Health Topics

Naturopathic Medicine for Eczema and dermatitis

To the child or adult enduring the torment of eczema the underlying cause is probably of little immediate concern. The first priority is to relieve the intolerable itching and inflammation of the skin which prompts a frenzy of scratching that merely compounds the problem and may lead to secondary infections.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of some of the steroid-based creams in providing short-term relief encourages many sufferers to ignore the causes of eczema and they may neglect these for many years. What is more, repeated suppression of the skin rashes in young children may lead to problems with the lungs, such as asthma, since lung and skin are closely related in their functions.

The principal causative factors are generally dietary intolerances and nutritional insufficiencies. Put very simply, eczema is usually induced by overexposure to foods the body can’t process properly or insufficient of the nutrients that protect it against inflammation. Clinical experience suggests that it is a combination of the two.

The allergy connection

The medical term for eczema is atopic dermatitis meaning that it is often the consequence of an allergic reaction to either a food or, in more severe cases, to contact with irritants such as animal wool. Over 80 percent of eczema cases show an elevation of the serum immunoglobulin IgE which is associated with immediate sensitivity reactions. Foods such as cows milk and wheat may induce an attack through the release of IgE but citrus fruits and sugar may also be implicated through non-immune mediated pathways.

The implication is, therefore, that gastro-intestinal mechanisms have a lot to do with the cause of eczema. Not only is the integrity of the gut lining of great importance but the efficiency of the liver detoxification pathways in rendering safe what leaks through the mucosal barriers of the intestines is equally important.

My first priority is to remove the challenges to the overworked immunity and liver detoxification systems. It does not take elaborate allergy tests to recognise the most common culprits: exclusion of cows milk, sugar (in all its forms) and citrus fruits will usually bring some relief of the worst symptoms within a week or two. But this is only the first step in what must be a coordinated naturopathic approach to improving digestive function, supporting liver detoxification, repairing weakened gut walls, and increasing nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, that reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.

Detoxifying

At some stage it may be necessary to go through a cleansing diet programme of juices and raw or steamed vegetables to assist the detoxification process. Herbal medicine can be used to assist the detoxification functions of the liver, acting as blood purifiers, and promoting better digestion as well as assisting the repair of the intestinal linings.

For relief of the rashes, without resort to steroid preparations, we use elder and almond cream, for the milder cases, or a chickweed and marshmallow ointment for more severe cases. As an adjunct to these basic treatments, acupuncture is also of benefit. According to traditional Chinese medicine theory this helps to cool the blood and disperse excessive heat in the liver.

As the body undergoes the changes in function there may be a temporary aggravation of the skin symptoms, which is why such treatments should be carried out under the supervision of a naturopath or medical herbalist who can make the necessary adjustments to your programme. With competent professional help geared to the individual needs of the patient there is every prospect of enjoying freedom from the torments of eczema.

R.Newman Turner, ND, DO, BAc