The winter months are a very common time for people to experience a flare in symptoms of Eczema. Especially during the 2020 winter season, with the increased use of hand sanitizers, soaps and frequent hand washing, more patients are experiencing flares of skin conditions. Of course, these measures are very important and one of the best ways to prevent the spread of viruses. Yet for those who suffer from Eczema, this may lead to a flare of their symptoms.
In this article I will discuss some natural ways to manage Eczema including the role of Diet, the Immune System and the Digestive System.
WHAT IS ECZEMA?
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition of the skin. It is more common in children, however the incidence of adults experiencing Eczema is increasing. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, Eczema affects approximately 17% of Canadians. Atopic Dermatitis is the most common type of Eczema.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ECZEMA?
Symptoms may include:
Eczema most commonly occurs on the extensors and flexors of the body, although it can occur on other areas of the skin including the face.
WHAT ARE SOME POSSIBLE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF ECZEMA?
The causes of Eczema are Multifactorial. There are different reasons that may contribute to the development of Eczema.
Possible reasons include:
Many people with Atopic dermatitis may also have asthma, food allergies and have an overall allergic picture including environmental allergies, frequent runny nose and sensitive skin.
In Atopic Dermatitis, there is an infiltration of the skin lesions by immune cells, including T-cells, that trigger inflammation. This inflammation can start off acute but may end up chronic and relapsing, meaning you can have times of remission and times of flares.
DIET AND ECZEMA:
There is a considerable amount of research to support dietary changes in the management of Eczema. Food allergies may trigger an immediate or delayed flare of Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis (1). A January 2020 study found antigenic food proteins found in human breast milk, specifically to cow’s milk, egg, peanut and fish, may be enough to exacerbate Eczema in some already-sensitized infants. Diagnosis of a food allergy and identification of food triggers in a mother’s diet may be considered for sensitized infants.
A 2017 Study surveyed 169 patients with Atopic Dermatitis asking about dietary modifications and effects on their Atopic Dermatitis. The best improvement in skin was reported when removing white flour products (53.6%), Gluten (51.4%) and nightshades (51.4%). The best improvement in skin was noted when adding vegetables (47.6%), organic foods (39.5%) and fish oil (35%). The researchers did mention 93.5% of the participants believed it was important for physicians to discuss the role of diet in managing skin disease, yet only 32.5% had discussed diet with their dermatologist.
I recommend a Mediterranean type of diet to my patients with Eczema, with an emphasis on Fruits and Vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein. For many patients I also recommend a trial of gluten avoidance for 3-4 weeks to assess any potential benefits on their Eczema. Many of my patients do feel a Gluten free diet benefits their skin conditions. Lastly I also discuss Food Sensitivity Testing to assess possible delayed Non IgE mediated skin reactions.
MICROBIOME AND ECZEMA
The microbiome consists of microbes that live on our skin and in our gut. A balanced microbiome is vital for immune system development. When there is an imbalance in our microbiome and the presence of unhealthy flora (such as bacteria, yeast and parasites), this is termed dysbiosis and has been linked to the development of skin diseases such as Atopic Dermatitis (2)
A 2017 Review Article looked at the role of Staph Aureus, other bacteria and fungus in Atopic Dermatitis. They conclude the microbiome and probiotics play in the role in the manifestation and management of this skin condition.
A 2015 Study in Clinical Immunology suggests exposure to mold during the first year of life was associated with an increased risk of Atopic Dermatitis.
As a part of a management plan for Eczema, I do recommend testing for the microbiome and dysbiosis using both a breath test for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Comprehensive Stool Analysis. For more information please contact the clinic.
BARRIER DYSRUPTION AND ECZEMA
The skin barriers is what protects our skin from the outside world. Maintaining moisture and the lipid barrier is very important for managing Eczema and reducing flare upS. Most Treatment considerations for Eczema recommend daily and frequent moisturizing of the skin. One of my favorite creams to restore the skin’s barriers and prevent water loss is Xematop. It is available from compounding pharmacists with a Doctors Prescription. I have seen many patients with various skin conditions benefit from Xematop.
As you can see, there are many different factors that may contribute to Eczema. I have not discussed supplements in this article. Your Naturopathic Doctor can discuss what supplements may be beneficial for you based on individualized assessment and treatment.
During the winter months, when we typically see more flares in skin conditions, identifying and addressing some of these underlying causes may be very helpful in managing Eczema.
Please do see your Doctor for a proper diagnosis of any skin condition. Investigating possible considerations to treatment as I have described above may be used in conjunction with any treatment prescribed by your Doctor.
Wishing you a safe and healthy 2021!
Dr Alibhai, ND