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
First let me start by saying that I am not a doctor or a certified medial professional. This story is my own experience and the suggestions are just that, a suggestion of what worked for us. Please check with your doctor before taking any advice stated here.
My son Jaden was born a healthy cubby smiley baby boy. He was our first child and we were totally clueless as to what to expect. The first 12 weeks of his life were ‘normal’ by our standards. He slept like a newborn, ate like a newborn and well…acted like a newborn. But as weeks passed and all my friends children began sleeping well and fussing less I started to feel insecure about our little guy. His sleeping pattern went from normal to bad to just terrible. At 9 months he was still waking every 2 hours and when he woke he didn’t just fall back asleep after nursing or being soothed..he screamed… for hours! Being a first time mom I just figured I got a bad sleeper. It wasn’t until after having my second child that I realized how abnormal his behaviour was. Now after our third child I realize that we were crazy to not have seen this as abnormal. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying all bad sleepers have health issues but for us it was the first of many signs he began to display.
Our biggest sign was what started as a simple harmless looking’ rash’ on his bum that we
rash on his bum
chalked up to as a diaper rash. This rash was mild but persisted despite our best efforts. So my son kept growing and the rash, sleeplessness and irritability grew along with him.
So fast forward to after my second son was born and Jaden was 3 years old. We decided to take a trip to Brazil so that my family could meet our second son Avery. This trip ended up being a very big turning point in our family’s health and wellbeing. At this point Jaden’s behaviour was out of control. He would go from being the very best, calmest and well spoken little boy to a total ‘monster’ (for lack of a better word). We dismissed this behaviour for a long time as normal toddler temper tantrums, the terrible twos, then threes, but when compared to other children they were next level. Now I know what your thinking, don’t compare right, but how could we not when each outburst lasted hours with full on rage, self hitting and the lose of any forms of reason. Talking to him was out of the question and nothing we did could calm him down, even if we gave in to whatever crazy demands he had. Most of the time we had to let it ride out and he would eventually pass out from all the effort. One of the symptoms we missed at this time was that my son would get super flush and extremely hot right before these tantrums, in fact when my son was a baby he would usual get so hot at night that he would wake up dripping sweat (more on this later).
Looking back on this I can honestly say that this was a very hard, dark time in our lives. It put a strain on our relationship as a family and it had us all on edge and walking on egg shells around my son. I figured it was just a matter of time before he would be labelled as on the spectrum or as having a behavioural disorder. I blamed myself, I thought I was ‘breaking’ my son. Surely this was my fault, I wasn’t tough enough, I wasn’t strong enough. My parenting style was much to gentle, we are to attached, me and my husband weren’t united enough, I did not sleep train, I let him nurse on command, you name it I thought it as a reason behind my son’t behaviour. At my weakest moment and at the hight of my sleep exhaustion when even caved to sleep training. We tried all kinds of methods and at my lowest moment I let my son cry for 3 hours one night. But ultimately that has no effect on my son and he continued, even at 3, to wake constantly during the night. OK so back to our Brazil trip…
One day while we were on the beach my mom saw my son’s ‘diaper rash’ and almost freaked out. She demanded that this rash was not normal and needed to be looked at by a doctor. She literally spent the entire trip telling me this. So when we got back to Canada I made an appointment with his paediatrician. And that is when the LONG FRUSTRATING journey to heal my son began…..
Until that moment I had never addressed my son’s rash, irritability and sleeplessness as a connected group of symptoms for an underlying problem . We had seen many health care practitioners over his 3 years of life to address his symptoms individuality but never as a whole. For his sleep and irritability we tried homeopathic medicine, osteopathy, sleep training and even spiritual cleansing… but nothing helped. It was my mother’s comments to look at my son’s skin that spared this transition for us. Again when we addressed my son’t skin issue individually we got no where. The doctors and 5 different dermatologists confirmed he just had eczema.. But this was so frustrating because just didn’t seem like the full picture to me.Our luck was that my son was very vocal and began telling us that he felt like his skin was on fire and that he was so so itchy all the time. This set off a light switch in my head because I thought, if he is itchy wouldn’t that make him irritable! As a researcher I began looking into these symptoms as a whole.
Yes you read that right my son was pooping white stools, which I now know is a sign of gut damage and malabsorption. That to me was the symptoms that made the most difference in my research. I read about leaky gut and how the skin, gut and brain connections are very strong.
Armed with all this information and knowledge was excited to share this with his doctor and for an allergy test to be performed on my son. Let’s just say she was not keen to do this. I literally had to demand the referral and refused to leave without one. But boy am I glad I did because our IgE skin prick test revealed he was allergic to all 20..yes 20 of the things he tested him for. The allergist looked at me, handed me a sheet of paper with basic instructions and said “good luck, come back in 2 years”. Let’s just say I left that appointment in tears and totally lost as to what the hell I was suppose to feed my son!!! In my opinion the health care we received at this point in our recovery disappointing, how can they send a mother away from an appointment like that with NO SUPPORT!! NADA!! No referral to a dietician, no further testing to see what was going on… nothing!
Once again my strength as a scientist and stubbornness were the only reason we came out of this. I knew that this was not normal and that something else was goining on. No one can be allergic to lettuce right! So I asked to be seen by a paediatric GI..which again was met with hesitation. I eventually did get a referral but with a 13 month wait because, even though my son was pooing blood at this point, he was not considered high priority! So while we waited I knew I could do more for him. So I began to clean up his diet.
But I was not seeing such drastic results and I was once again left discouraged. Until.. enter my mom, for the second time…
With our Brazilian background we understand parasites and amoebas all to well, so my mom suggested doing a fecal test on my son just to be sure. This was the hardest test to get my doctor to perform, despite all the symptoms my son was experiencing. But my persistence paid off and we discovered that my son had a very nasty case of dientamoeba fragilis (if anyone is interested in how we successfully treated this let me know in the comments), yuck right! My doctor prescribed a 10 day antibiotic treatment for the entire family just to be sure (even though our tests were negative). After a unsuccessful round of antibiotics we were referred to a very highly recommended and well known paediatric contagious diseases expert. She informed me that the only drugs that would kill this amoeba is very strong, causes neurological issues and is banned in Canada…. we would have to live with this infection… wait what!! Ya you read that right those were her word. But that was not good enough for me. So back to the literature I went reading countless articles on dientamoeba. Unfortunately there is not much research on this type of ameoba but the few that did exist reported that we were using the right antibiotic (finally one thing going our way) but also that dientamoeba was very fragile and usually coexisted with pinworms, using their eggs to infect the host. Despite my son having NO symptoms of pinworms we tested him anyways…and guess what, he had pinworms. So we did a pinworm treatment followed by another round of antibiotics and I can happily report he is amoeba, and pinworm free…YAY right, well not so fast…
So now that the infection was gone I was left with a child with even more GI damage due to the rounds of heavy antibiotics. His symptoms and behavioural outburst were still super bad despite us being on an elimination diet. All the research I did at this point told me that the gut takes a LONG time to heal, so we had to be patient. I was not yet vegan but I tried very hard to clean up my sons diet. Gluten, dairy, rice, fish, citrus, nightshades, and any form of sugar or food from a box was OUT! Easy right… ya no, it was the hardest dietary and cooking time of my life. My husband and I were working full time, I was finishing up my PhD, we just had my second son and I had to make everything my son ate from scratch. I made a lot of disgusting food back then and spent was to long on recipes and overthinking meals.
But slowly I learned what recipes were quick to make, what to batch make and what was easy to digest and promoted gut healing by being anti-inflammatory. It was a difficult stage but as the week passed his skin cleared, then his tummy pains stopped, his stool became the typical brown color and his nose stopped bleeding. But the biggest transformation, the most rewarding outcome was that we got my son back. The bubbly, calm, well spoken and just pleasant little man was back in our lives. Sure he still has the normal tantrums 6 year old have, he doesn’t listen all the time and throws typical fits but that’s the thing..they are typical, normal child behaviour. He no longer feels itchy and irritated and I see a happy healthy life in his future.
Two years after we discovered all his allergies we can happily report that my son can eat everything that was on his NO list except gluten. The power we have to heal our bodies is amazing. Don’t underestimate yourself but also don’t settle against your instincts. I know this wont be true for everyone but I think learning to listen and respect your body takes time, patience and practise. If you get that right you are well on your way to heath and happiness. My son will likely never be able to eat gluten but we have come a long long way from where we started and to me that is a success story.
1.BE PATIENT: the gut can take up to a year to heal depending on the damage. For us it was about 2 years for a FULL recovery.
2 EAT SIMPLY: You dont have to go to go to such lengths (like I did) to make everything from scratch and go above and beyond with what you make (Looking back I think that was a mistake). The key is to just eat simply, to make sure you are eating WHOLE foods! Be aware of ‘gluten free’ items at the store. If it isn’t naturally gluten free it will have a LOT of junk (which are gut irritants) . This junk will not help your gut heal. Give the body time before introducing these items or better yet skip this stuff!
3. EAT WHOLE FOODS: This point is an extension of the one above. In order to eat simply and allow your body to heal itself the biggest thing I can recommend is to eat a WHOLE FOOD diet, ideally plant based. What this means is that if it comes in a package skip it. This is the easiest most effect way to eliminate any food that will irritate or cause further damage to your gut. If you are not going plant based then at least minimize gluten, dairy (I would cut this one for sure) and meat!
4. BE TRANSPARENT: be open and honest with your child. My son was 3 when we discovered his allergies so he knew very well what pizza, cake and candy bars were. So we were very open and honest as to why we were cutting them out. We also at one point let him eat regular pizza and told him to pay attention to how he felt. He realized quickly why we were cutting it out. Let your child feel the emotions of having a diet change…it sucked for my son! But we taught him to to listen to his body and respect what his body was trying to tell him. After 2 years my son is very aware of his body, he respects it and he listens to it…which I think is amazing, the silver lining of this entire process!
5. DONT DWELL: DO not dwell or make allergies a big deal. The worst thing you can do is to let your child see that you feel bad for them. They will pick up on your emotional cues.
We never fully understood this quote until my son got sick enough for us to notice, and we had some pretty big blinders on. This blog is a place of confession… a place where we can share our frustration, our disappointments, but mostly our success and transformation as we reconnect with food and the health it can bring us. With a little patience, a lot of research and even more love these recipes have healed our son and brought health to our family.
What’s a Saturday without a burger right!!!
So I put this recipe together one Saturday afternoon as I found myself, once again, with a house full of hungry boys at 4:30 pm and nothing prepped for dinner. The warm march sun (despite the freezing cold temperature) must have inspired some BBQ-ing in me because I got a craving for burgers. I have to tell you I love a good burger so I didn’t know if I could pull something together in such a short time…hungry boys are NOT fun!! But honestly this recipe is SUPER simple and took very little prep to throw together. Depending on the toppings you want to add it can be a very quick recipe to make in a short time.
Before we had kids and moved to rural Toronto we rented a house with a HUGE backyard. We use to constantly have people over and we made a mean BBQ. We use to make these farmer burgers that everyone loved and despite going plant based our burgers remain delicious. Honestly I think a good bean recipe is key but half the battle is in the toppings you use. I always spend the same amount of time on the toppings as I do on the burger.
To start off with these burgers you will want to rinse the canned beans VERY well, no one likes a tinny burger! The trick with these burgers is then to smash the beans with a fork until you have a course bean mush. You should still be able to see some bean in there. I add quick oats but I find that I prefer these burgers when I lightly blend the oats first, it gives the burger a more consistent texture (however feel free to leave the quick oats as is if you like it that way or find yourself in a hotel room with no blender).
Once you get the bean and oats mixed you will want to add the some spices and flavour. For this recipe I did not add ketchup but you can add some in if you find this recipe to dry.
OK so now for the extra flare trick…if you are not using a BBQ or don’t have access to one or are just lazy or busy with kids like us then you will want to get a cast iron griddle pan. These pans are amazing and honestly give these burgers that extra cook and crispiness. I just lightly pressed the patties down and they out with nice grill marks without being burned..yum yum
For the toppings we just grilled some portabello caps, jalapeno peppers and bok choy. We lightly (very lightly) oiled them and threw on some minced garlic. With the jalapeno peppers we threw them into the vitamix along with some ripe avocado and a squirt of lime for a spicy avocado mayo..extra yum!
A fresh, light, Italian-inspired pasta recipe perfect for a late summer dinner.
Who doesn’t love crispy french fries right!
I recently started actually making a variety of different flavors of french fries by using more then just russets potatoes. These are great for french fries because they are pretty firm and hold their shape well after baking. But for this batch I actually used yams and sweet potatoes and it turned out great…for me. My kids actually do not like these sweeter potatoes and that’s just fine because I can not get enough! More for me 😉
For these guys I used a tad of oil but it is very easy to make oil free potatoes. A great method is to boil or steam the fries (already cut pieces) in water for a few minutes before you bake it. I usually boil them for about 5-10 minutes depending on how thick I cut the fries. Then toss them with the spices of your choice and bake at 400 degrees until tender. I always broil them for 2 minutes at the end to give them that crispy crunch (for printable recipe scroll down..past health benefits section).
Potatoes.. these amazing tubers have so many great benefits for your health.
Potato starch! Starch is the predominant carbohydrate in potatoes (McGill et al., 2013) and contain amylose and amylopectin. Because of the high amylose content, potato starch is resistant to the action of amylase and amylolytic enzymes and thus behave as resistant starch (8) (meaning it is resistant to digestion, behaving more like a fiber). Now don’t go freaking out..breath.. this is a GOOD THING and I will tell you why. Resistant starches that enters the large intestine is fermented to produce short-chain fatty acids which act as a prebiotic to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (Higgins et al., 2004) and crowd out the bad bacteria (Kennan et al., 2015). To maintain a healthy colony of beneficial bacteria, you need to ‘feed’ and nourish these bacteria. Luckily some primary food are fiber, and starch that resists small intestine digestion..aka potatoes! Additionally, for individulas who have small intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) or are trying to heal intestinal permeability, it is vital to minimize fermentation in the small intestines. Can you guess where this is going…where can’t resistant starches ferment!! So long story short..resistant starches raise the good bacteria and help lower the bad bacteria helping to heal and support intestinal health (Filippo et al., Flint et al., 2012)!
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Resturant quality crispy fries without all that oil and batter.
A satisfying dish for pasta and curry lovers.