Eczema from a Holistic Nutritionist’s Perspective
By Ashley Giordano (bio below)
When I was 19 years old, I developed chronic eczema on my face. It started with the skin on my face turning completely red. I went the traditional route using antibiotics and cortisone cream treatment, and the problem disappeared until I stopped taking them. After the third round of antibiotics I wondered if I would be taking them for the rest of my life, with no real answer offered from the medical system. Ultimately I decided to get to the bottom of my skin problems. What I didn’t know was that this decision would change my life forever.
I consulted a naturopath, an acupuncturist, a homeopath and a dermatologist looking for answers. After a couple of visits to the homeopath, I woke up one morning with an extremely scary reflection looking back at me. My eyes were almost swollen shut and my whole face was swollen and looked twice its normal size. I learned later that the homeopathic remedy (sulfur) was given to me prior to my body being ready for it, and it caused an extreme reaction. This remedy aggravated all of my symptoms and resulted in open sores over my entire face, ears, down my neck and all over my torso. The sores on my face would weep constantly and I would use Kleenex to blot them. The itching was unbelievable. I spent my nights in tears, throwing the blankets off and sitting outside in the winter air attempting to cool my boiling body. The rest of my day was spent in the bathtub, soaking in Aveeno oatmeal and reading books. I am so grateful that my mom was able to come and take care of me during those months. I only left the house to go to the naturopath’s office.
I believe I went through this experience in order to share it and to help others. I spent the past several years investigating and experimenting with my own health and I have made some amazing progress. Right now I am eczema-free. The eczema created crevasses in my skin that were so deep I feared they would never heal. My skin hasn’t scarred,which I am so thankful for! I lost some of my eyebrows from scabbing, but thankfully they grew back.
I am still on my healing journey and continue to progress. I have hope that I will remain eczema-free and will have healthy, clear skin for the rest of my life. My health journey inspired me to obtain my Registered Holistic Nutritionist designation from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Vancouver, B.C. I am currently practicing as a holistic nutritionist specializing in skin problems.
I want to share with you what I have learned about eczema over the past seven years. My hope is that it will help some of you and perhaps provide you with some new approaches to your health challenges. Eczema can be a complicated issue with a variety of underlying causes.
Here is a quick list of factors that contribute to skin problems in general. I experienced and overcame all of the following items on my path to health.
- Food allergies and/or sensitivities. This one is fairly well known, the common triggers being wheat, dairy, peanuts, corn, chocolate, coffee, and shellfish. Addressing food sensitivities involves a bit more than just removing the offending food items. Often, an underlying aspect of toxicity and/or leaky gut (permeable intestinal tract) or yeast (candida) accompanies allergies and food sensitivities. These problems need to be addressed before the allergies/sensitivities will go away. If you attempt to remove the food item only, you will likely find that you react to more and more foods without resolution of your symptoms.
- Essential fatty acid deficiency. Our western diet doesn’t provide enough Omega 3 fatty acids. Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include fish and fish oils (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines), flax, hemp, and chia seeds. Animals that are treated properly and live in free-range and appropriate conditions (ie- healthy, fed grasses, etc.) produce eggs and meats that contain Omega 3’s. These oils are excellent for decreasing inflammation, which is present with skin problems.
- Overburdened liver. The skin is the largest organ in the body, so sometimes when the liver is overburdened the body uses the skin as a pathway for eliminating toxicity. This phenomenon is quite common given the toxic world we live in. Traditional Chinese Medicine identifies the liver as the organ associated with anger. Often strengthening the liver and eliminating toxicity will result in release, expression and/or healing of feelings of anger.
- Candidiasis. Otherwise known as candida, candidiasis is a type of yeast that can build up in the intestinal tract as a result of high sugar diets, many rounds of antibiotics, and insufficient beneficial intestinal flora. This yeast can produce a permeable intestinal tract, allowing incompletely digested food to seep through the tract, resulting in food sensitivities and reactions. This condition may also overload the immune system, rendering it more reactive. Note that candida can be passed from mother to baby through vaginal delivery and through breast milk. This can upset the newborn’s intestinal flora, increasing their chances of developing allergies. Conversely, good gut bacteria can also be passed to the baby during birth.
- Insufficient digestion. This condition can also result in incompletely digested food, leading to food sensitivities and immune reactions. Lack of proper or adequate chewing, lack of digestive enzymes and insufficient liver function can contribute to digestive difficulties.
- Mental/emotional. Obviously there is a huge connection between skin problems and self-esteem. In some cases it can be a pre-existing condition. I have done a lot of work with re-formulating beliefs about myself that I had created, many of which were false. Often, dealing with the physical body will help to create balance of the mind– and vice versa. In addition, adrenal stress can be connected to skin problems.
What can you do to address any or all of these challenges? Luckily, there are many things you can do to be proactive and to take charge of your own health. I have personally utilized these tips in order to bring my own body back to homeostasis.
- Visit a naturopath and/or registered holistic nutritionist. These practitioners are qualified to address skin issues and can do so through use of homeopathic remedies, herbs, dietary, and lifestyle recommendations. I would recommend seeing a naturopath to assess any allergies or food sensitivities for temporary removal of trigger foods.
- Introduce more omega 3 fatty acids into your diet. Try salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, flax, hemp, and chia seeds. Many people are sensitive to eggs, but if you can tolerate them, get free range and organic ones, preferably from your local farmer or farmer’s market. The same goes for meats, non-medicated, no antibiotics, free range, happy animals that are grass-fed– will contain the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Chia pudding is a great way to go. Here is a recipe that I developed, and some additional information on the benefits of chia seeds.
- Introduce more liver-friendly foods into your diet. These include brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cauliflower), apples, lemon, lime, dandelion, kale, rhubarb, grapefruit and strawberries. Emphasize green foods in your diet. Turmeric is also a great spice for improving liver function.
- Avoid fast foods and poor-quality fats (deep-fried, high temperatures), decrease alcohol and intoxicants, increase purified water intake, and eliminate environmental toxins (cleaners, beauty products, detergents, etc.). Check out the Environmental Working Group’s website and Deep Skin Database for further information.
- Castor oil packs: take a medium sized piece of flannel material, pour castor oil over it to soak in and place on the right-hand side of your body just under the right rib. Cover with saran wrap and place a heating pad overtop. The castor oil will soak through your skin and gently detoxify the liver. Try 30 minutes first time and work up from there. For children, start conservatively with 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t notice any side effects, but if symptoms of detoxification or healing crisis occur (headache, nausea) decrease the length of time.
- Drink warm water with lemon first thing in the morning to benefit the liver and stimulate the flow of bile, encouraging efficient digestion. Another effective measure to improve digestion is to chew your food, and chew it well! This practice will help your body to more easily absorb and utilize vitamins and nutrients, and will relieve strain on the digestive system.
- Release anger, impatience, frustration, resentment, aggression and stubbornness. Talk to someone and share your frustrations and/or try the Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Decrease sugars in your diet – this includes all processed sugars. Stick to unpasteurized honey, maple syrup, unsulphured molasses and coconut sugar. Candida diets decrease yeasts in the body. I would recommend consulting a health practitioner before undertaking the candida diet. Coconut oil and millet are known to aid in elimination of candida from the body. Probiotics are also a great way to build up positive intestinal flora and to support the immune system. Studies have shown they are also safe for infants and children and can help re-establish healthy flora, which can decrease the risk of childhood allergies.
- Love and appreciate yourself. Easier said than done, but this can be key to resolving skin problems. Here is a great article by Louise Hay on loving yourself.
- Decrease stressors in your life. Take deep breaths, do yoga, meditate, hug trees, tend to a garden, walk barefoot, try massage therapy, acupuncture, essential oils, counselling, journaling, dance, sing, get pissed off – do whatever it takes to ease up strain on the adrenals and bring more joy into your life. Try black current juice and/or maca powder, and limit your caffeine and alcohol intake.
Bio: Ashley’s interest and passion in holistic health developed from a personal experience with chronic and widespread eczema for more than seven years. After receiving advice from a Naturopathic Doctor, she was keen to learn more about the inner workings of the body and their connection to nutrition, supplementation, and the mind/body/ spirit connection. During this journey she decided to obtain her Registered Holistic Nutritionist designation from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Vancouver. She complements her love for nutrition with an interest in cooking and gardening.