• Can a Healthy Diet Prevent Eczema Flare-Ups?

    by Dr. Payal Bhandari
    on Oct 12th, 2018

A healthy, well-balanced diet can help prevent eczema flare-ups. Making simple shifts in how and what you consume can have a dramatic impact in improving your skin health and lessening the severity of eczema flare-ups.  

To understand the impact of diet on skin health, it is important to first understand exactly what eczema is and how it can be impacted by other systems of the body.


Eczema

Eczema is caused by your body not being able to get rid of “sludge” (a.ka., waste) produced inside of the digestive system. When the excess waste is not effectively removed via stool, urine, and sweat, the waste (a.k.a., sludge) builds up inside of the digestive tract. The immune system within the gut subsequently creates an intense inflammatory response against the sludge since this waste is viewed as a foreigner.  If the waste level remains high, the inflammation continues to rise and eventually shows up on the outside of the body (a.k.a., the skin). Inflammation on the skin is seen as a rash and/or swelling. Long-standing skin inflammation is called eczema.   

When the immune system is revved up for too long, it eventually begin to attack the own body’s tissues as foreigners.  We call this an autoimmune response. The body now becomes reactive to exposures it historically considered safe. For example, certain foods, environmental and skin exposures previously tolerated now become poorly tolerated.  This aggressive immune reaction may be diagnosed as allergies, poison ivy, aggressive bug bite reactions, and so on. On the skin the persistent inflammatory reaction inside the body causes red,scaly, coarse, itchy, dry, cracked, and bleeding skin.

A genetic predisposition can increase one’s risk for developing eczema by only 10-15%. The majority of the eczema reaction is driven by environmental exposures and one’s lifestyle. The key to lessening and reversing eczema is addressing the root cause.


Inflammation and Diet

Inflammation is sort of a catch-all term for a variety of conditions, including eczema. Other conditions that can fall into the broad category include arthritis, gout, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, heart disease, dementia, and many other chronic conditions. Inflammation almost always stems from dysfunctions within the gut which spread to other parts of the body. Inflammation can present in many interesting ways and hence, can be labeled as thousands of different diagnoses.

Inflammation inherently is not a bad thing. In simplest terms, inflammation is the body’s initial response to a problem or intruder by the immune system. For instance, if you had a cut, the local inflammation in the vicinity of the cut is your immune system’s reaction to preventing an infection and accelerating healing. Indeed, a lack of inflammation at the site of an injury could be more detrimental to one’s health and indicate a very weak immune system. However, when the immune system goes into overdrive, even without a war to fight, it begins to attack the body’s own systems and cause undesirable inflammatory conditions like eczema.

Lots of foods often consumed in the Western diet cause inflammation. The reason is many of these foods are poor in macronutrients while instead being rich in fats, sugar, poorly digested protein, chemicals, heavy metals, and heavily processed or synthetic foods.  Alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and other drugs regularly consumed also have deleterious effects on the immune system. Inflammation becomes a common symptoms and hence, disease sets in.


Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities are especially bad for causing body-wide inflammation since the digestive tract is unable to tolerate certain items irrelevant of the quantity of consumption. The gut becomes on high alert when exposed to these toxic items and hence, creates an intense allergic (a.k.a, inflammatory) reaction.  The gut detects this unwelcomed invader, and is determined to expel it. Anything that comes in contact with the invading substance gets primed with reactive proteins, causing a surge in white blood cells and other immune responders. This influx of immune cells blocks off the normal channels by which fluids flow, and toxins are processed, causing a bottleneck in the body’s natural processes.

If you’ve ever tied an elastic band around your fingertip and watched it swell, darken, and become painfully engorged, you’ll understand how damaging protracted inflammation can be for your body’s inner workings.

The biggest culprits for causing food sensitivities and hence, triggering eczema are dairy products, red meat, poultry, eggs, fish since they are high in heavy metals, naturally very acidic and required a great deal of digestive strength to process over 72 hours. Children in utero and as infants are being exposed to these items at high quantities for many generations now since animal protein has become the staple of the Western diet. As the digestive system gradually becoming compromised for children and adults, it has no strength to digest animal protein at any level of consumption. This compromised digestive and immune systems also becomes sensitive to genetically modified items like wheat, corn, and soy since they are no longer recognized by the microbiome of the digestive tract. These foreign invader “foods” are frequently attacked by the immune system. When sugar and nuts are added to the mix along with processed, nutrient-poor foods, food coloring and chemical-laden foods, the digestive system begins to slowly collapse since the inflammation fire has gone out of control. Illness is now setting in, and a person begins to just take notice due to seeing i.e., eczema or feeling i.e., digestive problems, colic, or mood shifts.


Dietary Tips to Prevent Eczema Flare-Ups

Your diet should focus primarily on fresh green vegetables with a side of whole “ancient” grains and legumes. Pick a few staple grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum presoaked overnight. Pick a few staple beans such as lentils, mung and adzuki beans presoaked overnight.  Add fun spices to both the whole grains and beans when cooking in boiling water so the dishes are tasty. Compliment with large servings of colorful vegetables dressed in oil. The combination of these real foods releases the right kind of sugar into the body at a safe rate so that the cells can produce energy.

Move away from fast, convenient food where you think you are saving time on the food preparation and eating process.  You, instead, will suffer a great deal of harm down the road since your digestive and immune system will be sickened by these fast foods.  

If you must have animal protein, stick to having a small serving once a week.  When animal protein is consumed once or more in a day, an intense toxic reaction occurs within the body. The reason is the human digestive tract is designed to excrete all food waste within 24 hours. All animal protein takes a minimum of 3 to 5 days to be excreted partially because it is full of its own waste products, heavy metals, and lacking in most essential vitamins and minerals.    Consuming animal protein more than once a week will gradually compromise the immune system and lead to illness (i.e, eczema).

Be weary of the current health recommendation of having lean meats and fish. The reason is all lean meats and fish are high in mercury, lead, and arsenic.  Any level of exposure to these heavy metals will remain in our bones and other tissue for 8 to 28 years. Recent studies are proving that fish and other animal protein are the #1 cause of kidney failure and non-alcoholic fatty liver.

Focus also on foods rich in magnesium and antioxidants. These include most dark leafy greens (i.e., kale, swiss chard, bok choy), fresh herbs, celery, zucchini, cauliflower, and broccoli as big staples in your daily diet. Have a small side of fruits like berries eaten alone and as the perfect daytime snack. Since fruit has a high sugar content (even if it is natural), avoid fruit juices and preserves. Sugar, in general, should be minimized.


These dietary tips are a great starting point to help lessen the severity of eczema flare-ups and many other autoimmune diseases.

For a personalized treatment plan, it is always best to work with a specialist who can determine the root cause of the aliment. Contact Advanced Health!  As integrative, functional medicine specialists, we look at what the underlying problem is and hence, do not just treat symptoms as often seen in conventional medicine.  We provide personalized treatment plans so disease is reversed. Call us today, and put your skin (and self) on the path to healing.

Author Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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