Healing Eczema from the Inside Out
Updated: Jan 23
Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that results in dry, red, cracked, itchy patches of skin. It's commonly found on the hands, wrists, inside the elbows, behind the knees and on the feet. Genetics plays a role in this condition and sometimes other family members will also suffer from eczema, asthma, hayfever or other allergies.
There is a genetic mutation involved in eczema that affects a protein called filaggrin. Filaggrin is involved in keeping the skin barrier strong and moisturized. In someone with eczema, the skin proteins are compromised and moisture is easily lost through the outermost layer of skin. The skin is also deficient in a waxy substance called ceramide, which also helps to keep the skin moisturized. A dysregulated immune system stimulates the release of inflammatory molecules that increase histamine resulting in swelling, redness and itching. These inflammatory cells can make the lungs more sensitive to allergens and asthma can develop. Environmental factors also play a role in triggering the inflammation. The skin is already sensitive and when it's exposed to irritants like dust, personal care products, detergents, pollution, cigarette smoke, humidity or temperature extremes it can start a flare-up.
Addressing eczema with naturopathic medicine involves lowering the immune reaction by removing triggers and irritants. Digestive support can be an effective way to regulate the immune system and can be done in many ways including eliminating food allergies and supporting beneficial intestinal bacteria with probiotics, fiber and glutamine. It's also important to stop the urge to scratch because it just further impairs the skin barrier and can lead to skin infections. Relief can be achieved with moisturizers specifically formulated for eczema and by doing a wet wrap when flare-ups occur.
Optimal Digestive Health
The digestive system plays a vital role in the regulation of our immune system so having good digestive health means your immune system will not be overreacting to everything it encounters. When there is inflammation happening in the digestive tract over a long time, you can develop intestinal permeability, or more commonly called "leaky gut." Normally the cells of our intestinal wall are held together very tightly so only certain molecules are allowed through. In the case of leaky gut, the space between cells becomes large enough to allow proteins from allergenic foods to get through and causes further inflammation. This is why working on gut health is so important to decrease the inflammatory response.
Address food allergies - This can be done in a couple ways. There are blood tests, skin prick tests or you can do an elimination diet to find out if food allergies are contributing to your eczema. Common food allergens include cow's milk and dairy products, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, corn, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) and citrus. Eliminating some or all of these foods for at least 4 weeks and up to 12 months may help relieve symptoms and will give the digestive system time to heal.
Probiotics - You can get beneficial bacteria in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. You can also supplement with products containing strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
Omega-3 fats - Include cold water fish, flax, and chia in the diet to provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils. Good fish to include would be wild caught salmon, halibut, sardines and mackerel. You can also supplement with omega-3 oils in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil.
Glutamine - This is an amino acid, used to make proteins, that plays a role in immune and intestinal health. It maintains the health of intestinal cells so they can repair the gut barrier and heal a leaky gut. Glutamine can be found in supplement form as L-glutamine or it can be eaten in the diet in bone broth, beef, spirulina, cabbage, broccoli, and chicken.
Moisturize to Reduce Itching and Inflammation
Eczema can be intensely itchy, but all that scratching can lead to a breakdown of the protective skin barrier and possible skin infection. Use moisturizers generously, applying throughout the day and after bathing. Good options include CeraVe, Cetaphil, or Aveeno or products that have been approved by the National Eczema Association. You can also use products with chamomile, calendula, licorice root, sea buckthorn and aloe vera to calm inflammation, and heal and soothe inflamed skin.
A wet wrap is an easy way to help moisturizing creams penetrate the skin, reduce itching and aid healing. A good time to apply this is before bed since it can be left on overnight and it'll be less likely to impair daily activity. Apply this after bathing and applying moisturizers. Use clean cotton gauze, gloves or socks as the wet layer. You can use another layer of cotton gauze, socks, or pajamas as the dry layer. A sock with the toes cut off can also be used for the dry layer. Here's how to do a wet wrap from the National Eczema Association website.
1. Moisten cloth in warm water until slightly damp.
2. Wrap dressing around affected area.
3. Gently wrap the dry layer over wet layer.
4. Put on nighttime clothing so wrap is not disturbed.
5. Leave on several hours to overnight and take care to not let it dry out.
There are many ways eczema can be addressed with naturopathic medicine including digestive support, immune support, and moisturizers that help reduce inflammation and heal the skin. I hope you found something helpful in this post!
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Hebert, A., & DarConte, M. (2018, November 20). Atopic dermatitis. Retrieved from https://online.epocrates.com/diseases/8724/Atopic-dermatitis/Etiology
Pizzorno, J. E., & Murray, M. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine(4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.