By Erin Bair, Licensed Esthetician + Certified Health Coach
Q: I’ve had eczema for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried many prescribed creams, even Prednisone, and nothing gives me relief. Do you have any suggestions to help with eczema?
A: Eczema is a term used to describe many forms of dermatitis. These inflamed, itchy rashes are an enigma; according to conventional medicine, the cause is unknown. However, having seen eczema respond extremely well to a diet-based approach, I tend to agree with the Functional Medicine school of thought: eczema (or any chronic inflammatory condition) is really only a symptom of deeper dysfunction.
The term ‘Functional Medicine’ is used to describe a growing trend in healthcare which seeks to identify the root cause of illness. Practitioners of various disciplines are aligning with this way of thinking. They’re finding even the most mysterious illnesses can be completely reversed by figuring out (and correcting) the cause, instead of only treating the symptom.
Applying an anti-inflammatory cream, or taking an immune-suppressant steroid, is intended to relieve the symptoms of eczema. This relief is temporary at best. Functional Medicine practitioners see the root cause of eczema (and psoriasis, rosacea, or even melasma) as beginning in the digestive system. They point to a malfunction of the immune system that begins with what’s known as ‘leaky gut’. Medically called ‘increased intestinal permeability’, leaky gut is the beginning point of most illness, from the functional perspective.
When the intestinal wall becomes compromised, microbes and particles of undigested food are free to pass into the bloodstream. Our immune system sees these particles as a threat, and begins to attack our own tissues, which is known as autoimmunity. This results in chronic inflammation that can show up literally anywhere in the body.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “This causes food sensitivities, especially to gluten and dairy, which are the biggest food causes of eczema. Leaky gut also triggers many other health problems including fatigue, brain fog, headaches, depression, allergies, sinus problems, irritable bowel, reflux, joint pain, skin diseases such as acne and eczema, autoimmune diseases and more.”
I like to think of skin as a billboard, communicating to us that something deeper is amiss. Inflammation is akin to fire. If you’re seeing ‘fire’, you have a choice to either quench it, or fuel it further.
When I suspect a deeper, digestion-based issue is driving inflammation in a client’s skin, I ask them to make a few changes. Eliminating dairy, processed sugar, and gluten is a major step in the right direction. Often, within days they will begin to see and feel improvement.
Sometimes lab testing is needed to identify more complex food sensitivities and allergies. In these situations, I refer clients to a qualified Functional Medicine practitioner who specializes in autoimmune issues of the skin. Working together, they can repair the gut through diet and supplements. This puts out the fire from within, while I offer guidance on topical products to help soothe and protect the skin during the healing process.