Nutritional therapist and medical aesthetician Robyn Mason tells us how to ease the pain of eczema.
Symptoms of eczema range in severity from a tiny patch of slightly itchy skin, through to weeping, bleeding swathes of skin that causes terrible problems for those who suffer from it. It is better understood these days that the two main mechanisms behind eczema are:
- A malfunction of the immune system causes part if it to be over-reactive. This part of the immune system then produces excessive amounts of a specific protein in response to common things, such as pollen or dust-mites, or certain foods. This reaction triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and in the skin these cause the swelling, redness and itching and all the other symptoms of eczema.
- The proteins and fats that create the watertight, armour plating of the barrier function of the skin don’t work properly, which allows the skin to become easily damaged and ‘leaky’. When the barrier is breached, the immune system launches an inflammatory response.
Adverse reactions to foods can be a very common cause for eczema, especially in children. The most common foods linked to eczema are: wheat/gluten, dairy, eggs, fish, citrus fruits and tomatoes. A simple elimination diet may be helpful to determine whether these foods are a problem. To do this, you will need to eliminate all the above foods for a period of two weeks, for this period concentrate on whole proteins such as chicken, lamb, beans and lentils and of course lots of vegetables. After two weeks, reintroduce the foods, one at a time. To do this, eat the food three times in one day, and keep track of your symptoms for the following three or four days. A reaction may happen within a couple of hours, or it may take two or three days to appear. Make sure to leave 4 days in between the introduction of each food. Also, make sure when you’re introducing a new food, that it only contains the one ingredient. For example, bread may contain wheat/gluten; milk and eggs all together, so you wouldn’t be able to tell which you were reacting to. For adults, it’s probably a good idea to avoid alcohol for the two weeks also, as it may prevent the inflammation from dying down.
Some supplements have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of eczema.
- Essential Fatty Acids. To reduce inflammation, support healthy immune function and support the important oils in the skin. People who suffer from eczema tend to have a much higher baseline requirement for EFAs than others. Try 2-3 grams per day of omega 3s (read the label and look for combined EPA and DHA) for adults.
- Vitamin D. To support the immune system and skin healing, and reduce inflammation in the skin. (NB. Oil formulations may be absorbed better, as vitamin D is fat soluble.)
- Vitamin E. A crucial anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in the skin. Helps to protect the healthy fats and oils in the skin from damage.
- Multi-vitamins containing zinc for skin healing. Zinc is a very important mineral for the immune system of the skin, helping the skin to repair and strengthening defences against inflammation.
- Probiotics / ‘Friendly Bacteria’. Research shows that the administration of probiotics helps to reduce the frequency and severity of atopic eczema, partly by modulating inflammatory responses in the body. Each different type of bacteria has a different effect on the body. The most researched strain, in conjunction with eczema, is called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG.
Lastly, for some relief from the symptoms of eczema, it’s tempting to slather eczema with thick cream. Instead, bathe gently with clean water. Avoid soaps and chemical containing products (even if they’re advertised for eczema) as these can irritate the already inflamed skin, providing temporary relief but actually making things worse in the big picture, try applying rose hip oil or Ultra Dry skin cream from The Organic Pharmacy.
For further information and advice can be contacted at The Wimpole Aesthetic Centre, 48 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 8SF on 020 7 224 2247.