Improve your skin with these tips
Benjamin developed severe atopic eczema (head to toe) at the age of 4 months. Prior to this there was no sign of any skin conditions.
We went to seek the advice of a dermatologist and he advised us that most people with eczema have some sort of allergy.
I told him that I would remove dairy and gluten from my diet to see if this would help him with his skin (he was solely breastfed and not yet on solids). He advised me not to bother. Instead, his advice was to apply steroids daily, to manage any eczema flare up I may have caused him from what I had eaten.
This made no sense to me.
How could what we were eating not impact his skin?
We were also advised that it was likely that he would require steroids for life (!) – if not daily, then at least second daily, to keep it at bay. We were advised on how to bathe him in bleach baths, and if this didn’t help then a year of antibiotics.
We then eventually found a paediatric allergist who undertook skin prick testing with him, which uncovered multiple sensitisation to foods: translation = highly likely to be allergic to:
- All tree nuts
So….I needed to start reading labels… BIG TIME! Our son with allergies and eczema, meant some pretty big changes for us.
I started researching nutrition in food, causes for eczema (and allergies), food that could flare up and food that could heal, what to avoid – food, lifestyle, chemicals, and more!
At the time, over seven years ago, I was in the middle of my PhD. I had access to hundreds of journals and thousands of research papers out there. I started researching like a Mum with a sick child! I spent hours each night looking for answers….looking for a way to help him.
This was the start of a deep dive into understanding food, nutrition… more than just nutrition – nourishing whole foods – real food.
This was the start of our journey into real food, real health, and real healing.
Within a few months of embarking on a diet to support good gut health, removing/replacing chemicals in our lives, making our own moisturisers, Benjamin’s skin improved dramatically.
I was amazed!
I was so happy to be able to help my little boy not be a slave to daily steroids, bleach baths and potential more gut health damage with long term antibiotics.
I was so happy to see him sleep better at night, not have to wear mittens 24 hours a day, and not have to lather on petroleum-based creams on multiple times a day.
These are some of the things that we looked at to help with our son’s skin….
To determine the effect of food on your skin, keep a food diary to help you pinpoint potential triggers. Include what you eat and drink and known exposure to chemicals (like moisturisers, sun screen, makeup).
Then record symptoms like stomach cramps, bowel motions (Bristol Stool Chart is helpful!), headaches, brain fog, mood/emotions, as well as skin condition and location, and use of any topical or oral medication.
Adding photos of your skin can be very helpful too.
Keep the food diary for at least a few weeks prior to making any changes to your diet. When introducing a food back in, add gradually and one at a time, to be able to attribute any changes to the food.
Food chemicals such as salicylates, amines and histamines can also cause skin issues – for Benjamin, high salicylate food caused hives, and high amine and histamine foods flared up his eczema. Even nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes and eggplants) can contribute to eczema. You may find a link between exposure to these foods and your skin – have a look for these possible connections in your food diary.
As Hipporates stated, “All disease begins in the gut.”
Your gut microbiome is the presence and balance of bacteria in your gut. There are trillions of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome, which consists of many different strains and of varying amounts.
Poor gut health has been associated with many causes, including the use of antibiotics, caesarian section, chlorinated water, processed food, stress, and a high intake of sugar.
These bacteria have many roles and poor gut health has been linked with a myriad of health conditions including eczema.
It is therefore important to address eczema from the ‘inside’ as well as ‘outside’ or else eczema is unlikely to improve in the long term. Excitingly, over the last few years there has been an exponential rise in the research into gut health and a wide variety of health conditions.
I strongly recommend seeing a naturopath or biomedical doctor to investigate this further – stool sample testing, prebiotics and other nutritional support may be required to target this more specifically.
Hundreds of studies demonstrate that eating gluten causes leaky gut (“intestinal permeability” if you’re searching on PubMed)…and hence gluten may cause a flare in eczema. Try removing gluten from the diet for a month – look for improvement. If there is no improvement, slowly add back in and monitor for symptoms.
Many of those with eczema have allergies. Trial removing dairy from the diet for at least 6 weeks to determine if it affects you; add it back in and monitor the results in your food diary.
Sugar causes inflammation and can create or worsen imbalances of various bacterial strains in the gut, which can worsen eczema.
An imbalance or lack of certain bacteria in the gut can lead to eczema. Lactobacillus Rhamnosus (LGG) probiotic is a highly studied probiotic in those with eczema and supplementing this may be beneficial. It can be purchased from pharmacies. Lactobacillus Plantarum has also been used successfully in children with eczema.
Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibres that help feed specific beneficial bacteria in the gut that improve your health. There is increasing amounts of research into the importance of prebiotics in your diet and therefore it may be appropriate to include these into your diet.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut contain large amounts of beneficial bacteria (such as Lactobacillus Plantarum) and eating these can help to introduce different strains of bacteria into the gut. These can be easily made at home, or purchased in health food shops (check that these are unpastuerised to ensure it still contains beneficial bacteria).
Fermented foods can contain a naturally occurring chemical called ‘histamine’ which may flare up eczema. If introducing fermented foods, go slowly, and note down any symptoms in your food diary. To monitor and minimize reactions, you may want to start with just one drop of the fermented juice at a time.
Hydration is also really important. Ensure that you drink the amount of fresh water that your body requires. Fluoride and chlorine free if possible; fluoride has recently been reported as a neurotoxin (and is banned in Europe), and chlorine in the water can damage/kill your gut bacteria too.
Take a look at other drinks you might be having – soft drink contains high amounts of sugar which research has shown that can lead to the development of cancer (as well as diabetes and a myriad of other chronic health conditions)…. diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners linked to putting on weight (!!)
Try and stick with water, if you want something in addition, add a slice of lemon/lime or some fruit (berries are delicious!) or a nutritious herbal tea such as nettle or horsetail herb.
Water Kefir or kombucha are refreshing drinks which may be a great replacement for soft drinks – they have a natural fizz, can be slightly sweet, and are full of probiotics. Beware of the potential to flare up eczema as they can be high in histamines – even increasing the amount of probiotics dramatically can flare up eczema unintentionally. Go slowly when introducing these delicious drinks into your diet!
Pieces of the Puzzle….
Dietary changes were one part of the puzzle for us. We also reduced chemicals (think cleaners, skin care products, perfumes, washing powders etc), looked at lifestyle factors, and looked to natural options to support our health (making over our medicine cabinet).
If you’d like some support for your journey in making these dietary changes and reducing chemicals, I would love to be able to save you the years and years that I spent searching for answers and the countless trials and errors trying various things to see what worked and what didn’t.
So, if you are ready to dive deeper into the causes and evidenced-based approaches to eczema (including going beyond symptom management to treat the root causes), then join me in The Happy Skin Collective for Eczema – further details below.