Eczema from within: harnessing nature to soothe skin

Written by: Pippa Thackeray

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Healf Journal

Eczema is a debilitating and incredibly common condition. I have personally suffered with it most of my life.


Embarking on a journey of trial and error led me to explore the world of natural health and nutritional therapy for its healing potential. This article will shed some light on the most common eczema problems, alongside diet and lifestyle suggestions to help soothe symptoms - some little gems of holistic health wisdom I wish I had known when first starting out! 

Skin health is such a significant part of our image and often a true reflection of our internal health. While many may experience minimal eczema symptoms, the reality is that there are a range of severe physical symptoms eczema sufferers often endure. Additionally, there may be an emotional component to the eczema journey, as people may worry about the appearance of their skin, not to mention the limitations the painful aspects of eczema can bring. 

What Can Be Done About Eczema Naturally

Eczema is a chronic disease, meaning it is often a life-long problem affecting both children and adults. Whilst this may seem a bit doom and gloom, there are many simple and inexpensive ways to know your body and keep eczema under control naturally. 

Different Types of Eczema and How They Present

The advice in this article is focused primarily on Atopic dermatitis, a specific form of eczema and the most common chronic inflammatory skin disease (1). Other prevalent types include (2):


• Contact Dermatitis - Skin inflammation caused by contact with irritants or allergens.

• Seborrheic Dermatitis - Red, scaly patches occurring on oily areas like the scalp and face.


Diagnosis from your doctor or dermatology specialist is typically made upon visual examination (3). 

What could be causing your Eczema?

Genetic Variations Causing Eczema 


Through current research, one of the most explored genes associated with eczema is the ‘filaggrin’ gene, which can impair the skin's ability to retain moisture and maintain its protective barrier. Other variations may be related to immune system regulation, such as those involved in the production of inflammatory chemicals (4).


Eczema as a Symptom 


It may be strange to think of eczema as a symptom. It’s an itchy skin rash that's part of the “atopic triad,” meaning those with eczema often also suffer from allergies and asthma.

We are taught that the skin is the largest organ in the body. However, it is also true that the skin plays a significant role in detoxification, which refers to the removal of toxins from the body (5).

So, when we think of eczema in this way, we must endeavor to find the root cause of eczema as a symptom and consider the interconnectedness of all the body systems.


Gut Health and Eczema

Gut-related issues can contribute to the manifestation of skin issues. The concept of the gut-skin connection suggests that there is a link between the health of the gastrointestinal system (the digestive system) and the development or exacerbation of skin conditions, including eczema (6).


Dysbiosis and Eczema 


Gut issues may be a result of ‘dysbiosis’ which is used to refer to an imbalance in the gut microbiota - the community of microorganisms residing in the digestive tract (7). When this happens it can have a knock-on effect on the body in a wider sense resulting in inflammation in areas such as the skin (8). In particular, this would apply to people who are prone to eczema flare ups. Research has shown that the dietary habits of children can affect the outcomes of Atopic dermatitis (9).


Leaky Gut and Eczema 


Likewise, ‘Leaky Gut’, which can be explained as increased intestinal permeability, is another factor associated with the gut-skin connection. ‘Leaky Gut’ happens when the intestinal lining becomes compromised, allowing substances that are normally confined to the digestive tract to leak into the bloodstream (10).

Recognising and addressing these issues and imbalances in the gastrointestinal system are used as strategies for managing eczema in nutritional therapy. Nutritional therapists will look at the whole person and assess the situation, they may then advise on dietary modifications, probiotic supplementation, and gut-healing protocols that aim to restore gut health and reduce inflammation, all intended to improve skin conditions. 

A Healf Certified Approach

‘EAT, MOVE, MIND, SLEEP’ for Eczema 


Through the ‘EAT, MOVE, MIND, SLEEP’ model, we can address some possible driving factors behind eczema flare ups. There are some very simple lifestyle modifications you can incorporate into your routine, such as regular exercise, prioritising sleep, stress management techniques and minimising exposure to environmental toxins.


At this point, it is important to say that what works for some may not work for others, as I found out the hard way. It is important to always be kind to yourself and maintain patience on your healing journey (as difficult as that may seem at times). Remember, it simply isn’t possible or enjoyable to do things ‘perfectly’ all of the time. 

EAT

Can an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Help Eczema? 


‘Anti-inflammatory diets’ are popular for doing what they say on the tin - reducing inflammation in the body, which may be caused by an overburdened liver or a surge in the production of substances like prostaglandins, leukotrienes and other inflammatory chemicals.


There are many ways to approach an anti-inflammatory diet. The most effective options, would be to avoid high sugar and refined carbohydrate-containing food, inflammatory fats and unnecessary food additives, which can all contribute to inflammation in many body systems. Instead, try and opt for:


  • Foods rich in fibre, prebiotics, and probiotics, supporting gut health (11).
  • Bitter foods and beneficial ingredients like Aloe vera, Slippery elm, and Dandelion are also recommended (12).
  • Essential Fatty Acids, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E, play a role in reducing inflammation and promoting skin health (13) (14).
  • Supplemental probiotics and Vitamin D are important for immune function to support the skin (15).

Can Allergies and Intolerances Cause Eczema to Flare? 


The answer is, yes, sometimes. Common allergens including dairy, gluten and nuts, to name a few, can trigger inflammation in some eczema sufferers (16). By speaking to a nutritional therapist, you can make dietary choices unique to you, avoiding certain trigger foods to help you get closer to clearer and healthier skin. 

MOVE

Detoxification Support For Eczema


Detoxification support is essential as a holistic approach to eczema. This can be done through various methods, including liver support and lymphatic drainage. The idea behind these practices is to optimise liver function, as the liver plays a crucial role in detoxification. The lymph is also an important factor in the body’s detoxification as it is a fluid carrying waste products away from the body’s tissues. Lymphatic drainage techniques are designed to improve the flow of lymph around the body, examples include lymphatic massage techniques, dry brushing, or gentle exercise (17).


Light Therapy for Eczema 


Light therapy and sun exposure have been studied for their benefits in eczema sufferers. This is thought to work via the body’s mechanisms of producing vitamin D, which supports immune function and skin health. In a similar fashion, phototherapy can reduce inflammation, enhance the skin barrier and improve overall skin well-being (26). 

MIND

Supporting the Mind and Body 


The skin is not only reactive to dietary factors but also a true reflection of the internal world. Mind and body go hand-in-hand. As eczema and psychological symptoms can have a bidirectional relationship, it means they can influence and worsen each other.


Why the Gut-Brain Connection is Important for Healthy Skin and Mood 


Stress plays a big role in gut-brain communication and its impact on conditions like eczema. When we are overly stressed, this activates the body's stress response, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system. Why does this happen? The gut and brain are connected through a nerve called the vagus nerve. This connection allows them to communicate with each other (18).


Proven stress management techniques for eczema include meditation, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (19).


Looking into ways to manage stress is an extremely important, and often overlooked factor when it comes to the health of our skin. But, again, everyone is different and we all enjoy different methods to help us relax. So, here is your cue to invest in a bit of ‘me time’ - because science says so! 

Nonsteroidal Options - Simple and Effective Herbs and Oils to Apply to Skin


You can try alternatives to steroid cream to calm the inflammation in your skin, these natural remedies offer potential relief and well-needed nourishment for eczema-prone skin.


  • Liquorice extract, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, can help soothe irritated skin (20).
  • Coconut oil forms a protective barrier and moisturises dry, itchy skin (21). Likewise, shea butter deeply moisturises and reduces inflammation.
  • Jojoba oil, resembling the skin's natural oils, restores hydration and supports the skin barrier function (22).
  • You can also check out some of our skincare favourites which are tailored to eczema-prone skin.

SLEEP

Eczema and a Rested Body 

Last, but by no means least, restful sleep allows the body to repair and regenerate its tissues and care for its immune system (23). If sleep is inadequate this can trigger inflammation, cause a rise in stress levels and a decrease in immune function, all of which can trigger or worsen eczema symptoms.


Advice around sleep involves establishing a consistent routine by creating a comfortable sleep environment and consistently implementing relaxation techniques before going to bed.

Eczema and Alternative Medicine 

In alternative medicine, eczema is sometimes viewed as "heat in the blood," and approaches like acupuncture and herbal remedies from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are used to address imbalances.

Treatments in this capacity may involve acupuncture. A practice rooted in TCM, it may be used to address imbalance by inserting thin needles at specific points to stimulate energy flow and restore equilibrium.


Additionally, herbal remedies derived from or other traditional herbal medicine practices may be used to harness the power of various plant-based ingredients believed to have alleviating properties for inflamed skin (27). 


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References


1. Atopic Dermatitis. StatPearls (nih.gov)

2. Differential Diagnosis of Atopic Dermatitis | ScienceDirect

3. Atopic Dermatitis: Global Epidemiology and Risk Factors. Karger.com

4. Genetic and Epigenetic Aspects of Atopic Dermatitis. MDPI.com

5. Skin metabolism phase I and phase II enzymes in native and reconstructed human skin: a short review | ScienceDirect

6. Gut-Skin Axis: Unravelling the Connection between the Gut Microbiome and Psoriasis | PMC (nih.gov) 7. The Role of the Gut Microbiome and Microbial Dysbiosis in Common Skin Diseases? PMC (nih.gov) 8. Role of the Gut Microbiota in Atopic Dermatitis: A Systematic Review | Medical Journals Sweden 9. Development of the Microbiota and Associations With Birth Mode, Diet, and Atopic Disorders in a Longitudinal Analysis of Stool Samples, Collected From Infancy Through Early Childhood | ScienceDirect

10. Leaky Gut and the Ingredients That Help Treat It: A Review | PMC (nih.gov)

11. Prebiotics and probiotics in atopic dermatitis | PMC (nih.gov)

12. Traditional Chinese medicine for food allergy and eczema | Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 13. Efficacy and safety profile of antioxidants in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials | Wiley Online

14. Fatty Acids Profile and the Relevance of Membranes as the Target of Nutrition-Based Strategies in Atopic Dermatitis: A Narrative Review | PMC (nih.com)

15. Nutrition and Atopic Dermatitis | jstage.com

16. Specific IgE to Common Food Allergens in Children with Atopic Dermatitis | Iranian Journal of Immunology 17. Lymph Circulation in the Liver. Wiley Online

18. [Role of the Vagus Nerve in the Gut-Brain Axis: Development and Maintenance of Gut Regulatory T Cells via the Liver-Brain-Gut Vago-Vagal Reflex] | isho.jp

19. Alternative Psychotherapeutic Approaches to the Treatment of Eczema | PMC (nih.gov)

20. Anti-platelet action of isoliquiritigenin, an aldose reductase inhibitor in licorice | ScienceDirect 21. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils | PMC (nih.gov) 22. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review | PMC (nih.gov) 23. How does sleep help recovery from exercise-induced muscle injuries? | JSAMS.org

24. Superiority of magnesium and vitamin B6 over magnesium alone on severe stress in healthy adults with low magnesemia: A randomized, single-blind clinical trial | PMC (nih.com)

25. Taurine Is a Potent Activator of Extrasynaptic GABAA Receptors in the Thalamus | PMC (nih.gov) 26. UV-based therapy and vitamin D | Wiley Online

27. Traditional Chinese medicine for food allergy and eczema | Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Healf