Nothing has baffled me more as a mother than observing the prevalance of eczema among children. Thankfully, eczema is not one of the many issues my children have had to deal with, but I have witnessed so many other families battle with this mysterious disorder. Growing up, my mother always had chronic eczema all over her hands, and I watched as the itching and burning affected her constantly. I also watched as prescription cream after cream failed to cure her of this disorder. Over the years, I have been very interested in nutritional support and natural ways of healing eczema. What follows are a few insights into nutritional healing for eczema.
Eczema is basically an immune response of the skin. Plain and simple. Conventional medicine says “the cause is unknown”, but that is misleading. While “causes” are very hard to scientifically prove, by definition, medicine has been able to identify various “triggers” for eczema. Environmental toxins, food allergies (themselves also an auto-immune response), and stress and just a few of the known triggers for eczema.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this. When the body begins to have an auto-immune response, it’s because it’s being attacked from the inside. What I mean by this is that the integrity of the “machine” has been compromised; and in this case that machine is our gut. Spanning a surface area larger than a tennis court, our gut is the organ most vital to our immune health. Teeming with beneficial bacteria whose job is to convert our food into usable vitamins and minerals, a healthy gut is critical for optimal nourishment.
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, pediatric neuorlogist and nutritionist, and author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome,
Apart from taking a direct part in nourishing the body, beneficial bacteria in the gut act as the housekeepers for the digestive tract. They coat the entire surface of the gut protecting it from invaders and toxins by providing a natural barrier and producing a lot of anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal substances. At the same time they provide the gut lining with nourishment. It is estimated that 60 – 70% of energy, the gut lining derives, is from the activity of bacteria, which live on it. So, it is no surprise that when the gut flora is abnormal the digestive tract itself cannot be healthy. Source
So, it turns out that without beneficial bacteria, our bodies are not producing optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals, and it turns out that some of those vitamins are crucial for eczema support. It’s no wonder that eczema often doesn’t exist in a vaccuum; often there are several other symptoms that accompany eczema that all have their roots in what is known as “gut dysbiosis” (which, bascially, means your gut flora are out of balance.)
I’ve been fascinated by Dr. Campbell-McBride’s work for a few years now (her GAPS diet has been miracle-working for my family) and so I’ve known an understood the crucial role of beneficial gut flora. But since I’ve been studying to be a Nutritional Therapist , I’m reading lots and lots and I came across an interesting thing I hadn’t known with regards to infant eczema:
Biotin (vitamin B-7) is deficient in infants who have eczema. According to Dr. Elson Haas monumental work, Staying Healthy with Nutrition (2nd edition), it is very difficult to get biotin from food alone. Luckily, our friendly intestional bacteria produce plenty of it. Plenty, that is, as long as we don’t have gut dysbiosis.
The Path to Infant Gut Dysbiosis
A typical modern mother was probably not breast fed when she was a baby, because she was born in 60s or 70s when breast-feeding went out of fashion. Why is it important? Because it is well known that bottle fed babies develop completely different gut flora to the breast fed babies. This compromised gut flora in a bottle fed baby later on predisposes her to many health problems. Having acquired compromised gut flora from the start, a typical modern mum had quite a few courses of antibiotics in her childhood and youth for various infections. It is a well known fact that antibiotics have a serious damaging effect on the gut flora, because they wipe out the beneficial strains of bacteria in the gut. At the age of 16 and sometimes even earlier the modern mum was put on a contraceptive pill, which she took for quite a few years before starting a family. Contraceptive pills have a devastating effect on the beneficial (good) bacteria in the gut. One of the major functions of the good bacteria in the gut flora is controlling about 500 different known to science species of pathogenic (bad) and opportunistic microbes. When the beneficial bacteria get destroyed the opportunists get a special opportunity to grow into large colonies and occupy large areas of the digestive tract. A modern diet of processed and fast foods provides perfect nourishment for these pathogens and that is a typical diet a modern mum had as a child and a young adult. As a result of all these factors a modern mum has seriously compromised gut flora by the time she is ready to have children. [Ibid]
Depressing? Oh, that’s just the beginning, because the baby hasn’t even been born yet!
Now, assuming you were breastfeed, never took antibiotics as a kid, and never took the pill, then that’s very good…and as long as you had a childbirth that is natural and without the use of antibiotics (you better be Strep-B negative), AND are able to breastfeed, your child has a fighting chance at good gut health.
The path is narrow….but there is hope!
By taking the steps NOW to reverse gut dysbiosis, you can do so much for your child (even if they don’t have any “signs” of it) in terms of immune and metal health. Basically, the GAPS diet is the diet for reversing gut dysbiosis. So if you or someone you love is suffering from eczema, this diet cuts right to the “cause” of eczema.
In addition to the GAPS protocol, you might consider asking your natural health care practitioner about vitamin B-7 supplementation. I never knew this until recently, but biotin deficiency occurs when sulfa-containing antibiotics are given (as they kill B-7 producing bacteria in the gut). Well that would have been nice to have been told by the pharmacist back when I was giving my daughter prophylactic antibiotics daily for a year due to kidney reflux!
(Side note on antibiotics: They totally have their important place in medicine and they were certainly the only option for my daughter at the time. A diet which includes fermented, raw, and enzyme-rich foods and proper nutritional supplements during the course of antibiotics is crucial for the body to remain in balace.)
So, in summary, here are some final thoughts on nutritional and natural support for eczema:
1) Reverse gut dysbiosis (see my resources page for some wonderful GAPS resources)
2) Rule out any food allergies (if you are breastfeeding, this would mean you would have to do an elimination diet; the biggest culprits being gluten (wheat, oats, barley, rye) and casein (milk protein).
3) Supplement with a child-safe probiotic. Again, see my resources page for specifc brands. Not all probiotics are created equal, and on the resource page you’ll find a link to Dr. McBride’s own formulation. There are no side effects (except perhaps die-off symptoms), and these are simply the friendly bacteria that inhabit a healthy gut. Recommended for infants and children . Please use a probiotic under the provision of your natural health care practitioner!
4)Take additional biotin. Lactating females need 35 mcg per day, according to Dr. Elson Haas, and 30 mcg is sufficient for adult men and women. Consider taking an entire B-complex of good quality and proven absorbancy to provide B-vitamins while the gut heals.
5)Take plenty of EFAs (essential fatty acids) like Black Current Seed oil: The good fatty acids in BCS oil can hydrate and lubricate the skin. Can be applied topically or taken internally. A good Cod Liver Oil supplement is essential for all, as it supplies the best, most natural source of vitamins A and D, which are also crucial for immune system support, healthy skin, and lots of other stuff! The best cod liver oil is the fermented liquid kind, which is a bit expensive, but you only use a small amount each day so it actually lasts a long time. It can also be applied topically (if you don’t mind smelling like fish!!) But it should be taken my mom and can be given in a dropper to baby. (Again, see the resources page for my favorite CLO).
6)Use a good-quality, natural, topical oil for relief. I just became aware of the Homestead Company’s eczema relief oil!! It’s guarenteed or your money back, and it’s only $5.75!!! Right now, she’s running a special for Organic & Thrifty readers. She’s giving 15% off your entire purchase and free shipping on orders over $25! Check out my resources page for details on this great product and company! Coconut oil is also very effective (so my mom’s found!!!!).
The Bottom Line:
The bad news is, eczema is a prevalent disorder that causes pain and discomfort to SO many people every day, and pharmaceuticals don’t cure it. We live in a polluted world and we enter the world with nutritional deficits and gut dysbiosis. It almost seems hopeless and insurmountable.
But the good news is that there is healing! Dr. Campbell-McBride has done the hard work and has paved the way to help us understand the root causes for eczema and many other disorders. Gut dysbiosis can be reversed and fortunately, there are many, many high-quality nutritional supplements available to provide the body what it needs to heal.
If you or someone you know is suffering from eczema, please consider sharing this information with them and refer them to a local Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who can continue to guide them within the context of this information I’ve shared with you today.