By Sarah Coote
From Itchy To Inspired. eczema; An Itchy little world
Of all the things I thought I would become an expert in as a Mum, eczema definitely wasn’t forefront of mind. Though shortly after the introduction of solid foods, my 6 month old daughter, Isla, would soon change my eczema expert status! In my extensive research as a nutritionist (and more so, a Mum) here’s some insightful hidden truths about eczema I learned, that changed everything!
As a holistic nutritionist, I have a distinct respect in how food can modulate gene expression and be one of the most significant influences on either taking you toward health or down the path of dis- ease. As my daughter was born, all my learnings integrated and I was in absolute awe how amazing the human body is and what it is capable of.
As a nutritionist, I implement a nutrient dense whole foods diet, which is gluten free, grain free, dairy free, refined sugar free, soy free, additive free and preservative free, ultimately giving my body (and Isla) the nutrition it is designed for. I was also fortunate enough to be able to breastfeed Isla without any complications and as she showed increasing interest in eating at around 6 months, I began introducing her to the incredible world of nutritious food, and Isla thrived.
Around 6 months of age, on a tropical island holiday, a round rash appeared. Was it ringworm? Was it an insect bite (my daughter did have a strange infatuation in pulling legs off poor huntsman spiders)? Was it an allergy to the natural washing detergent I used? Isla’s diet was so clean and healthy, it couldn’t possibly be an allergy to food, could it?!
After questioning every possibility over many months and the consuming frustration of trying to work out what was causing this unrelenting rash, I don’t know how I missed the obvious with my own daughter! Eggs! The second most common food allergy among children and it was causing atopic dermatitis (eczema). I’ll blame the prolonged sleep deprivation on that oversight!
I understand and respect the role genetics play in predisposing risk of certain dis-eases, though I also believe it is the environment that facilitates the expression of the gene. 'Genetics load the gun, though the environment pulls the trigger.' With my husband and I both having a history of allergies and asthma, studies show both parents having allergies is the strongest predictor, and there is an 80% chance Isla would have eczema also.
After eliminating egg, Isla’s rash cleared and I thought that was the end... haha!
In the coming year, we would constantly battle with random flares, until the eczema became so bad, so red, so inflamed and so debilitatingly itchy for Isla, it resulted in an infection. Nothing was helping and the eczema and infection was spreading. No one prepares you for seeing your child in pain and at that moment I knew I would do all I could to find a solution. A sustainable one.
Though the exact causes of eczema are unknown, genetic factors absolutely play a role, food sensitivities can act as triggers, environmental irritants or allergens like chemicals, pets and dust can influence flares, along with low humidity, microbes and stress. With consuming a whole foods diet, void of egg, gluten, grains, dairy, soy, refined-sugar, preservatives, additives and vegetable oils, doing all I could to limit food triggers, I was pretty certain food sensitivities were not a factor in Isla’s eczema. Our household limits chemical use, as all products used (if any) are naturally derived, and paying dedicated attention to gut health since the moment Isla was born, along with bringing her up in a loving, comfortable and supportive environment with regular chiropractic adjustments, I was at an absolute end as to where to turn next.
It was time to delve into science and unveil the hidden truths of eczema!
Though the triggers above are among the well known, in my epic journey (and it really has been epic!) to help heal Isla’s eczema, here are some of the hidden facts that have forever changed her itchy little world. The following have taken me from being heart-broken every time I saw the all- consuming rashes covering her little body, to being informed, knowledgeable and confident in treatment and preventative measures. They have taken Isla from being in pain, frustrated, clingy, chronically itchy and a terrible sleeper, to a happy, confident, healthy, though still terrible sleeper (she is still a toddler after all!), though now thrives in life:
Though the exact cause of eczema remains unknown, the most recent research shows eczema may be a result of structural defects in the skin, resulting in impaired barrier function. Just like leaky gut, though for the skin, which allows irritants, toxins, antigens etc into the body and result in an exaggerated immune response. The key then, is to help the skin heal and function as it's designed.
Role of Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a star nutrient and is actually classified as a hormone it is so significant in so many functions in the body.
D-ficiency has been shown in many studies to influence atopic dermatitis and allergic diseases.1 2 It has also been shown that maternal intake of vitamin D during pregnancy reduced the risk of asthma, hay fever and food sensitivities.3 Vitamin D has also been demonstrated to have a beneficial effect on promoting integrity of the permeability barrier in the skin, suppress inflammatory processes and enhance antimicrobial activity. 4 5 6 It’s no wonder winter-related worsening of eczema symptoms is so common! Our options were to move to a tropical island in Winter to increase those sun rays... or supplement with vitamin D3. My husband said we have to supplement for now (stay posted though!).
Fungi Overgrowth: Pathogenic fungus can trigger inflammation and add to eczema flare ups. 70% of eczema sufferers also have intestinal fungal overgrowth (candida) and this triggers IgE antibodies and results in eczema flares.7 It is essential to heal the fungi overgrowth FIRST for eczema symptoms to heal. Even with a healthy diet, eczema CANNOT improve unless fungal overgrowth is addressed. Topical anti-fungal creams or oral anti fungal treatments can be used to help treat fungi overgrowth. Spring onions, garlic and leeks are also great eczema friendly anti- fungal foods.
Probiotic Plays: Like the skin acting as a barrier to the outside world, your gut functions in the same way. You have more bacteria in your gut than you do cells in your entire body and gut bacteria plays an essential role in immunity and an endless amount of functions in the body. Research has shown that there are often abnormalities, like increased intestinal permeability and bacteria dysbiosis in children with eczema, suggesting poor gut health contributes to eczema symptoms. Antibiotics, sugar, dairy, NSAIDS, alcohol, parasites and gliadin (the main protein found in glutenous grains) can all add to gut dysbiosis. A quality probiotic supplement and probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can alleviate eczema symptoms in IgE (allergy induced) atopic dermatitis, as well as improve overall health. 8
Essential Omega 3s: Essential fatty acids are nutrients the body requires though must be provided by outside sources, as the body cannot make them. They consist of Omega 6 (inflammatory properties) and Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory properties). The problem is with the unbalanced ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in the standard western diet of approximately 17 x Omega 6 to 1 x Omega 3, when it should be a balanced 1:1 ratio. This elevated Omega 6 has inflammatory effects on the body and eczema sufferers tend to show a higher omega 6 level in their blood.10 It’s also shown in studies children of breastfeeding mother’s who have elevated Omega 6 and low levels of Omega 3 went on to develop eczema.11 12 Not only is Omega 3 (DHA and EPA) essential for cognitive development, healthy nervous system function, proper growth and healthy skin, it can greatly reduce inflammation and eczema symptoms. Consuming seafood and wild caught fish, low in mercury such as salmon, sardines, herring, trout or a quality fish oil supplement is extremely beneficial for eczema treatment and overall health.
Less than Optimal Liver Function: The liver has many roles in the body, being the second largest organ. One of these vital roles is detoxification to remove toxins, chemicals and histamines from the body, acting like a filter and then supplying the body with nutrients to function as it’s required. The appearance of eczema may indicate the liver is not dealing with the load of toxins effectively and cannot properly filter them.13 Reducing the chemical load on the liver and limiting toxins in the digestive tract allows the liver to obtain nutrients to process chemicals more effectively and limits prevalence of eczema symptoms. Increasing filtered water intake, reducing chemical load from products, limiting sugar and processed foods can all help the liver to detoxify more effectively and support healing eczema.
Salicylates & Amine Rich Foods: I had no idea the healthy whole foods Isla was consuming daily could be adding to her eczema, and I’m a nutritionist! Avocado is among one of the healthiest foods you can eat, right?! Not so much if you have chronic eczema. Amines and salicylates are natural occurring compounds present in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, teas, coffee and nuts, that function as a natural preservative, to prevent rotting and protect against harmful bacteria and fungi. The problem with these natural occurring chemicals, along with nitrates and food colourings is that they again increase the chemical load on the liver and can produce IgE bodies (an allergy response) and exacerbate eczema symptoms, also from increased gut permeability. Now I am by no means recommending a salicylate and amine free diet, as that is near on impossible and not even close to healthy. Though I did limit Isla’s consumption of foods with high levels of these (eg: grapes, kiwi, tomato, oranges, avocado) during her acute eczema flares when nothing else worked. She went from eating 1-2 avocados a day to none and having inflamed, red and acutely itchy eczema to just dry skin, which could be much more easily managed.
Papaya- Nature’s Zyrtec: Papaya fruit is the best natural antihistamine and these should be included in allergy sufferer’s diets, rather than relying on synthetic drug antihistamines, which the liver can’t break down like it can with those naturally occurring in food. This additional stress on the liver can also then exacerbate conditions like eczema and create a vicious cycle. Papaya is a staple in Isla’s daily diet now and it works amazingly well.
Honey- Nature’s Antibiotics: When Isla’s eczema was at it’s worse and got infected quite badly we ended up in hospital. I was in a difficult battle, whether to give the prescribed synthetic antibiotics, and undo all the efforts of building strong gut health OR find a natural alternative and hope the immune system we’ve helped build with breastfeeding and healthy diet, would fight and subside the infection. I don’t know why I still question my gut instinct and I am now so relieved I did! Again after extensive research I found the many therapeutic benefits of honey! This liquid gold, a treasure chest of hidden nutritional and medicinal value, helped heal Isla’s infection. I was even skeptical that it would actually work, though trying to avoid synthetic antibiotics with all I have I gave it a go, applying it topically on the many weeping and bleeding eczema wounds covering her. The incredible tissue healing properties of honey is often forgotten and though slower in treatment, it is healed the infection! 14 Honey has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes and studies have shown it is highly effective in the treatment of wounds, eczema, and inflammation. 15 16 With antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, studies show that honey can reduce microbial pathogenicity, kill antibiotic resistant bacteria, as well as reverse antimicrobial resistance! 17 18 19 20 What an amazingly powerful healer is nature! Total activity of antimicrobial strength of the specific honey is significantly important for these benefits. Look for a TA rating on the honey of higher than 16 for therapeutic benefits. Children under 12 months should not consume honey at all.
Laughing An Eczematic Toddler’s Sleep Cure?: Studies have shown that children with eczema have lower levels of melatonin.21 Could this be my all time cure for itchy eczema induced sleep deprivation!? A study found that laughing before bedtime or watching funny films can be useful in treating night time wakings in children with eczema and also increase melatonin production.22 23 24 25 Prescribing a routine of regular laughter sounds like the perfect script for anyone! Still working on the sleep, but the giggles make it all worth while!
So how do you apply all this to your toddler, who you struggle to even get to eat dinner? Firstly it’s all in the communication. I explain to Isla how what I’m giving her is going to help her itching and help her body heal. I then create a concoction of 150ml organic almond milk, with her eczema healing supplements of: Children’s Immune Support (powdered multivitamin), Vitamin D3, Metagenics DHA & EPA Fishoil, children’s Probiotic and half a teaspoon of medical grade honey warmed and stirred in a bottle. Wallah! She can’t drink it down quick enough.
These natural and supportive keys to health have truly been the difference in going down a road of band-aiding symptoms with synthetic antihistamines, paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, sedatives, antibiotics and steroid creams OR a road that aims to address the cause; cell deficiencies and toxicities, with natural methods that support the body in functioning as it’s designed. I opted for the road more naturally travelled.
About the Author:
Sarah's vision and purpose is to give people access to a clear understanding of true nutrition for thriving health. She believes every person holds within them power to change anything and has a passion to inspire and give insight into the ingredients needed for thriving health and creating empowered, extraordinary lives through delicious and nourishing nutrition. . Sarah has done the extensive hands on experience to gain sound understanding of the nutrition she lives and breathes. And this coupled with consistently staying up to date with the latest, reputable scientific research, based on epigenetics and evolutionary biology, she has created the distinctive Nutrition program, allowing individuals to enjoy effortless weight loss, boundless energy and vibrant health.
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