Healing Eczema with Integrative Natural Medicine
Disease occurs in individual human beings. Your and my unique characteristics of body and mind are the particular terrain from whence our imbalances grow. Disease is always easier to treat if the terrain is healthy, and often impossible to treat successfully if it is not.
The same is true of plants. In the garden, for example, white fly infestation can occur when the plant has not been watered adequately, when its leaves have not been kept clean, when ventilation is inadequate, and when the soil is poor. As in humans, all these factors stress the plant and make it susceptible to the diseases that it might be prone to.
In human beings healthy terrain is produced by good sleep, good appetite, good digestion, good elimination, the ability to experience deep states of relaxation and happiness, and a healthy mental attitude. The more you have these blessings, either naturally or by the work of treatment and self-care, the more resistant you are to diseases, whether the functional ones you are genetically predisposed to, or the infectious ones you contract from outside.
Successful treatment of eczema has the following aspects —
• Stress management
• Diet management
• Correct skin moisturizing
• Herbs and nutritional supplements
Stress is acknowledged as a factor in bio-medicine as well. But what is stress and what are your stressors? In life so much is out of our control. The past is unchangeable. We have to face over and over again situations that are frustrating, that create feelings of irritability, anger sadness, loss, grief, fear. Many of us have more on our plates than is healthy. Ask yourself, “how do I deal with that?” Stress your response to the stressors, more than the stressors themselves.
The only thing you have any genuine hope of controlling is your response. The barking dog bothers me. I have no control. I can get frustrated and angry, or i can experience the unpleasantness softly and gently. The noise softens.
If you have emotional conflicts, suffer from anxiety, depression, or something else; then use psychological tools. A skilled therapist or counselor can help.
Interestingly, in Chinese medicine, the Lungs govern the skin. Meaning that Lung health will have a bearing on the skin’s condition. (Other key organs are the Liver and Digestive tract). It also says in Chinese Medicine that the Lungs are the organ damaged most by Grief and Sadness. Western medicine observes the high incidence of allergies among eczema suffers.
Maybe you just need some coaching on strategies to cope with your in-laws, but it could be what you really need is to learn better how to experience and process the feelings triggered inside you by your in-laws.
Beyond counseling and therapy, if you really want to make a difference with yourself, you might learn mindfulness meditation. This kind of meditation is very valuable for stress and complements psychological work profoundly.
There are no healthy or unhealthy foods! There are only healthy or unhealthy diets. And what works for Jane does not necessarily work for June. We need to apply general concepts of a healthy diet to your unique terrain. What grows well in the Amazon does not grow in the Sahara.
Eczema is characterized by red skin, itching, weepy lesions, and sometimes thickened calloused skin. In Chinese medicine this makes it a disease of heat and dampness. Anytime there is rubor (redness) in the skin, whether due to infection or inflammation that says there is heat. The skin can even feel hot. So we need to look for a diet that does not create more heat or dampness, rather one that even eliminates heat and dampness.
How to work your diet:
Think first in terms of the above big picture.
Then realize that at first you may need a fairly radical “cleansing” diet, a kind of fasting, a fasting from foods that aggravate your condition. During this time you may learn to make permanent changes in your diet that will improve your eczema and overall health.
After about three months to a year, depending on the severity of your case and the rapidity of your improvement, you can introduce a few things you have eliminated. But learn that if you are a “hot” type, for example, with a tendency to express stress and heat through the skin (as opposed, for example, through migraines, fibromyalgia, or irritable bowel syndrome) then you will want to eat deep fried shrimp about twice a decade. Another words, use this time to discover what kind of diet makes you feel healthy.
Once you settle in to your normal diet, there will be times when if you have an eczema flare up, you will know what to do: for a short term, like three weeks, return to the original cleansing diet.
Over time, you want to develop the healthy diet that works for you, based on the following information, tailored to your individual culture and constitutional type. And you want to learn what, if any, foods, consistently aggravate your skin. Classic ones are alcohol, shellfish, excessive sugar, especially mixed with stress.
What to Eat:
A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, burdock root, other veggies, whole grains (for some folk minus wheat), and small amounts of everything else per your taste and culture is a starting point. Most green veggies have a bitter taste. Bitter herbs and medicines are cleansing and clear heat.
Grains: Rice is excellent, unless you are diabetic. Barley is a grain that is used in China for beautiful skin. It is cooling. Other low or gluten-free grains are Quinoa, Rye, Amaranth, Corn.
Burdock root is an oriental vegetable with a special affinity for the skin. I have found it especially useful in acute outbreaks of itchy red eczema. Available at all Asian markets and health food stores. Use in soups, stir fries, or just slice it and boil like an herb tea. Can be had in capsules, too.
Good fats: fish, raw nuts (not roasted), raw seeds, and avocado are high in the essential fatty acids good for skin health.
What to Avoid:
Spicy hot foods aggravate hot skin conditions. Avoid like the plague chillies, cayenne, or any spice that makes you feel warm. This could include black pepper and garlic, too.
Avoid any shellfish — crab, lobster, shrimp and scallops. Ocean fish is fine for most people.
Avoid wine and hard liquor. In the beginning avoid beer as well.
Go on a wheat free diet for three months. Wheat is one of the food allergens most related to the skin. Make sure you realize all the sources of wheat: prepared soups and sauces as well as crackers, cookies, pasta and bread. Many rye breads also have wheat. Read the ingredients! You may even try a gluten free diet, especially if you also have allergies and asthma, which the majority of eczema suffers seem to.
No deep fried food. It is very very damp and heat producing. Includes donuts!
Foods that produce dampness are raw foods and foods with cooling (like cucumber) or moistening properties. These are fine in moderation or small amounts, again depending on your body-mind type. But with avoid in excess.
A way to tell if you are eating too much damp type food is to look at your tongue. If there is a thick greasy coating, you have a damp condition or food stagnation. Too much cold, damp food.
Avoid iced beverages, cold beverages, ice cream, hard cheese, too much milk, sweets to excess.
Sugar is wonderfully moistening. If you have a dry sore throat drink tea with honey. But if you have a damp condition you need to avoid sugar. I would limit it to a couple teaspoons a day. Regardless of whether it is brown or white.
Fruit is also moistening and cooling. Its fine. But if you are the kind that can chow down half a watermelon, be careful. Too much fruit, especially during a flare up, can be counterproductive.
Foods that create dampness in the body, like sugar, wheat, and dairy, are foods that create a damp interior, this damp interior can often obstruct the flood of nourishment to the skin, leaving it dry. But there is more to the story, it is in fact complex and hard to understand without studying Chinese medicine in depth. But think of it this way, things that are cold, heavy, sweet over-moisten the interior of your body, and the moisture collects inside like a murky pond and the moisture fails to reach the skin leaving it dry. It may also leave it pathologically wet if it overflows which is what you see with wheat. In that case, because Qi is warm, the Qi moves with the blood and heats it up leading to damp heat. Itchy skin is a symptom of “Wind” often due to the above mentioned lack of nourishment in the skin. Another factor is blood vacuity which may also leave your skin dry and unnourished. Those folk tend to be thin and weaker with lifelong dry skin. The damp types tend to be fat and more oily in their skin, with a greater tendency to phlegm.
You want to take a daily supplement of essential fatty acids containing gamma-linolenic acid, those would be borage oil, black currant, or evening primrose.
If you have a history of antibiotic use, yeast infections, systemic candida, constipation or loose stools, a course of Probiotic containing both Acidopholis and Bifidus is important to repair intestinal flora. Healthy intestines are a critical component of a healthy body.
If you have anxiety, insomnia, or constipation take Magnesium at night before bed.
Natural anti-histamines, like Quercitin (250mg, 4x day), especially if itching is prominant.
Herbal protocols aim to clear heat, dampness, and “wind” from the skin, and nourish the blood to better “cool” and nourish the skin.
Neem-Plus Classic Ayurvedic herb formula used for eczema, psoriasis, acne, etc for 2,000 years. It works very well for all types.
Nettles Western herb, really a food. I collect wild nettles and use them in soup in the spring. But Nettles are a blood tonic and cleanser with a long tradition. Modern science shows that they act against the allergic response, and since eczema is associated with allergies, it helps eczema especially if you have other allergies and during acute phases after dietary indiscretion
Trifal An Ayurvedic anti-oxidant, rejuvenative that correct intestinal dysbiosis and improves absorption of foods and medicines. I usually have you go through a bottle or two at the beginning, to get our slate clear, so I know your system is running well.
Tang Gui and Arctii Formula Classic Chinese formula I use particularly if there is itching, oozing, and if there are signs of “blood vacuity.”
Oregon Grape Root European herb, used for rosacea and eczema. Takes about three months to work. Can use in a cream form, too, from Vitalbotanicals.com
Use a mild shampoo rather than soap to wash your body. Or a very mild soap. Don’t shower with hot water during eczema flare ups; its dries and irritates the skin. As a rule go for warm showers and finish with cool water. No hot baths.
Colloidal oatmeal may help during a flare-up. Its in some creams.
Plain coconut oil is excellent; considered cooling in India; massage it from head to toe once a week, rest, and shower off. Use it on affected areas during the week.
Ayurvedic medicated oils for “oil bath” (see my Oil bath handout) can be had from Oilbath.com, I love these oils from Kerala, India. There are several that are specific for eczema, try Pinda Thailam or Neelibrigandhi if your eczema is primarily on the scalp and associated with anxiety or poor sleep.
Neem oil. Neem capsules are made from the leaves of the tree, this is from the seeds of the fruits. Very smelly, but can be helpful on hot red weepy lesions. Little goes a long way. Cut 50–50 with Sesame oil.
Blue Poppy brand Chinese herbal eczema ointment is excellent. It can stop itching and actually promote healing of the lesions.
copyright eyton j. shalom, july 2009, all rights reserved
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego