My obsession with finding an herbal “cure” for eczema started about 5 years ago.
It was a tremendously stressful time. In an attempt to try and reduce the horrible anxiety I was experiencing, I decided to take up swimming. After about a week of regular morning sessions, I noticed I’d developed an annoying patch of dry skin just inside my right ear. I thought nothing of it, believing it would resolve itself in a couple of days.
No such luck.
The annoying itch grew worse, spreading to both ears and keeping me awake at night. A week later a huge red patch encircled my right eye, inspiring my loving family to come up with the not so comical nickname of “Secret Squirrel”.
I’m sure the rest of my story will be familiar to people up and down the land.
The quest for a cure began in earnest by scouring the internet / herbal books for advice. This was shortly followed by the recommended dietary changes, and of course, the hunt for a cream to relieve the itching. I sought advice from other sufferers, hung out on Facebook forums, and embraced the process of trial and error with gusto.
I’m not proud to admit that I should have known better. My attempts at healing failed miserably. And so the inevitable trip to the GP followed, and thus began the futile cycle of symptom suppression.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell:
- I took two lots of antibiotics. This provided relief for exactly the same amount of time as it took me to finish the prescription and not a moment longer. The result was weight gain, more anxiety and candida overgrowth in the form of thrush.
- I applied steroid cream, which I was reliably informed by the chemist who dispensed it would only provide temporary relief, thin the skin, and become less effective over time.
- I was bombarded by advice by other people with eczema who all agreed that this was something you learned to live with, and couldn’t be cured.
I’m glad to say that although my experience was utterly horrible, it was a learning curve that proved several things:
- Antibiotics and steroid creams don’t work.
- Eczema CAN be healed naturally and permanently without spending a fortune.
- The adage “physician heal thyself” only applies if you are in a position whereby you are too proud to ask for help from other holistic healers who have the necessary expertise and objectivity to deal with it.
The rest of this blog post is a summary of facts I’ve discovered while researching this problem and practical advice I’ve found actually works (both for myself, and others who are increasingly seeking my help at the herbal clinic.)
Why Are More People Than Ever Suffering With Eczema?
Results from a recent study showed a 40% rise in the number of people visiting their GP to report new cases of eczema. This, of course, is a shocking figure, but what’s worse is that experts are still unable to agree on why this is happening. From a naturopathic perspective, there are several issues which are clearly contributing to the problem.
A shocking number of chemicals are finding their way into our food chain and our bodies. This includes:
- Pesticides such as glyphosate – a weed killer which experts believe has the ability to destroy the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria found in the gut. More about this later.
- Antibiotics, which are regularly used in the farming industry and increasingly over prescribed at the GP’s office.
- Vaccinations – In the 50’s children received a total of 7 vaccinations, today they’re given up to 36 by the time they’re 6 years old. Without entering into a debate, this does pose the question of how stimulated an immature immune system will go on to be when it’s denied the opportunity to mount a response. It’s interesting to note that the National Eczema Society itself states that “immunisation can cause eczema or make pre-existing eczema worse.”
- Chemicals from cleaning products – excessive hygiene has been put forward as a possible reason as to why we are becoming more and more sensitive to things like dust and pollen.
Other considerations include:
- The earth is being depleted of vitamins and minerals at a rapid rate. Did you know you’d have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as your grandparents would have gotten from one? Or that analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that the average levels of Vitamin C found in fresh vegetables has dropped by 30%? This has huge implications for our immune systems.
- An increasing number of women are opting for caesarian births and choosing not to breastfeed. This means that the child isn’t exposed to the natural immunity normally passed on from the mother at birth.
- Increasing levels of stress in the modern world.
Gain Natural Relief From Eczema:
In my own personal experience and from talking with other herbalists about the matter, the key to being free from eczema for good lies in focusing on elimination and rebuilding gut health.
Here are my top tips:
The lungs and eczema
If you have any experience of eczema at all, you’ll already know that it often goes hand in hand with a whole load of other allergic conditions like hay fever and asthma. It’s interesting to note that before the advent of scientific testing, Chinese medicine gave a plausible reason as to why this might happen.
Traditional Chinese practitioners believe the lungs are closely associated with the skin. This is because both organs “breathe.” The theory is that whenever lung function is impaired (as in people with asthma or when overcome by dust and pollen as in hay fever,) the skin tries to shoulder some of the burden. Ultimately, the skin isn’t equipped to do this job, so toxins are eliminated via “the wrong route” causing itching and inflammation.
It’s interesting to note that many eczema sufferers who smoke find that their skin improves when they kick the habit. This is backed up by a study by the Department of Dermatology at the Northwest University Feinberg School of Medicine, who in 2015 looked at the correlation between smoking and atopic dermatitis (eczema). This was a large-scale study involving 680,176 people over a period of 26 years. The results showed a higher incidence of eczema in those who smoked compared to those that did not.
We all know that smoking has a direct ageing effect on the skin, so it’s surprising that we haven’t made the link between smoking and other skin conditions before now.
As an herbalist, I often find that using herbs such as elecampane, elderflower and white horehound to support the lungs, does much to alleviate the flare-up of symptoms. If you’re a smoker with eczema (particularly if you are of a constitution which is pre-disposed to poor elimination) giving up the habit will certainly benefit your skin and your general health 100 fold.
Food Intolerance, Leaky Gut Syndrome and Eczema
We already know that food intolerance is on the rise, but how does this relate to eczema?
Whenever we ingest foods we’re intolerant to (the main culprits being wheat, eggs and dairy) the gut sees them as a potential threat and immediately tries to find a way to get them out of the system. Because the gut wall is permeable, food particles can find their way into the bloodstream where they then set off an inflammatory/autoimmune response.
This is a condition which is increasingly referred to as “Leaky Gut Syndrome” whereby tight junctions in the gut, which control what passes through the lining of the small intestine, don’t work properly. It is commonly experienced by people with celiac and Crohn’s disease, and it is believed may also be linked to the development of a whole range of allergic conditions including eczema.
By continuing to eat foods which set off this response, the immune system soon becomes overwhelmed becoming even more sensitive to potential threats. This is why many people with eczema find that over time they gradually become allergic to more and more things, and sensitivity to the original allergen becomes even greater. The only real solution is to remove the allergen from the system entirely and heal the gut with probiotics and mucous membrane tonifying herbs such as aloe vera and marshmallow root. It’s also helpful to support the liver as it tries to cope with eliminating the offending toxin at the source. Herbs which support the liver include Dandelion root, Barberry, and Milk Thistle.
Understanding the root cause of your eczema is the key to gaining permanent relief. As an herbalist and naturopath, my job is to help you do that. Here are my top tips:
- Identify and eliminate all food allergies
- Improve elimination by using herbs to help move the bowels and support the function of the lungs
- Supplement with omega 3 oils. (In a recent study, the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids was found to be significantly lower in people who had eczema.) Flax seed oil is the best as it can be taken right off the spoon or added to salads soups and stews and eaten as part of a healthy diet.
- The topical application of Kigelia Africana proves to be successful in almost 100% of cases.
- Licorice root, bilberry extract and green tea have all been shown to have anti-allergenic properties and may be helpful alongside implementing other strategies.
- A good liquid mineral supplement will help to improve immunity and provide key missing nutrients that you may not be getting in sufficient amounts from your diet.
- Probiotics such as kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir are a useful addition to your diet. A naturopath can also recommend suitable probiotic supplements and advise on dosages. Some products only contain one strain of bacteria, and so it is always worth getting advice from an expert before wasting your money on something that may or may not work.
- Stress reduction is paramount in all cases of eczema. Your herbalist can prescribe a bespoke formula tailored to your needs (again this can save a huge amount of many as opposed to buying six or 7 herbs which may or may not be suitable / the right dose for you. Useful herbs include Skullcap, Passionflower, Rhodiola root and Valerian.
Hear more about how to treat eczema naturally in my Podcast:
The following articles may also provide further food for thought:
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