Our skin is an amazing thing. The largest detoxifying organ of our body, our skin functions as a protective barrier from the outside world while providing a route of elimination for waste products within.
As kids, our skin takes a beating.
Learning to walk results in tumbles and bruises. Bike riding spills end up with scratches and scrapes. But yet, no matter how many bumps and scabs our kiddos get, in three or so days, the evidence is gone.
The skin can handle external trauma with outstanding resilience. However, repetitive insult from within and our skin will let us know.
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is no stranger to many children.
It presents as an itchy, red, inflamed, oozing rash commonly around the ears, knee pits, elbows, and forearms. The rash is often aggravated by heat, sweat, wool clothing, water, chlorinated water, soaps, detergents, perfumes, scratching and cold weather.
For kids, it’s an uncomfortable, embarrassing disease.
It is often treated with corticosteroid creams, to which the rash may regress, but will commonly reappear once the cream is discontinued. When pharmaceuticals temporarily relieve the symptom, we know it’s not treating the root cause of the problem. Prolonged corticosteroid use can result in loss of muscle and bone, poor wound healing, impaired immune function, insomnia, fatigue and high blood sugar.
Eczema responds quite well to naturopathic treatments as a result of finding the underlying cause of the imbalance.
Eczema is an inflammatory condition that is frequently caused by a digestive dysfunction. In a healthy gut, the small intestine cells form a tight junction with adjacent cells. This results in a strict control of what can pass through the gut for absorption into the blood. Small proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins and minerals from our food have no trouble gaining access, but larger proteins and waste products have no entry and therefore pass into the large intestine and bowel for excretion.
When the cells of the small intestine have been insulted by poor diet, allergens, pharmaceuticals, environmental toxins, yeast and bacteria overgrowth, this tight junction begins to loosen and the space resulting between the cells allows for passage of everything. The burden of the toxin load in the bloodstream results in dumping it in the skin cells (and joints and lungs). Rashes (painful joints/arthritis and asthma) are a consequence of this.
Therefore, naturopathic treatment often begins with a ‘healing the gut’ protocol. Using Vega testing or other food allergy testing is often useful to determine food allergies or yeast imbalances that can contribute to eczema. Common food offenders include baby formula (dairy or soy), dairy, wheat, eggs, corn, soy and citrus.
Omega 3 fatty acids with adequate doses of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for increasing circulation, decreasing pain sensitivity and decreasing inflammation in the digestive tract and skin.
Probiotics, including acidophilius and bifidus, help reestablish healthy gut flora, inhibit the growth of yeast and enhance immune function.
Glutamine is an amino acid that provides energy specifically for intestinal cells and encourages healing of these cells. It is often used in treating intestinal absorption diseases. Glutamine also has immune boosting properties.
General skin healing supplements include Vitamin A and zinc. Vitamin A, found in fish oils, milk products, egg yolks and carrots, is a fat soluble vitamin responsible for building strong bones, teeth, hair, skin and mucus membranes. Beta carotene, which can be converted to Vitamin A in the body, is found in yams, carrots, squash, red pepper, broccoli, dark leafy vegetables, pink grapefruit, mangoes, apricots and grapes.
Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for immune function, hormonal function, and bone, skin and joint health. It is vital for wound healing which is especially important when treating eczema. Dietary sources of zinc include shellfish, oysters, poultry, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, egg yolks, ginger, split peas, fruits, asparagus and spinach.
Botanical medicine is a great adjunct to diet and supplementation when treating eczema. Herbs that support liver and lymphatic detoxification can be chosen, but used with caution. While a gentle cleansing program can produce great healing effects for eczema, an aggressive detox can result in an aggravation of symptoms like rash, and when dealing with skin conditions and children, we don’t want to cause major discomfort.
If stress and anxiety play a role in the child’s eczema, nervine and relaxant herbs, such as chamomile, linden flowers, oats and skullcap added to a bath or skin ointment can be beneficial.
For itching or pain relief, herbal washes, creams, oils and salves can be helpful in decreasing inflammation and promoting healing of the skin. Chickweed, chamomile, calendula, yarrow, comfrey, plantain leaf and lavender flowers are valuable for these functions.
Acupuncture in older children and adults can play a role in healing eczema, by addressing underlying digestive disorders, promoting liver function and stabilizing mental and emotional imbalances.
Skin diseases, such as eczema generally take some time to resolve completely, especially when there are other imbalances to deal with. When following a healthy skin protocol, it’s worth the wait.
Healthy skin equals happy child.
© Dr. Amy Wells, Naturopathic Family Physician 250.871.2600