Naturopath in Vancouver for Eczema. Dry, itchy and red skin can be difficult to get rid of, especially when it is diagnosed as eczema. The typical treatment for eczema involves applying corticosteroid creams to reduce inflammation however, rarely do the creams resolve eczema completely. Naturopathic Physicians work to find the root cause of diseases and symptoms, including eczema. Usually the inflamed skin is due to inflammation inside the body and treatment should be targeted towards the cause. Digestion is believed to be related to eczema in almost 90% of cases.
What is Eczema?
The most common skin condition after acne is eczema. Sometimes eczema is difficult to diagnose because there are more than five different types and presentations can be quite different. The common characteristics are dry and itchy skin patches. Atopic dermatitis is the classic, most prevalent form which can affect people of all ages, genders and skin types. It is not contagious and can come and go throughout the seasons, years and in times of stress. Flare-ups can result with intensely itchy skin patches that are very dry, may contain small blisters and sometimes form painful cracks with bleeding.
Should You Be Concerned About Eczema?
Flare-ups of eczema can be very itchy and uncomfortable. Most of the time, that is the extent of symptoms and it is considered a relatively benign condition. In severe cases where deep cracks occur, possible skin infections can develop and require medical care. It is important to always get a proper diagnosis when any new condition arises.
What Does Eczema Look Like?
Classic atopic dermatitis, which is the most common form of eczema, appears in cracks, skin folds and larger surfaces. The crease of the inner elbows, behind the knees, between fingers and around joints of the hands and fingers are the most common locations. Red, bumpy or flat areas that can include cracks, small fluid-filled vesicles and have dry, white flakes are all characteristic of eczema. Nummular eczema can present in circles and may appear like small welts in one particular region on the body. Contact dermatitis occurs when an area of skin is in contact with an irritant that triggers the immune system. This can look very similar to atopic dermatitis with small red bumps but often is only on the location of contact with the irritant. Dyshidrotic dermatitis presents mainly on the hands as bumps that appear to be within the skin instead of just on the surface. This condition can affect fingernails giving a pitted appearance.
Causes of Eczema
Conventionally, eczema is believed to be caused by a variety of factors. Stress, environmental allergens, genetics and an overactive immune system response are commonly related to flare-ups. Naturopathically and showing up in newer research, the link between digestion and eczema is strong. The gut’s microbiome, or balance of different bacteria and other microorganisms, plays an important role with immune system activation and skin conditions. Whether certain foods feed the microbiome or trigger a change in microbiome, the results can be inflammatory and both skin and digestive symptoms are affected.
Sometimes an area of skin becomes itchy to start with no visual change to the skin’s appearance. Other times, small bumps or red patches appear at the same time. In mild cases, dry and flaky skin can be the only symptom and itching is non-existant or very mild. Many people will report a worsening of symptoms in periods of stress or poor dietary choices.
Can a Naturopath Help Eczema?
Absolutely. In fact, Naturopathic Physicians can often resolve flare-ups and minimize the return of symptoms if the root cause is determined and properly treated. Sometimes it just takes a different approach and different types of laboratory testing than conventional methods to treat eczema.
There are a few key food types that can make flare-ups worse. Dairy is probably the number one food trigger when the microbiome balance is not to blame. Sometimes simply removing dairy strictly can be the best way to improve eczema. However, when conditions such as SIBO, candida or mold toxin exposure are the deeper immune triggers, minimizing other food groups and sugars might be recommended short term while balance is restored. It is always the long-term intent to return to a full and varied healthy diet without eczema returning.
There are trillions of bacteria, yeast and other single-celled microorganisms that cohabitate in the large intestine which constitutes the microbiome. Intricate relationships exist between the different species, the lining of the colon, absorption, immune function and roles we don’t even know about yet. The complexity is being studied and our knowledge is just beginning, scientifically speaking. Naturopathic physicians have been treating the microbiome for a long time when it comes to skin conditions such as eczema, but it is also important with auto-immune diseases, mental health and hormones.
In the absence of laboratory results to create an individualized supplement plan, it is generally safe to add Omega 3s into the diet or as a supplement. The active form of Omega 3s called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) has natural anti-inflammatory properties to calm and help reduce the immune response. However if the trigger to the flare is still present, Omega 3s alone might not help. Sometimes probiotics or fermentable foods can be introduced to support a balanced flora. Foods rich in glutamine such as cabbage, lentils and beans may have a healing effect along with EPA.
Corticosteroids are prescribed to have a fast reduction in a flare and can help when needed. Depending on the type and presentation of eczema, various barrier creams can be applied topically to protect the skin. It may not be considered safe to apply different herbs unless a clear eczema diagnosis has been made first.
Sometimes low stomach acid can cause inflammation that leads to an imbalance of the microbiome. Using apple cider vinegar with meals can replace the acid required to promote digestive enzymes to be released and activated. While this could be part of the picture, ACV on its own will not likely resolve eczema. The best option is to perform digestive testing and treat the root cause.
Conventional Treatments for Eczema And Their Drawbacks
Traditional therapies include moisturizers, skin barrier creams, topical corticosteroids and sometimes oral antihistamines to control the itchiness. In major flares, oral steroids may be prescribed to gain control of the severity. Sometimes these treatments are helpful and can be used to minimize symptoms, but rarely will resolve the condition. Overtime, topical steroid creams will cause thinning of the skin which makes injury to that area more of a risk. Steroids can also lower the immune system’s response to pathogens so it is best to use as little and as infrequent as possible.
Dr. Jen’s Naturopathic Approach to Eczema Treatment
Digestive treatment involves getting rid of imbalanced and inflammatory flora, re-populating with healthy bacteria and healing the inflamed tissue. This can be achieved using herbs, pharmaceutical prescriptions and supplements along with temporary dietary changes. Lifestyle improvements to minimize stress will promote quicker healing and can prevent relapsing episodes and flares.
The gut, the gut, the gut. By the time a person with eczema sees a Naturopathic Physician, they have likely tried topical prescriptions and sometimes a few herbs or vitamins without success. Dr. Jen starts by taking a thorough health history including digestive symptoms current and past, antibiotic use, stomach bugs or food poisoning history and reactivity to particular foods. The gut-skin connection is very strong, it comes down to determining if the root cause is a flora imbalance in the small and/or large intestine, low stomach acid production, H. pylori infection or a possible food intolerance. It is often a combination and thus by using specialty laboratory testing such as a SIBO breath test and microbiology stool test, a specific diagnosis can be provided.
Frequently Asked Questions
Start with a change of diet and lowering stress. A permanent way to treat eczema is determining the reason behind the skin flare. In general, it may help to avoid sugars – both added and natural, refined foods and refined carbohydrates. Including a diet high in omega 3s provides anti-inflammatory action which also may reduce the severity of the flare.
Figuring out why the immune system is triggered and healing from it. This could be digestion and flora imbalances, food sensitivities, hormone imbalances, mold exposures present or past, and other chronic exposures. Complete resolution of eczema is possible but rarely comes from applying topical corticosteroids only.