in effect, just about anything could be the cause.
Strategy
It would be helpful to avoid junk foods and particularly chocolates now, as these
interfere with the essential fatty acid status in your body. Increase the intake of
healthy food and of essential fatty acids especially omega-3 found in oily fish.
Include meat from organically-farmed animals and chicken eggs along with
organic vegetables and fruit (not citrus though, as this can be an irritant in some)
and a reduction of grains in your diet. Preferably eliminate all grains and sugars
from your diet for a while, and totally avoid trans-fatty acids as found in
margarine and vegetable oils. This is part of a strategy which should certainly
bring significant relief if not complete recovery.
Topical Assistance
Some skin-care products contain a list of chemicals so long and terrifying, you
would swear that you were purchasing a weapon of chemical warfare. But wait –
this is chemical warfare! These chemicals wage war on our bodies whether we
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manifest with eczema, or the dangerous effects go on within us, perhaps
unnoticed for years. One interesting example is propylene glycol. This and
related chemical ethylene glycol was first used in industry as anti-freeze and
hydraulic brake fluid before it found its way into our food supply and personal
care products. Although undoubtedly proven "safe" by the limited tests vested
interests and industry have carried out on this particular chemical, serious
concerns remain about what the long term effects are on human health. If you
suffer from eczema toxic cosmetics need to be avoided. Fortunately there is no
excuse in South Africa anymore as we have a number of fantastic healthy and
organic ranges – some local - which are safe and free from harmful chemicals.
Topical oils which can be effectively used for relief include Emu oil, Lavender oil,
Neem oil and Oregano oil. Because different things work for different people, it‟s
worth trying something for a while and if it doesn‟t work move onto something
else. You will eventually find something that will work for you.
Amazingly, by applying something as simple as potato or rhubarb juice can ease
the itchiness and discomfort for many people. It‟s certainly cheaper, readily
available and well worth a try. Cut a potato in half (if you don‟t have rhubarb
juice readily to hand) and rub it onto the affected area.
The crushed leaves of Calendula (Marigold) applied topically can be quite
successful according to some people. Mixing calendula with the oil of chamomile,
is anecdotally reported to bring great relief, and is something else you can do
inexpensively at home.
Find a good natural emollient which is free from all parabens and other
chemicals, and use this constantly to keep the affected area moisturized. Putting
the cream/gel into the fridge in summer is helpful if the eczema feels hot, as this
can offer a temporary cooling sensation to the area whilst moisturizing it.
A really helpful method for many people is to relax in an oatmeal bath. Add one
or two cups of porridge oats to lukewarm bathwater, and soak for a while. (It‟s a
great excuse to escape from the kids for a while, as you undergo your
“treatment”!) The itchier you are, the more oats you might want to add. When
you get out of the bath, apply a good moisturizer or emollient straight onto damp
but dry skin.
Nutritional Aids
The most effective treatment for eczema is unquestionably the omega-3 fatty
acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from fish
oils. They have shown significant inflammation marker reduction, according to
the results of a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology. In
this study, the researchers led by Margitta Worm from ChariteUniversitatsmedizin Berlin, reported: "With this randomised, double-blind,
controlled trial we show that an 8-week supplementation with 5.4g daily of the n-3
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PUFA DHA led to a significant clinical improvement of atopic eczema compared
with baseline scores1."
Worm recruited 53 people with atopic eczema (average age 26) and randomly
assigned them to receive either a daily supplement of 5.4g of DHA or a control of
saturated fatty acids with an equivalent caloric value. After 8 weeks, Worm and
co-workers reported that the severity scoring of atopic dermatitis (SCORAD)
reduced from 37 to 28.5 in the DHA group, and by 35.4 to 33.4 in the control
group. The researchers concluded: "DHA, but not the control treatment, resulted
in a significant clinical improvement of atopic eczema in terms of a decreased
SCORAD".
There have been literally thousands of studies on the beneficial effects of omega3 fatty acids DHA and EPA from fish oils, and at present there is globally a
growing body of evidence that this is not only vital for eczema – but for all bodily
functions at a cellular level. The powerful anti-inflammatory effect of fish oils
cannot be ignored, and in the case of eczema, taking the right amount (which
may be considerably higher in some people than the recommended dosage)
shows near miraculous results in many subjects.
Most natural health
professionals agree that fish oil is the first choice in eczema treatment.
Vitamin E is an important part of treatment as well and can be used to good
effect both topically and orally. A good vitamin E cream - safe and free from toxic
chemicals – moisturizes and heals affected areas in some people. Adding
vitamin E oil to a cream you already have is an option for topical application as
well. An oral dosage of 400-800iu a day of dry vitamin E is usually the most
effective dose for noticeable results. When taking any oils it‟s always wise
anyway to take a Vitamin E supplement to prevent oxidation thereof.
The importance of water should not be overlooked. Whilst the condition is
primarily that of an essential fatty acid deficiency, dehydration is a serious
consideration. Not only should the eczema sufferer be drinking plenty of water,
but preferably distilled water in order that no additional toxins are ingested. A
good level of hydration is important in relieving this condition, so adequate
amounts must be taken during the day. When the body sweats, toxins are
released, and these toxins can be extremely irritating if the person is dehydrated
on top of it, as the toxins are more concentrated. A healthy person should be
drinking around 30ml of water a day per kilogram of body weight. Therefore if
your weight is say 70kg, then 70kg x 30ml = 2.1 litres a day.
Some Helpful Nutrients
Because most atopic eczema sufferers exhibit a deficiency in the delta-6
desaturase enzyme (which converts Linoleic Acid to GLA, and also converts
Alpha-Linolenic Acid to Stearidonic Acid) it is important to totally avoid anything
like flaxseed oil as it cannot be converted in the human body, and may further
interfere with essential fatty acid metabolism. Fish oils are beneficial as they do
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not need this enzyme to be metabolized, and are in the form that the body can
immediately use, bringing much-needed relief in almost every case. Avoiding an
excess of omega-6 oils in the form of sunflower oil, canola oil and processed
foods (usually very high in damaged fats) has also been recognized to be
important. This is due to the inflammatory nature of these fats, which then
compete for the same receptor sites occupied by omega-3 fats, which are antiinflammatory.
Zinc deficiency is often observed in eczema cases. Very often supplementing
with about 30mg a day can make a significant difference in bringing the condition
under control.
Biotin may be deficient in some cases of eczema, and supplementing with this
vitamin, as well as inositol, and vitamin A (25,000iu/day) often brings relief.
Eczema patients appear to be deficient in many of the B vitamins in fact,
particularly B12, B6 and B2, so it would be helpful to take a high-strength B
Complex once or twice a day to cover all these B vitamins.
If you are extremely stressed supplementing with licorice to support adrenal
function plus high-dose Vitamin C (4-8g daily in divided doses of 2g at a time),
can be hugely beneficial. When adrenal function is adversely affected, there is
very often an upsurge in allergies and skin conditions.
Whilst Evening Primrose Oil may be helpful for some people, GLA from borage
oil appears to be much more effective, usually at a dose of around 1000mg a
day. Most effective of all are the fish oils at around 3000-4000mg a day – and
these should be taken by anyone with eczema. The combination of the two oils
usually works very well - the fish oil does need to be around 60-80% „active‟
though, not just any fish oil will help, and it should be ultra-refined to avoid
mercury contamination.
Finally, insufficient production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, called
hypochlorhydria, is a factor to consider. There are cases of people taking too
much calcium or regular indigestion remedies, leading to a form of eczema due
to the suppression of acid in the stomach. This then may cause intestinal
permeability or Leaky Gut Syndrome (often brought about by antibiotics too),
which can either cause or exacerbate an eczema-like condition.
SUMMARY
Avoid:
Glutinous grains in particular - but eliminate all grains for a season if
possible
Fructose, sugar, artificial sweeteners
Dairy products (a little butter can be used)
Margarine
Flaxseed oil, grape seed oil, canola oil, sunflower oil (use olive oil)
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Junk food, chocolates, chips, damaged fats and processed food
Stressors within your control
Laundry detergents and other environmental toxins
Toxic skin care
Include:
3-4g Omega-3 Fish Oil, high-dose, pharmaceutical grade/ultra-refined
1g GLA
Fish (fresh where possible or tinned in brine, not sunflower oil)
Organic meat, eggs, chicken, vegetables and fruit where possible
Distilled water where possible – but increase intake of water nonetheless
A really good probiotic with around 10 strains and with approx 20 billion
colony forming units per capsule (keep this refrigerated too)
Also consider:
Keeping a journal to be able to measure your progress
A parasite cleanse if apparent that this is needed
A diet to clear candida albicans if appropriate
A blood test for food intolerances (IgE and IgG is suggested)
Stopping antacids which may interfere with hydrochloric acid production
Introduce these nutrients:
Probiotic (such as MaxiBiotic 20)
Zinc supplement (in a chelate or picolinate form, 30mg/day)
Try topical aids such as a sliced potato
Consider oatmeal baths
Vitamin E at 400-800iu daily
Biotin and/or a Vitamin B Complex twice daily
Refs:
1. British Journal of Dermatology, June 2008 – Vol 158, Issue 4, pg 786-792. "Docosahexaenoic
acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial"
Authors: C. Koch, S. Dölle, M. Metzger, C. Rasche, H. Jungclas, R. Rühl, H. Renz, M. Worm.
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