Atopic Dermatitis & pH
Just what does acid/base balance have to do with atopic dermatitis?
It is easy to think of a skin disease as just a skin disease, but the skin is actually
a lot like a canary in a coal mine; it is often the first place in the body to show
there is imbalance elsewhere. It is perhaps the ancient Chinese who understood this
concept best with an insult they saved for particularly bad doctors. "That
doctor is so bad," they would say, "that he treats the eye when the eye
is sick, and the foot when the foot is sick." What the ancient Chinese understood,
that we often miss, is that the symptom of an illness itself is not, necessarily,
the illness, but the sign of something amiss elsewhere in the body.
As the outermost layer of the body, the skin serves as the definitive barrier between
us as individuals and the world around us. As such it can tell us a lot about what
is going on throughout the body and atopic dermatitis could very well be a sign
of imbalance within. Before we investigate what might be causing such internal imbalance,
let's look a little closer a little closer at the problem on the outside - what,
exactly, is atopic dermatitis.
What is atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a skin condition that generally first strikes younger children
and is related to eczema, but is not eczema. It is a chronic disease that may be
the result of an immune system that isn't functioning optimally or is functioning
improperly. On a very basic level, atopic dermatitis is all about inflammation.
Whenever you see redness, heat, pain and swelling, you can be sure you are dealing
with an inflammatory disease.
Atopic dermatitis is often associated with a syndrome of related conditions such
as asthma, food allergies, and hay fever. There is a familial tendency for this
syndrome, where one or more of the associated conditions may appear in either the
child with dermatitis symptoms or in a close family member. Atopic dermatitis can
strike at any age, but is most common in children and younger adults. It is, however,
a disease that people tend to outgrow, and it is rare to find it in anyone over
the age of 25.
Atopic dermatitis often appears as a red patchy area that can become weepy and crusted
over. It is often found on the face, scalp, in folds on the body, hands and feet,
and can often be mistaken for diaper rash. In older children, it can be found in
the crease of the elbow or the back of the knees. If scratched frequently, the rash
can develop rough, raised, areas and a leathery appearance. The rash is often very
itchy, which can lead to increased scratching (the so-called "itch-scratch
cycle") that tends to be worse in the evening and through the night. Children
with this disease often have a hard time sleeping because of the constant itching.
While you can look for creams and other topical treatments for atopic dermatitis,
there are underlying imbalances that you may also want to consider as you try to
improve this condition.
It is all about balance - pH balance
Your body likes balance; in medical terms, this is called homeostasis.
Though the root suffix in this word means "static," there is never total
stillness in living systems. Rather, the balance is a dynamic one that the body
works constantly to maintain throughout , regulating conditions such as how warm
the body is (an average of 98.6°F), how much sugar is in the blood, and innumerable
other variables. One of the key balances the body must regulate very tightly is
the acid/base balance in the blood.
To understand acid/base balance in living systems, you need to have a bit of understanding
about what acids and bases are. In order to be able to rate how strong an acid or
base is, scientists issign a value referred to as pH. This value is measured
on a logarithmic pH scale that ranges from 1 to 14, with the strongest acids at
the low end of the scale (1-3) and the strongest bases at the highest end of the
scale (11-14). Falling in the middle of the scale is water, which has a pH of around
The body likes to keep the blood somewhere around a slightly basic, or alkaline
pH of around 7.3-7.4. But functionally, the body is constantly generating acidity
- that is, positively charge hydrogen ions - through breathing, digesting, and many
other normal metabolic processes associated with everyday life. Whenever the body
tissues become too acidic, the body will employ natural, inbuilt mechanisms to rid
itself of the acidic ions.
Unfortunately, it is our eating and lifestyle habits that tend to throw off our
acid/base balance; most of us eat way, way too many acid-forming foods. When you
read that, your brain probably jumped to thinking about acid-like foods such as
citrus fruits, but fruits are not the real culprits we are looking for; in fact,
it is largely through a lack of friuts and vegetable foods in our diet that we throw
off our acid/base balance. Our bodies have evolved over many millennia to function
best in an alkaline enviroment. As a result, we stay healthy when we remain in a
basic or alkaline state, and the opposite is true when we are in an acid state.
As Felicia Kliment, author of the book The Acid-Alkaline Balance Diet,
"When acid wastes in the body accumulate, they can cause the body's organs
to malfunction and break down."
The types of foods that tend to push us toward a more acidic state include proteins
(particularly animal-based proteins) sugars and grains, (especially refined grains)
and those that that tend to bring us back into balance are fruits and vegetables.
As noted above, we humans evolved over millions of years eating a largely plant-based
So it's only natural that eating more acidifying foods means that the body has to
work hard to get rid of the excess acid ions. And while the conventional medical
community is unlikely to alert us that eating too many sugars, grains, and proteins
are a problem, you can actually measure what is happening in your body by using
pH strips and testing your urine or your saliva.
When you are in balance and eating enough alkaline-forming foods, then the pH of
your urine is basic or neutral, when you are eating too many acid-forming foods,
you urine or saliva is acidic. At DermaHarmony, we now sell testing kits that can
help your follow the changes in your pH.
Being naturally curious, kids enjoy experiments such as checking their own acid
and base levels. You can make it into a game. Let them eat their normal diet and
then check their pH and then have them change the next day by adding in more fruits
and vegetables and see how it changes their pH.
The body burden of excess acid
Because the body is in a state of dynamic balance and able to constantly make small
corrections, an acidic state is really not a problem if it happens from time to
time - or is only very mild and addressed appropriately with an alkalizing diet.
The problem arises when this is the only state we put our body in - for as the years
go by, the body organs naturally become less adept at countering this chronic, low-grade
metabolic acidosis. After all, many of us (and many of our children) eat a diet
containing little but grains and proteins.
When the body is out of balance, it produces symptoms to let you know something
is amiss; atopic dermatitis can assuredly be one of those symptoms. In fact, some
health professionals think that many cases of skin diseases may be the result of
such core imbalances. In the words of naturopath Christopher Vasey, author of The
Before they are neutralized by alkaline substances, the acids irritate the organ
with which they come in contact. Inflammation, sometimes quite painful, results,
as well as lesions or hardening of the tissues. This primarily affects the organs
charged with elimination of strong acids, such as the skin and kidneys. Many cases
of eczema, hives, itching, and red patches on the skin are due to the irritation
caused by excessive acidic sweat.
The body suffers from the lifestyles that we choose to lead. It is unfortunate,
but true, that many of the foods that taste good to us are also not the best for
us. When we eat foods that push us out of balance and into a more acidic state,
our whole body starts to suffer. The lungs, skin and kidneys are the major body
organs that deal with balancing acid and base throughout the body. Vital nutrients
are used up whenever excess acid is present in the body.
Toxins also tend to accumulate when the body is in an acid state, as other organs
are taxed, and this imbalance can lead to a prolonged excess of inflammation in
Reverse the trend
To put the brakes on too much acid and atopic dermatitis try adopting a more holistic
approach. While all of the following are helpful, you don't have to do it all at
once. Even a step-by-step approach will help to reverse the condition of low-grade
acidosis and improve overall health - including that of your skin.:
- Get out in the sun. While we have all learned that sun exposure
is harmful, it is more likely that the opposite is true. Not having sun exposure
may lead to more diseases than too much sun exposure. We derive essential nutrients
from sun exposure. Obviously, you should avoid being in the sun long enough to burn
— but there is no question that getting some exposure every day is what Mother
Nature intended for us.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. You may have heard this so often
you can no longer "hear" it. But it can hardly be said often or loudly
enough — you need to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet! If you
are a parent, try to encourage some fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal.
Smoothies are a great addition to children's diet and can be enjoyed at any time
of day. If you think it is impossible to get enough fruits and vegetables in you
or your child, consider supplementing with a high quality pH-balancing formula.
(For more information, read our
dermatitis and diet section.)
- Fish oils — not your grandmother's cod liver oil. When it
comes to skin conditions, it is hard to overestimate the importance of essential
fatty acids, commonly referred to as omega-3's. High-quality fish oil supplements
are a superb source of essential fatty acids, and they can be flavored or delivered
in capsules that most children will willingly tolerate.
- Remove food allergens. The most common food allergens for people
with atopic dermatitis are peanuts, eggs, milk, seafood, soy, and chocolate.
- Drink water.Water not only helps with acid/base balance, but also
helps keep toxins moving out of the system.
The skin, it turn out, is a great early-warning system for all of us if we heed
its alarms. You know this is true when you look at people who are healthy because
their skin has a glow and radiates health. Atopic dermatitis is a message to us
all to take a closer look at our health and lifestyles — and that of our children
— and see what we can do to improve the both of them.
There is much you can do to lesson or eliminate atopic dermatitis from your life
or the life of someone you love.
Most visited articles on Dermatitis
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Seborrheic Dermatitis and Cradle Cap
Seborrheic dermatitis (SD) is a very common, intermittent skin condition characterized
most often by itchy flaky scales on the scalp. Red flaking skin may also be found
on the face or behind the ears. Often referred to as cradle cap when affecting infants,
many adults—especially those between the ages of 30 and 60—experience seborrhea
or SD as well.
Dermatitis - General
Dermatitis, also referred to as eczema, is a term used to describe a broad variety
of skin irritations that involve inflammation and red itchy rashes. The condition
is not life-threatening and cannot be passed from one person to another through
any sort of contact, though it can have a familial component.
Contact dermatitis, which is inflammation caused by direct contact with an irritant
or allergen, is one of the most common types of skin irritations. It is sometimes
referred to as "occupational dermatitis," as it is very common in occupations where
individuals come into frequent contact with irritants and allergens.
Nummular dermatitis is an inflammatory skin irritation characterized by its round,
coin-shaped lesions. Sometimes referred to as discoid eczema, it affects approximately
2 in every 1000 people in the United States and is most prevalent in middle-aged
Stasis dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that develops secondary to fluid
build-up, or blood pooling (stasis), just under the skin as a result of problematic
Perioral dermatitis is a common facial skin irritation affecting the skin around
the mouth, extending at times upwards or outwards onto the cheeks, and less commonly
around the eyes or forehead.
How We Help
At DermaHarmony, our goals are to educate chronic skin care suffers about dermatology, share what contributes to health and wellness, and support our readers in any way we can. Our programs promote healthy skin with nutritional supplements, topical treatments and dietary guidance. Learn more about our programs or call us toll-free at 1-800-827-3730. Our Support Desk is open 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday.
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Chan, L. 2008. Atopic dermatitis in 2008. Curr. Dir. Autoimmun., 10, 76-118.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18460882 (accessed 11.08.2008).
Kliment, F. 2002. The Acid–Alkaline Balance Diet: An Innovative Program for
Ridding Your Body of Acidic Wastes. NY: McGraw–Hill.
Vasey, C. 1999. The Acid-Alkaline Diet for Optimum Health: Restore Your Health by
Creating Balance in Your Diet. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
Principal Authors: Scott Olson, Naturopathic Doctor
Date of Publication: 3/5/2007
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