Question:I have had eczema off and on for many years, causing me considerable discomfort, even pain. Conventional doctors seem to have nothing to offer me except steroid creams. Is there a natural solution to eczema?
Answer: Eczema, Latin for skin rash, is a common and vexing skin disorder that severely disrupts the lives of many people of all ages. The incidence of eczema has been increasing over the past forty years; in fact, it is now considered the most common chronic disease in the pediatric population in the western world. According to western medicine, the pathophysiology—that is, the cause—of eczema is unknown, although the current theories put eczema in the category of auto-immune diseases in this case an auto-immune disease of the skin. (For reference other auto-immune diseases include Hashimoto’s which is an auto-immune disorder of the thyroid gland, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an auto-immune disease of the joints.)
Food allergies have long been suspected to play a role in eczema, although studies of the role of food allergies have shown conflicting results over the years. There is also the question of whether all eczema or skin rashes have the same cause, in that sometimes the skin will be wet and weeping, whereas in other cases the skin is overly dry and cracked. It is unclear whether these are actually the same disease or whether they should be thought of and treated as entirely different illnesses. There is also the question of whether the location of the skin disorder relates to the origin of the illness. Children typically have eczema in the crooks of their elbows, and behind their knees and ears, whereas in the teen years and twenties the eruptions are frequently on the hands and feet, and in older age the eruptions often occur on the legs and arms. All these things are unexplained in conventional medicine and in fact complicate this very difficult situation.
In trying to understand eczema on a deeper level, the first issue to address, as with all allergic and auto-immune diseases, is the fact that the antibodies that cause auto-immune reactions are made against foreign proteins that have found their way into the bloodstream. Whether we are talking about foreign food antigens (food allergies), or auto-immune reactions, the issue is not so much stopping the toxic skin reaction that results in the eczema, but rather sealing and healing the gut in order to stop the leakage of foreign proteins into the blood stream, either from food or other sources. Healing the micro-flora of the gut, healing the micro-villi of the gut, and stopping the absorption of antigenic proteins is the key to stopping the vicious cycle that results in chronic eczema. All of this points to the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet), the modified traditional diet, to start healing the gut and restoring the micro-ecology in our GI tract. From a epidemiological perspective, when we moved away from our traditional diet, with its emphasis on lacto-fermented foods, good fats, bone broths and properly prepared grains, we created the situation that has allowed chronic illnesses like eczema to flourish.
In addition to the GAPS diet as the basis of the eczema treatment, there are some natural medicines that can go a long way to relieve the suffering that often accompanies this disorder. Evening primrose oil has been shown to lower inflammation and often help with skin healing. For small children the EPO can even be rubbed into the skin. The dose of EPO should be 4000 mg per day for 6 weeks, then 2000 mg per day thereafter. The Chinese herbal medicine sophora is an anti-allergy herb that is widely used both orally and as a skin ointment with much success. Allergy Research sells a product called Dermaweed, which contains sophora, and is often very successful in helping to heal eczema. The dose is about three capsules, three times per day for about eight weeks. Fermented cod liver oil, about 1 teaspoon per day should be given to supplement vitamin A, which has been shown to heal the GI mucosa and is valuable in the treatment of a variety of skin conditions. Some people see partial success with the cod liver oil, and complete success in healing eczema when the high-vitamin butter oil is added.
Probitoics and probiotic food should be given, including a daily dose of sauerkraut, and a probiotic such as Biokult, building up slowly to a dose of 1-4 capsules twice per day. Finally the skin protomorphogen from Standard Process, called dermatrophin, which blocks the antibodies that eventually cause skin inflammation should be given at a dose of 1-2 tablets three times per day between meals.
Finally, for topical treatment, I cannot say enough about a Chinese herbal formula containing sophora—I have seen bad cases of eczema clear up in just a few days with this product. A member of the pea family, sophora contains a biopolymer called arabinogalactan consisting of two simple sugars, arabinose and galactose. Arabinogalactan functions as a signalling molecule between cells, as well as glue to seal wounds, and may also interact with the immune system in a positive way.
The sophora topical treatment is available from drkangformulas.com. The product is number 49 on the website. The preparation is quite expensive—ten dollars for a small packet—but many find that it is more than worth it in the almost instant relief from itching that it gives.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2010.