Healing Eczema - Aaron's Story
Chances are you or someone you know has eczema or had it in the past. Eczema affects 31.6 million people nationwide, which is just over 10% of the U.S. population. It can affect many aspects of life including health, social interactions, and even clothing choices. Although there are a lot of unknowns surrounding eczema, a functional medicine practitioner can help identify the causes and begin the healing process.
The struggle with eczema is something I know firsthand. I developed atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema) in high school and it got steadily worse into my twenties. My hands were completely covered, I broke out on other parts of my body and my lips constantly wept a clear fluid. I wore socks on my hands when I went to bed so I wouldn’t scratch until I bled in my sleep!
The numerous doctors that I saw gave me oral and topical steroids then sent me on my way. I asked specifically if there was any chance something I was eating could be contributing to the problem and the answer was always a resounding, “No.” While the steroids gave me temporary relief, they were not a cure for my eczema. After seeing a dermatologist who also had no answers, I felt hopeless. I decided I would have to figure it out on my own, but I didn’t know where to start…
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema has many different possible origins. Environmental triggers like contact with metals (especially nickel), cleaners, or personal care products can cause it to flare up. However, it is more commonly related to food allergies or sensitivities, which are frequently tied to a compromised gut lining. Intestinal permeability (think food particles not properly broken down, moving through the gut wall into the bloodstream) can trigger the immune system. This increases system wide inflammation and often shows up as eczema.
Intestinal permeability is often referred to as “leaky gut.” Undigested food crosses the gut barrier and fewer nutrients are absorbed. Malabsorption can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Additionally, while your body is fighting this perceived enemy (undigested food particles), it uses more resources. You can see how this is a problem. It’d be similar to trying to build a house with only a handful of nails or playing a guitar with only half the strings. No matter how healthy the food is, an unhealthy gut can’t use it optimally.
Working toward wholeness
A foundational belief in functional medicine is that the body is bent toward healing. It simply needs the right tools and conditions to do it. It is imperative to start there, instead of merely addressing the symptoms. Taking a step by step approach can be helpful. A free call with Oswald Digestive Clinic can help steer you in the right direction.
First, remove the major triggers. Some individuals remove a few common trigger foods while others participate in a full elimination protocol.
Next replace digestive secretions as necessary
Then repopulate beneficial gut bacteria using probiotic foods and/or supplements.
Once the contributors to inflammation have been addressed, the gut can start to repair. Often times micronutrient testing will be utilized to identify deficiencies and identify specific foods or supplements that will support the healing process more effectively.
The final step is to rebalance. This usually includes lifestyle changes that support a healthy gut on a day to day basis.
Over a period of seven or eight years I tried a lot of different things. I completed more extreme diets than I can count, self-administered pressure point therapy, ingested random supplements, ate totally vegetarian for two years, applied natural creams/lotions and who knows what else? I didn’t know what I was addressing, so I tried anything I came across. My eczema got better and worse, but there was no identifiable pattern to it. I kept thinking I found the root cause, but then it would get worse again after I cut out the suspected culprit.
I finally went to see a functional medicine practitioner. After in depth lab testing, he recommended an elimination diet and a several supplements. After a few weeks my skin slowly started to clear up. I was finally targeting my leaky gut with specificity. Three and a half years later, I’m mostly eczema free. I still get triggered by certain foods. Sometimes I eat them anyway (chocolate is hard to resist!). I’ve found that stress is a major factor for me, so I’ve taken steps to rebalance. I keep learning, analyzing, and adjusting. I’m on a journey and there isn’t a destination where I’ll say, “I’ve arrived and now I can eat and do whatever I want!”
If you want help healing from eczema, there are many great functional medicine practitioners who can walk alongside you. It can be frustrating, confusing and exhausting trying to do it on your own. Having someone who’s knowledgeable about nutrition and lifestyle is a key to success. See if the functional medicine model is for you with a Free Gut Health Call. There is hope, you are not alone!