The rate of eczema is on the rise with it affecting up to 20% of children and 3% of adults. There are many discussions as to why eczema is on the rise, but let’s look at how to treat the root cause of eczema. The way to truly heal eczema is to treat the underlying factors contributing to its onset.
Skin and Immune Response
Eczema is not considered to be an autoimmune disease; however, it does share some similar traits. The immune/allergy response that is seen in eczema results in the inflammation that is seen on the skin. This is very predominant in infants that suffer from eczema, and these infants often go on to develop other allergic conditions such as asthma or sinusitis. (1)
Supporting a healthy immune system is essential to treating the root cause of eczema.
Test for food intolerances
Food intolerances are a very common trigger for eczema. (2) Many of the testing methods available are a little controversial as their accuracy is not agreed upon by from immunologists. The gold standard for food intolerance testing is the food elimination diet. Whilst this method is time-consuming and a little tedious, the results can be astounding, and well worth the effort. (3)
When we delve into the area of food intolerances, we have to question why do these occur. The reason is often due to intestinal permeability (4), other wise known as ‘leaky gut’. The lining of the digestive system is very selective on the size and type of molecule that it lets through its lining and into the blood stream. When this lining becomes compromised larger molecules pass through into the blood stream. This can result in further aggravation to the immune system and inflammation throughout the body.
What we are not sure about is, is the food intolerance causing the leaky gut, or is the leaky gut causing the food intolerance. Most likely they are both impacting each other, making it important to heal the gut and to manage the intolerance.
So, whilst removing trigger foods is essential, without repairing the gut lining more food intolerances are likely to develop due to the passive of food molecules into the blood stream. Immune responses and inflammation will continue to occur and health imbalances will progress.
Gut Skin Link
Naturopathic medicine is based around treating the body as a whole. Everything is linked together and when there is disharmony in one system, it will reflect in another. We see this clearly with the gut and skin axis. Maintaining a varied and dense microbiome will allow the body to better manage inflammation, oxidative stress, blood sugar levels and the levels of fatty acids in the skin.
Studies have shown that probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce the incidence of eczema in infants. (5) We also see that certain strains of probiotics can reduce the severity in eczema patients.
As mentioned above, when our digestive system is compromised the occurrence of eczema may increase.
Increase Nutrients for optimal skin health
- Vitamin A: rough dry skin is a sign of vitamin A deficiency and a characteristic of eczema. Vitamin A helps to promote cell turnover and control dermal growth factors. You can get adequate vitamin A from egg yolk, cod liver oil, liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale and spinach.
- Zinc is essential for immune function, wound healing, protein synthesis and cell division. It also is protective against UVA light and is anti inflammatory. Zinc also helps to increase the level of vitamin A found in the blood. Zinc is readily available in many plants based foods such as nuts, and seeds, plus animal sources such as kidney, liver, shell fish, beef and lamb.
- Vitamin C: this is a powerful antioxidant that is protective and healing for the skin. Vitamin C helps to maintain collagen levels, which provides the structural stability of the skin. Vitamin C is also essential for a healthy immune system and may help to down regulate unnecessary immune responses. Vitamin C is abundant in most fruits and vegetables. Just remember that it is a sensitive vitamin and can be destroyed with heat and exposure to the air.
- Omega-3: we all know the wonderful anti inflammatory actions of omega-3 fatty acids. They have specifically been shown to reduce skin inflammation, redness, itching and scaling of the skin. (18) This is a crucial nutrient in any eczema treatment protocol. The best sources of omega-3 come from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, anchovies and shell fish. Plant based sources include nuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Plants sources are not as high or as easily absorbed as marine sources, so supplementation may be required to meet a therapeutic intake.
- Biotin: is required to regulate fatty acid metabolism (omega-3). Fatty acids are protective against cellular damage, water loss and skin damage. Low intake of biotin is seen as a cause of dermatitis. Good sources of biotin include egg yolk (avoid too much raw egg white as this binds to biotin and prevents its absorption), leafy greens, salmon, whole grains and avocado. Biotin is also produced by our gut bacteria, so ensuring you have good gut bacteria is essential.
- Silica plays a role in the building blocks of skin and promotes skin firmness and elasticity. Food sources include leeks, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus and rhubarb.
- Vitamin E: this well-known skin healer is anti inflammatory and protective to the skin. It supports a healthy immune system and antioxidants in the body. Sources include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, shell fish, spinach and soy.
In addition to these vitamins, there are many other nutrients that all contribute to skin health, this includes B vitamins, Vitamin D, vitamin K2 and selenium. A well-balanced diet that is 80% plant based (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, oils, gluten free grains) with the remainder being well-sourced quality protein (grass fed meat and dairy, eggs, seafood) is the ideal eating plan.
Chronic stress plays a role in most imbalances in the body. It is a component that is often overlooked in the management of eczema and skin health. Stress is known to impair wound healing and low cortisol levels that may result from chronic stress is often seen in eczema patients. (6)
Slowing down, being mindful and taking time for self-care is vital for healing.
So in summary….
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes all of the essential skin nutrients
- Support gut health with fermented foods, pro and prebiotics, and soluble fibre to feed your bacteria.
- Test for potential food intolerances
- Use clean, organic skin care products that hydrate the skin. Natural oils such as jojoba, shea and coconut are a great choice.
- Practice stress management techniques
You are Unique
Do you want to get to the root cause of your eczema? Drop me a line and we can work on it together. Heal your skin from the inside, do it right, then you only have to do it once.