Getting to the Root of Eczema

By Dr. Ben Kim

We recently had a guest visit our clinic with chronic eczema. Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a condition of itchy and dry skin that can progress to a rash, sometimes cracking and bleeding. This particular guest had a severe rash with painful cracks on the palms of her hand, as well as on the soft, inside part of her elbows.

She had tried various hydrocortisone creams, cooling gels, and minimizing exposure to soap and water, all with limited success. Whenever her rash seemed to improve, she would suffer through another bout of itchiness that precipitated another rash. As with most sufferers of eczema, the painful cracks and “weeping” of the rash was caused by her scratching away at her skin because of unbearable itchiness. Even knowing that scratching to soothe the itchiness would result in a painful rash was not enough to keep her from scratching - the itchiness was that unbearable. She reported that sometimes, her husband would wake her up because she was scratching away in her sleep.

Although there are many varieties of eczema, they can all be boiled down to two types: the first type is caused by contact with an irritating substance like perfume, detergent, or rubber. The second type is caused mainly by an allergic reaction that occurs inside of the body in response to a food or substance entering the blood. For various reasons, people can develop intolerances to certain foods and substances over time, leading to an allergic reaction in the blood, which in turn causes inflammation and itching in the skin.

Eczema that is brought on by external contact with an irritating substance is fairly easy to recover from. Avoiding contact with the offending substance(s) leads to predictable healing over time. Sometimes, excessive washing with soap and water can lead to dryness, which can contribute to this type of eczema. I have worked with a few parents whose children have recovered from eczema by avoiding long baths, as excessive exposure to warm water was causing the skin to dry out.

Our recent guest suffered from eczema that was due to an allergic reaction in her blood in response to certain foods. I guided her through a four-day water fast, during which time she happily reported feeling no itchiness. This was expected with a water-only fast, as there were no potential food allergens entering her body. She was somewhat discouraged that despite the disappearance of itchiness, some scales and rash remained on her hands during her fast. This was a good opportunity to explain to her that the layers that make up skin regenerate from the inside out. It would take time for the healing deeper layers to come to the surface for her to see.

Following her water fast, we tested a variety of different foods, watching for itchiness for up to 12-24 hours after each food. Over a period of one month, we found that the two main foods that triggered her eczema were pasteurized dairy and soy. It was interesting to find that fermented soy in the form of miso soup was an exception. Soy milk, tofu, soy sauce, and vegetarian substitutes that contain soy protein aggravated her eczema. Since completing her fast and avoiding pasteurized dairy and most forms of soy protein, her hands have returned to being healthy and soft. She isn’t happy about not eating the occasional bowel of ice cream, but she’s very happy to be free of eczema.

Many people who suffer with food allergy-related eczema can heal themselves by identifying and avoiding their food allergies. In some cases, I recommend the use of a high quality probiotic – a supplement that contains beneficial organisms – to improve intestinal health, which can lead to substantial protection against food allergies. My experience has been that not all probiotic supplements are created with exceptional standards, so please do your research before pursuing this option. Undergoing a short water fast can be extremely helpful in strengthening the intestinal lining and decreasing nervous system hypersensitivity, which can also lead to more protection against food allergies.

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