The opinions expressed in this article are my own. I am not a licensed health care provider so please check with your doctor or dermatologist before following any suggestions posted on this site.
After discovering my son was suffering from some pretty bad eczema I did a lot of research as to not only how to care for eczema but also why he was experiencing such skin issues at such a young age. My son was 3 when we got diagnosed but we noticed his ‘rash’ when he was only 6 months old (see our story for more details).
Below I summarize some of the research and give some suggestions as to what worked for us with Jaden. We spoke with 5 different dermatologist, 2 allergists and many doctors in addition to the countless hours I spent reading and researching eczema. All of this resulted in the same basic conclusions. I am in no way suggesting that this will cure your eczema but this is what has helped us manage and significantly reduce my sons flare ups.
But first here is an overall take home and game plan for what worked for us, for those of you lazies that don’t want to read the entire blog 😉
5. Look into the health of your gut flora and introduce fermented food or probiotics.
-Pay attention to how you respond.
Ok so now onto the research.. this is just a small summary of some of what I read. I am my no means an expert on eczema, just a mama armed with some research skills and motivated to help heal her son.
1. Skin irritants: So the first thing we did was to stop using anything irritating on the skin. We cut out any strong soap and lotion including laundry detergent.
SUGGESTION: We began using Aveeno eczema body wash and coconut oil as lotion (it is the cleanest lotion you can use). We eventually moved on to more natural forms of soaps like Dr. Bronners and Truely organic. But to start we wanted to use the doctor recommended soap to see how my son’s skin would respond. We looked for products that had minimal ingredients. Olive oil soap or anything along those lines are good.
2. Hydration: For many eczema sufferers hydrating the skin can cause big flare ups. For my son this was not the case so we tried to keep his skin moist. However what I truely mean by hydrate is to DRINK lots of water to keep your skin hydrated from the inside and help your body flush out any toxins.
SUGGESTION: The best way to hydrate the skin is to ..you guessed it, drink lots and lots of water. Because my son’s skin did well with hydration we also applied coconut oil 3 times a day to his entire body. In addition we made him eat 1 spoon full of coconut oil a day (I know the oil free community will freak right out but there has been a lot of research on eczema and fats, more on that below).
3. Eczema and fat intake: There has been a lot of research out about the link between fat and dermatitis (eczema). Many researchers concluded that children who are on the traditional western diet are not getting the beneficial fats needed to maintain good gut and skin health. They suggest cutting out all processed foods including processed oils (no margarine or vegetable oil). Researchers shown that many eczema suffers have a essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency (particularly in omega 6) or a breakdown in their ability to metabolize it (a good review here).They suggest getting more beneficial fats, (like chia, hemp, avocado…) into the diet to help alleviate symptoms and correct the deficiency. This is what we found helpful with Jaden.
SUGGESTION: Stick to a whole food diet and substitute processed oils such as vegetable oil and margarine with either olive oil or coconut oil. We had our son eating 1 tsp of coconut oil for the first few months then switch to unprocessed oils from plants. These healthy unprocessed fats came from eating chai seeds, hemp seeds, seeds in general, nuts, and avocado. (the researchers suggest fish but thats a personal choice). Chia and hemp seed go really well in your morning oatmeal!
4. Eczema, food allergies and GI health: Researchers have also found that people with eczema may have a permeable gut. Eczema sufferers have been shown to have an intestinal mucosal defect ( they have an increase in their absorption of large molecules, but not small ones). According to these researchers, this finding (increased absorption of larger molecules) is consistent with the view that allergens (large molecules) are absorbed through the gut in increased amounts in this disease. This does not mean you will have true food allergies BUT it does suggest that these larger molecules can be absorbed and can cause an immune response. This results in flaring eczema along with a host of other inflammatory symptoms. If in addition to eczema you also see hay fever (seasonal allergies) and mild respiratory issues this is even more important (see THIS post on how we discovered allergies and gut damage). This was the case for my son.
SUGGESTION: Because we were coming off a mostly western diet, we started by removing all the top allergens from his diet, such as DAIRY, EGGS and nuts (peanuts). In addition, we asked for a skin prick allergy test (IgE test) from our allergist and removed the food that came up. We also found the blood test for IgA to be helpful (IgA plays a role in allergic responses and was a sign that my son’s body was having inflammatory reactions). We had this done because we were also testing for celiac disease.We stayed on this eliminated diet for over a year to give his body a chance to heal. The gut heals very slowly so we had to be very patient! My son ended up not having true allergies because after that year we successfully reintroduced all the foods on his NO list except gluten (we suspect celiac). However we still limit these things to reduce the likelihood that they could be absorbed if he still has a permeable intestinal wall. During that year we made sure to keep his diet as simple as possible and relied on a whole (mostly) plant based diet with lots of healthy fats. This is the diet we still eat today and we we are all thriving.
5. Eczema and gut flora: The link between gut flora and eczema is very extensive, if you are interested in this you can check out the full articles I referenced below.
This research suggests that many suffers of eczema have a reduction in their flora when compared to normal unaffected individuals. Thus, establishing a good colony of beneficial gut microbes is a very important step in healing the gut. However, this can be a very daunting and a challenging step for many people. I was very overwhelmed with this concept. Did my son have to much of the bad gut bacteria or not enough good bacteria, is he suffering from SIBO or parasites…. the list is long and very confusing because each have their own treatment that are sometimes very opposite. We tried fermented foods and at one point I was brewing my own kombucha and kefir water.But ultimately what worked for us was to just stick to a whole food diet. My son did end up having an amoeba so we had to take some extra steps to treat it but we still limited the introduction of probiotics and fermented foods for a year. He now eats sauerkraut a few times a week with no ill effects.
SUGGESTIONS: Get tested for parasites or bacteria overgrowth to see if there is another problem you need to address as well. Introduce fermented foods into your diet first to see how you respond. Pay attention to your symptoms and be aware that id you do have a yeast or amoeba or parasite it is very painful when they begin to die.
This was an eye opener for us! we were witnessing what a traditional western diet was doing to our son and it opened our eyes as to what true health and healthy eating meant. We were totally convinced that we were eating ‘healthy’.Taking the time to heal our son’s intestinal track and replenishing good gut flora (thru a whole food diet) was the biggest step we took towards improving his symptoms. We moved towards eating a whole food plant based diet, eating and cooking in a simple yet flavourful and nutritious way (check out my recipe section here for more).
Now I want to be clear that my son still has flare up, winter is always a trigger for him. But his flare ups are manageable, he is not irritated or annoyed and they are isolated to a few spots on the back of his hands because of hand washing. He is no longer covered in rashes, no longer itchy and irritated and miserable. I am so grateful for this eye opening experience and the changes it sparked in our lifestyle!
-Dietary fatty acids and inflammatory skin disease
-Diet as a risk factor for atopy and asthma
-Dietary fat and asthma: is there a connection?
-Maternal fat consumption during pregnancy and risk of wheeze and eczema in Japanese infants aged 16-24 months: The Osaka Maternal and Child Health Study
-Intestinal permeability in patients with eczema and food allergies
-Probiotics in the treatment of atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome in infants: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial
-Probiotics in the management of eczema
–Low diversity of the gut microbiota in infants with atopic eczema