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Tips from the Skin Dietitian
by Deirdre Earls, MBA, RD, LD
Whereas connections between diet and chronic skin diseases like psoriasis are just emerging, connections between eczema and diet have long been suspected and diagnosed (albeit fairly unreliably) by allergy specialists. Like virtually every aspect of our health, genetic components exist. But environmental triggers seem to escalate the speed and extent to which the symptoms manifest. If you or your partner or their ancestors suffer from eczema, you may want to consider practicing a quality, anti-inflammatory gluten-free and casein-free diet during pregnancy. Then continue practicing this diet with your baby, and nurse the baby, for at least one year to give their immune system time to better develop unchallenged by potentially damaging allergens. Be sure to speak with an experienced registered dietitian about how to implement this diet during and after pregnancy.
Whereas studies have shown that early introduction of fish before nine months of age can reduce the risk of developing eczema, fish has become an increasingly common source of heavy metal toxins like mercury and lead. Because mercury is neurotoxic (and can have lifelong developmental implications), especially to developing fetuses and children, I do not recommend intake of fish while pregnant nor before two years of age, and then only in very limited amounts. I highly recommend intake of a molecularly distilled fish oil supplement that is free of heavy metals, both during and after pregnancy. Most fish are carnivores and eat fish smaller than themselves. When fish is consumed, opt for the smallest, free swimming fish in the sea as they have the shortest life span and the least amount of time to store heavy metals. Small fish include sardines and anchovies; shark can be particularly toxic.
Like the gut, the skin is a porous, dynamic membrane. An appropriate alkaline forming, whole foods, plant-based diet will offer internal anti-inflammatory benefits that begin the healing from the inside out. Warm but not hot Epsom salt or Dead Sea salt baths along with other mineral dense topicals can provide a soothing environment to heal from the outside in. This explains in part why topicals containing the mineral zinc can be helpful in soothing the heat and itch of eczema. Baths can also include chamomile tea or raw apple cider vinegar. Topicals can be compounded to include tumeric. Stress and emotional duress are implicated in eczematic flare ups. Because of the acid forming reaction we develop from stress, it's even more important to consume a mineral dense, plant-based diet that works to stabilize blood sugars and exerts its own calming effect when stress is heightened.
Specific dietary minerals including selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese have been found to offer potential benefits for eczema.
Selenium protects cells from free radical damage and is a powerful antioxidant. The easiest way to build in dietary selenium is with Brazil nuts, the most highly concentrated source of selenium. Throw in two per day to smoothies, trail mix, and coconut yogurt. Sardines, and sunflower and mustard seeds are other handy and easy to build in sources of selenium.
Sea vegetables, button and shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, peas, and spinach are excellent sources of zinc. Build these easily into your diet by topping a spinach salad with mushrooms, or tossing a pinch of dulse, a very mild tasting sea vegetable, into your smoothie. Top a brown rice cake with delicious sunflower seed butter or enjoy a cup of green pea soup.
Copper also reduces tissue damage caused by free radicals. Sesame and sunflower seeds, and cashews, garbanzo and navy beans are good sources of copper. Some parents have been known to give their children a daily tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, another good source of copper.
Manganese, another antioxidant, also protects cells from free-radical damage. Brown rice, pineapple, garbanzo beans, greens like mustard, kale, chard, or romaine, and even maple syrup are good sources.
A Sample Daily Menu for Eczema Sufferers:
Breakfast: Smoothie made with coconut yogurt, raspberries, 100% raw organic cacao powder, blackstrap molasses, pinch of dulse, ground chia seeds, Brazil nuts and some aloe vera. The raw chocolate will allow you to hide the greens. Try romaine and kale for starters as these won't impart a strong flavor.
Lunch: Brown rice cake with 'SunButter' Sunflower seed butter and 100% fruit spread. Use blendables like the SunButter and fruit spread to build in more nutrition with ground chia, hemp seeds, or aloe vera.
Afternoon snack: Garlic hummus spread on raw vegetables including greens. You can roll romaine or kale like a tortilla around hummus and make a wrap. Slice it for extra fun and color.
Dinner: Navy beans on top of a bed of arugula greens, topped with fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.
Putting It Together and Finding Your Eczema Solution
A look into natural treatments for eczema both old and new reveals many promising alternatives for treating eczema for those wishing to avoid the deleterious effects of corticosteroids and other powerful drugs. While a cure is still a goal yet to be realized, there are many natural options that can help the juvenile or adult eczema sufferer take part in managing—often reducing—the severity of the condition. A combination approach that includes identifying a healthy meal plan and avoiding dietary triggers, together with the use of natural herbs and other nutritional supplements, topical gels or ointments, and stress-reducing techniques are all ways to naturally reduce discomforting symptoms of eczema.