Addressing Emotions to Prevent Eczema and Autoimmunity in Kids

When you have children your life changes. You’re completely responsible for another life which is an immense responsibility. We all do our best but still make mistakes.

The key is how you handle those mistakes.

Do you grow from it? Do you ignore it and hope it goes away? Do you keep reinforcing possibly negative or detrimental patterns? Do you acknowledge it and realize you can change it? Can you get over yourself enough to put your children first?
These are all tough questions we have to ask ourselves when raising children from both a mental health and chronic disease standpoint.

Addressing Emotions to Prevent Eczema and Autoimmunity in Kids

My husband and I are both acutely aware of the importance of mental health issues being healthcare practitioners. We’re trained to identify anxiety, depression, and other conditions as they are so prevalent in society. (This needs to be acknowledged and solutions offered).
From a personal aspect we also understand because we both come from families where there is a history of mental illness and mood disorders to varying degrees. We both agree that while our parents tried, we wish they made these considerations for us and our families as children and teens.
We’re not saying that we had horrible childhood’s by any stretch of the imagination. However, neither of us feel we were given great emotional coping tools- something we work on in our home daily.
And guess what…. we’re not perfect and we don’t always get it right. But, we are always aware, practice self reflection, and try to do better the next time.
Nothing frustrates me more than when my son lies to me. His are more like omissions or being sneaky. For example, the day after Halloween the Switch Witch came which meant the candy went away in place of a small toy. I left a few pieces of candy I bought that were made with better ingredients and allergen friendly that he could have occasionally.
He asked for the candy and I said no. He asked again and I said no again.
I thought the issue died, but then found a wrapper on the bathroom floor.
I asked him about it and he fessed up. He said he just wanted it and that’s why he did it (and let’s face it…little kids are ruled by their desires). I didn’t yell (but sometimes I do and often regret it). I said I that was disappointed and no treats all weekend.
Hopefully a lesson was learned?!?!?!
Current research and my friend Dr. Keesha Ewers book, “Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle,” says that these “little issues” can add up and do damage as adults (you can take an Adverse Childhood Events/ACES quiz here for you or your kids):
– Cause chronic conditions like IBS and autoimmunity
– Cause skin conditions such as eczema, rashes and hives
– Contribute to anxiety, depression, and mood disorders
– Prevent us from fully achieving our own personal greatness because of self doubt and sabotage
– Create dysfunctional relationships
We want to avoid the discord that arises when issues aren’t dealt with. Relationships can become strained and distant when everyone knows there’s a skeleton(s) in the the closet that everyone is just sweeping under the rug. It is impossible to have healthy relationships with other people if you can’t trust them.
We work hard on a daily basis to overcome some of the negative patterns that have been ingrained in us since we were young children.
We decided we don’t want this path for our children. This is what led us to take our five-year-old to a martial arts studio that focuses on teaching love, respect (for self and others), and self control.

We did this for a multitude of reasons.

 

  1. He is a sweet and smart boy.  He gets stellar reports from school and is usually a good boy at home. However, he sometimes chooses not to listen to our requests which ends up in turmoil.
  2. He has been a strong-willed child from day one…even in utero! This determination often gets him in trouble. It’s kind of like the idea of curiosity killed the cat… sometimes he just can’t help himself. The self control aspect of martial arts is one of the main reasons we chose this route for him.
  3. We want him to know from a very young age that asking for help is completely normal and healthy. We know he won’t be perfect at this and will have to rely on others for guidance to learn.
  4. My husband and I are aware that even though we are conscious of some of the negative patterns that we learned from our parents, they occasionally show up and our son has seen it. At such an impressionable age, we are hoping that if he picked up on any of these that they can be reversed now rather than him having less-than-ideal emotional reactions as an older child, teen, and adult.
  5. It takes a village. We know we don’t have all of the answers and would like exposure and input from an impartial party that isn’t Mom or Dad that he can relate to, trust, and respect.
  6. He tends to be a perfectionist and sees everything is very black and white (as toddler’s do). He doesn’t handle being corrected by us very well. For example, he went through a phase where he called the letters of the alphabet numbers. When we would try to explain to him that that wasn’t the case, he would get extremely angry and breakdown, as if we were accosting him. We want him to realize that it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to receive constructive criticism. The key is to always learn and grow from these experiences. (A wise and uber successful acquaintance of mine once told me that every night when he puts his children to bed he has them talk about three successes and one failure. He said he felt that the one failure was more important than the successes because it provided opportunities to learn, grow and improve which can be way more valuable than successes that come easy.)
We really want him to have a solid emotion base, self confidence, and resilience so he can avoid the issues of eczema, chronic disease, and autoimmunity that so many in our family have suffered from. Mostly, we want him to be a happy, kind, and well adjusted person because the world could use lots more of that.

Avoid Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are coming which means lots of things, good and bad. The good: time with family and friends, giving to others, good food, fun experiences, and great memories made. The bad: the stress of it all, family and friends, feeling pressures to keep up with the facade the media and business has perpetuated about the holidays, and good food.
I’m sure we could add more to both the good and the bad list, but did you notice things like family, friends and food showed up on both lists. This is because they can contribute to both extreme joy and health, but for some they’re stressful, traumatic and straight up unhealthy.
In fact, emotional turmoil can be more toxic than anything in the environment and wreak havoc on your gut and immune system. This is why there’s an uptick in cardiovascular events and strokes at this time of year. This is also the perfect scenario to catch a cold or the flu.
The best way to avoid this is to have a plan.

To avoid stresses try some of these tips:

  1. Plan your budget and stick to it. Finances are one of the biggest stressors at this time of year.
  2. Plan your meals. If you have eczema, gut issues, or autoimmunity, this is essential. Ask hosts in advance of plans and let them know you have special needs. Offer to bring a few dishes that work for you and you can share with others. Better yet, host a dinner or party yourself and show everyone that eating your way can be delicious (it’ll be your gift to them).
  3. Say no to events that will cause you unnecessary stress. There is no rule that says you have to go to everything you’re invited to (this includes family). Politely decline and wish them a happy holiday.
  4. Invite only who makes you happy… even if it’s your family member you’re excluding. I’ve gotten to the point where my health and the health of my family are more important than the feelings of a mean spirited family member, so we don’t invite them. We have a rule: you must play well with others. If you don’t, you’re not welcome. Some may feel this is harsh, but sometimes said family member learns a lesson and is nicer. Sometimes they don’t. They point is that you and your family aren’t victim to someone else emotional bullying or games.
  5. Plan for down time, naps and rest. There’s a reason why nature slows down at this time of year and we should follow suit. Relaxation helps support a healthy immune system.
  6. Have fun and laugh a lot! Again, great for your immune system and mental outlook.
  7. Make sure you get enough sleep (most of the time, anyway). Holiday parties, shopping, and events can last late into the night, Pay attention to your body and listen when it says it’s time to shut down.
  8. If you have kids, pay close attention to them. Sometimes the holidays are stressful for them, but they don’t tell us or have the words to convey it. It’s our job as parents to observe and look for signs such as acting out, behaving in an unusual way, or isolation to clue us in.
I hope you find some of the tips helpful in navigating the amazing, yet stressful time of year.
On the same note, check out the article on Addressing Emotions in Kids to Prevent Eczema and Autoimmunity. Emotional health and good emotional intelligence are essential to long term health. The foundation is set in childhood (even in utero) and has lifelong effects. Let’s help our children avoid the epidemic of chronic disease we’re seeing today.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and fun Thanksgiving!!!
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Question of the month:
Q: How do I maintain my diet during the holidays and will it affect me if I cheat?
A: We hate to place labels or stigmatize food, but the truth is that sometimes dietary modification is necessary for healing. Even during the holidays (where it may be more important!).
For anyone that has ever worked with us, you know our philosophy is to only do necessary dietary restrictions for the shortest period of time and then expand the diet again. If this happens to occur during the holidays there are ways to navigate it.
Planning your food as mentioned above is key. This involves contacting hosts or even restaurants to find out what the menu offerings will be. Most restaurants now a days will accommodate dietary restrictions, especially if you will let them know in advance. And, contrary to what most people believe, most hosts are understanding as dietary needs as well. Some will go so far as to provide menu offerings that suit you (when I host a gathering I reach out to the invitees to find out if there are any dietary restrictions ahead of time). If they don’t do that, you can always offer to bring some dishes yourself to share to make sure you have something to eat.
Keep your home pantry stocked with foods that you can eat for impromptu gatherings. I also recommend making some food ahead and placing it in the freezer to avoid last-minute scrambling to make special dishes or “having” to eat something outside of your special diet.
Grocery stores are more frequently carrying gluten, dairy, nut, and soy free products making it easier for you to pick up something on the fly as well. Just be sure to read labels.
And the “cheating” conundrum…. First, I hate to use the word cheating because that implies you’re doing something wrong. Let’s be clear- while you’re definitely not doing something wrong, you may be doing something that does not promote health in your body at the time. For some, if you are on vacation or holiday, and you indulge in something that is not on your current menu, it may not affect you at all. For others however, that same indulgence may tip the scale toward an inflammatory cascade. So much of it depends on your stress levels and gut integrity. The more stressed out you are feeling, the more likely is that you’ll experience symptoms from eating foods that are potential triggers for you.
Try your best to avoid items that you know can cause issues. Remember that the holidays are a relatively short blip in time when compared to the rest of the year. They will soon be over and you’ll still be on your journey to vibrant health.

October Update – Healthy Halloween

Can you believe it’s October already??? I can’t!! The year has gone by in the blink of an eye and to tell you the truth, I’m tired!! After a very busy spring and summer, I was looking forward to a quieter fall, but that’s not really happening either.

So, in the spirit of the changing seasons, I’ve got some fun announcements. First, my family and I are moving back to Colorado the first week of October. We’ve been wanting to return to the mountains almost since we moved back to Minnesota (sorry gopher state!). When we moved back to MN in early 2013, we quickly realized that we missed the quality of life in Colorado. We love the outdoors, especially hiking, biking, and snowboarding. We also realized that long winters are difficult when you have little ones…I recall being especially bummed this April when we had to blizzards and my friends in Colorado were taking Easter pictures in the green grass.
While we are really excited to be going back, we’re also under lots of stress and I’m feeling it. As much as I’ve tried to mitigate the effects by deep breathing exercises, meditative walks in nature, and some strategic supplements, I’m still having trouble with sleep and have been feeling fatigued. I’m doing my best right now to keep it together until later in October when things settle down. Once that happens, I plan on doing a 4 week diet reset, as well as some testing on myself. I’m taking the same approach with myself as I would any client that works with us. I’m also enlisting the help of some of my practitioner friends since it’s not always the best idea to treat yourself. There are also a few issues I wanted to address that I never could because I spent the greater part of the last 6 years either pregnant or nursing. I will keep you updated!
If you’re a client in our practice, this next update is for you. I’m excited to announce that Jaclyn will be helping us with customer service and eventually health coaching. She’s just finishing up her coaching certification and will be bringing her skills to us. She’s also an eczema suffer as well so she can relate to the ups and downs of the condition. We’re really excited to have her on the team!
I encourage you to check out this article on how my toddler showed me how to heal my adrenal fatigue. I’ll be revisiting that one too since I’m in serious need of some TLC!!
I hope you all have a wonderful fall and Happy Halloween🍁🎃!

Question of the Month

How do I navigate Halloween with food sensitivities and allergies? Also, how do I just make healthier choices for my children?
This seems to be tough on the surface, but really doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to navigate this dilemma and here are some options.
1. If you still want to let your child have candy, let them go Trick-or-Treating and then openly switch it out for “better” options. Yes, it’s still candy and sugar, but made with higher-quality ingredients. You can find options at Target, Whole Foods, and online from brands like: Annie’s, Yum Earth, Enjoy Life (allergen free chocolate), Wholesome, Unreal, Black Forest Organic, and Equal Exchange Chocolate.
2. You can give out little toys instead. Costco and Target are selling them in bulk at a good price.
3. Sweeten the deal by having the “Switch Witch” come once the treats are collected and your kids are in bed. You can take the bag of candy away (preferably pitch it in the garbage) and replace it with a gift of some sort that they really want.
4. Organic pouches are always a good option for babies and toddlers. We usually get a box at Costco.
5. Know that houses with turquoise/blue pumpkins or door hangings are typically allergen friendly. These houses are interesting because you could get anything from raisins or carrots to pencils or allergen free candy.
In our house we opt not to take all of the fun out of the holiday even though we want to keep the kiddos healthy.  This year will be particularly tough because I just did food sensitivity testing on my 5 year old son and he came back dairy sensitive ☹. Our plan is to let him trick-or-treat, come back and have a couple dairy free treats once we do a very small candy swap. Then he’s going to leave his bag out for the Switch Witch… and she’s going to leave him a small Lego Ninjago set  (for the kid that’s going to be a ninja for Halloween and also wants to dress his baby sister as one).

Benefits and Drawbacks of Eczema Topicals

If you suffer from eczema then you know what a struggle it can be to find the right topical support for relief. I  say “support” instead of “remedy” because when we’re treating our skin topically, it’s going to be supportive rather than curative, which remedy implies.

So, where do you even begin??

With the enormous amount of treatments out there, it can be daunting to find the one that’s right for you. You almost have to treat it like a process of elimination to see what works with your particular brand of eczema.

For the most part, I’m a middle of the road person when it comes to medications, natural remedies, and OTC’s. I don’t believe there’s one best way or best system. If you’ve got asthma, you’re probably going to need an inhaler until you actually get the underlying inflammatory process under control.

There’s nothing worse than when you’re in the middle of an eczema flare. Your skin is an itchy oozy mess, you feel horrible, and all you need is something to help calm it down.

So let’s talk about what you can put on your skin to help tame the flame and itch!

Prescription Medications

Steroids.Topical steroids are very common when it comes to treating an eczema flare. They work by reducing inflammation which calms the itch and gives your skin a chance to heal. Like over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone, prescription steroids work similarly to the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol made in your body, but they’re much stronger.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to start with a lower potency in short bursts and then stop once the flare settles.

While I think steroids can be helpful in the short-term, I’m not in favor of long-term use. They can have detrimental effects such as thinning of the skin, acne or stretch marks. It basically decreases the integrity of the skin which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve when treating with eczema.

In some rare cases, steroids can induce other skin conditions like rosacea. The last thing we want to do is add another inflammatory skin issue to the one we’re already dealing with.

In addition to these side effects, there’s also a skin condition associated with excessive topical steroid use called Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). The symptoms are actually similar to eczema– dry, itchy, red, burning skin in mild cases and oozing, bleeding skin in the its more severe form.

Eucrisa. Similar to steroids, Eucrisa alters the body’s natural inflammatory process that triggers eczema symptoms. The main ingredient, crisaborole, is combined with an emollient-rich ointment that helps keep the skin moisturized.

But like most prescription medications, you run into possible side effects. The more common ones include burning or stinging when the medicine is applied.

Here’s the thing with prescription medications– they’re often designed to shut down biochemical pathways by blocking enzymes, so they basically turn off your natural processes. This alters your biochemistry causing shifts in the inflammatory processes and the immune system.

In the case of Eucrisa, it blocks the enzyme PDE4 (phosphodiesterase-4) which shuts off certain inflammatory signals, effectively decreasing or stopping the process.

The goal is to give the skin more support and heal it, rather than shut off biochemical pathways. Not to mentioned the many underlying causes that aren’t addressed when the inflammatory process (read: body’s danger signal) is artificially blocked.

Like I said, I’m a middle-of-the-roader when it comes to prescription topicals. I think they have their place, but not when it comes to finding a long-term solution. It’s important to get to the root cause of why you have certain things going on in your body.

OTC Medications

Most practitioners can’t speak with insider knowledge of the over-the-counter lotions and potions- but I can because one of my first jobs out of undergrad was in the formulation department for a very well-known personal care and paper products company (yes, it was a long and winding road for me to get here!!).

My job was on the microbiology and chemistry side, so I got to experience firsthand what types of chemicals were used and the effects they can have. This was one of the many things that actually drove me to wanting to go more natural!

Even though I’ve seen the negative side of OTC’s, I do think they have their place when it comes to finding immediate relief.

Hydrocortisone cream. Cortisone creams relieve eczema bouts the same way most prescription topicals do. Synthetic cortisone mimics the actions of cortisol, your main anti-inflammatory hormone, but is more pronounced. It works by suppressing the inflammatory signals that get triggered and block the symptoms caused by inflammation.

Helpful in the short term? Possibly, yes.

Long term solution? NO.

Benadryl cream. Antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) cream are very common when it comes to soothing the itch that comes with eczema. They’re generally used to treat allergies by blocking the effects of histamine– an immune system protein and signaling chemical. The body can mistake things like pollen as a harmful substance in the body and then releases histamine to fight it off. This is what causes the itchy eyes and runny nose. Even though eczema isn’t an allergy, antihistamines do have a sedating and anti-inflammatory response that helps relieve itching.

The downside to OTC medications is that they just work as a band-aid instead of solving the actual problem. They’re very accessible and inexpensive so it’s easy to become reliant on them rather than find a solution to the root cause.

Conventional Topicals

Eucerin. This is a well known brand that creates creams and lotions specifically for dry skin and eczema. Eucerin contains emollients which promote moisture and increases the skin’s capacity to hold onto water. Keeping the skin moisturized can provide some itching relief and give it a chance to heal.

Cetaphil. Cetaphil is another brand that has a line of lotions made primarily to help treat eczema. Their eczema specific moisturizer has an active ingredient called filaggrin which is an essential protein for skin hydration and barrier function. Many people with eczema have mutations in the filaggrin gene which is why they are prone to eczema, rashes and general skin irritation.

Petroleum jelly/Vaseline. Petroleum jelly is a topical that dermatologists recommend frequently because people with sensitive skin can generally tolerate it. It locks in moisture and protects against outside allergens. It’s a highly process petrochemical that many sensitive people react to, not to mention the environmental impact.

Most conventional topicals are going to provide some support and dampening of the inflammatory feeling on the skin. The downside is that most of them contain synthetic ingredients like sodium dodecyl sulfate (SLS), isopropyl palmitate, parabens, and preservatives to name a few. These chemicals are known toxins or irritants so it’s important to remember that anything you put on the skin will get absorbed into the body.

Some of these chemicals are also endocrine disruptors which is something you don’t want to mess with. They are stored in fat cells and alter normal hormone biochemistry, especially estrogens and estrogen hormone pathways.

Natural Topicals

The last area I wanted to touch on are the natural remedies. And as always, you have to find what works for you.

I’ve tried so many over the years I’ve lost count. We hear the same thing from our patients as well.

I always kid around when we have the, “what have you tried?” conversation because most of us have a lotions and potions graveyard. You know… the drawer where all of your partially used topicals go to die!!

Herbal Treatments. Moon Valley Organics has EczaCalm and Herbal Heal. I use both of these depending upon my needs. I’ve been using Herbal Heal over EczaCalm because lately I feel like that’s been working really well for me. Both of these have about 12 different ingredients made with organic carrier and essential oils, as well as many herbs that are anti-inflammatory.

They both contain calendula which is known in the herbal world to be very nourishing to the skin. It’s a pretty awesome ingredient because there are no known side effects, it’s incredibly healing, and it can be used across all age ranges. You’ll see it in some of the more natural baby diaper creams— Bottom Balms, for example. It really can be used in a wide array of applications.

You can also make up your own. I talk about it more in this post.

Essential Oils. Lavender, frankincense, myrrh (we’re getting a little Christmas-y)—and tea tree oil are all very soothing for eczema.

The beauty of using EO’s is that they have multiple avenues of how they’re helping. Some of the most common mechanisms of action are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, calming, analgesic (pain eliminating), and skin supporting. You’re going to get a little more bang for your buck with the cross-functional types of support they provide.

Frankincense, also known as boswellia, is my FAVORITE! It’s a potent anti-inflammatory that has lots of research behind it. It’s also a great immune booster, stress reducer, and healing to the skin. It’s steroid-like structure is thought to be one of the reasons it’s so effective. I use it topically, aerosolized in a diffuser, and internally for treating all types of inflammatory conditions, not just eczema. Frankincense is literally the Swiss Army knife of the anti-inflammatory world!

Lavender is calming, sedating, and has some inflammation relieving properties. It’s also well tolerated by most people, including children and babies. A little at bath time (for kids and adults) helps soothe the skin and the mind.

Myrrh is another cross-functional heavy hitter like Frankincense. It has all of the “anti’s”… antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial to bacteria, parasites, and fungi (like Candida). A bonus is that it has anti-cancer properties as well. Historically it has been used to heal wounds and cracked/chapped skin.

Tea tree oil, like Frankincense and Myrrh, has many beneficial properties, but it’s broad spectrum antimicrobial actions are what make it famous. It’s active against a wide array of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, other fungi, parasites, and viruses) making it a very useful tool. Staphylococcus aureus and yeast based infections such as Candida, jock itch or ringworm (yes, it’s a fungus- not a worm) are sometimes implicated in eczema, and research shows tea tree oil to be effective against them.

Please note that sometimes, especially when used in excess, essential oils can be irritating to the skin. I always tell people to be very careful when they’re first starting to work with them. If you’re making a batch of something yourself or adding them to a bath, start off with just a couple of drops to see how your skin responds.

Organic Healing Balm. Dr. Bronner’s has an Baby Unscented Organic Magic Balm. I use this on my kids for everything. I sometimes use it on my eczema- it just depends on the severity of the itch.

A lot of people with eczema like Bronner’s, but some people find it a little bit irritating. I’d say stay away from the peppermint one and stick with the unscented balm.

All Good’s Goop is another good option. It has lots of herbs, olive oil, and coconut oil to soothe the skin.

Cleansing Oil. Another company that I really like is FatCo. I use their products myself and have heard from a lot of my clients that they love their facial cleansing oil. I’m an advocate of using oils because they don’t strip the skin like detergents found in other products.

They also have this myrrhaculous face cream. It has myrrh and tallow which are the main components in their lotions and creams. It’s highly supportive and nutritive to the skin. Speaking subjectively from my own experience (and the experience of a lot of the people that I work with that have used this), it’s just really supporting and nourishing to the skin.

Sea Salt Spray. This is something you can easily make yourself with some water and some sea salt at home. A lot of people who have eczema benefit from going into the ocean and salt water. Dead sea salt works really well because it’s packed with minerals that help balance the pH in your skin.

Kamedis. Kamedis has a complete eczema line from washes to lotions. I learned about this from patients that raved about it. They have created plant-based treatments for eczema that combine botanical extracts with OTC ingredients.

Theramu. Theramu is another one of my favorites. They’re also all-natural and use a combination of CBD  and emu oil which provides bioavailability so it works where your skin needs it most. Both the CBD oil and emu oil are soothing so it’s one of the go-to’s in our clinic as a first line therapy to try out.

Summary

With a condition that is so highly individualized, you have to play around and find what works for you. Some topicals will work better than others and some will work for a short period of time.

While that can be frustrating, the great news is that true healing can be accomplished and you can banish the topicals forever!

The goal is to always get to the root cause of what’s going on, but if you’re in a really bad state, topicals can be the way to go to find immediate relief. And that’s okay! You can always transition and switch off of them as you work on your underlying causes.

Which topicals have worked for you? We’d love to hear!

9 Healing Baths to Calm the Eczema Itch

Finding Relief From The Outside-In

If you’ve ever suffered from an eczema flare, then you’re probably familiar with the burning, itching, crawling sensation on your skin. And, you know how horrible it is!!

Your immediate instinct is to calm what’s happening on the outside… you just want to stop the scratching and bleeding and oozing.

In functional medicine, the goal is always to address the root causes and heal from the inside-out.

But when it comes to eczema… I know you need to have some relief on the outside first so that you can focus on the actual underlying causes— not just the symptoms.

What I’ve seen with skin issues, especially eczema, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy.

Something that really irks me is when you go to message boards and people are like, “Oh, (insert favorite remedy) is my miracle cure….” or “I use dead sea salt baths” or “I use coconut oil” or “I use apple cider vinegar.” Don’t get me wrong, these things are all helpful, but everybody is so highly individualized that it’s hard to say any one thing will work across the board.

Eczema is more specific to the individual than any other condition we treat in our clinic, so we encourage people not to get caught up in other people’s hype. Do the work to heal inside, but in the meantime you can find ways to help soothe the rash.

9 Healing Bath Options

Something I’ve used myself, and have gotten back feedback from patients and colleagues alike is on the benefit of a healing bath. There are lots of different things you can put into a bath, but these are my top 9:

  1. Magnesium sulfate/Epsom salt. These minerals can be very soothing for an eczema flare for a couple of reasons. Epsom salt helps decrease inflammation which can reduce the swelling of lesions and calm itching. It also has antimicrobial properties keeping your skin free of bacteria.
  2. Dead Sea Salts. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this one which is in the mineral category. Dead Sea Salts aid in hydrating dry skin and can provide some itching relief with it’s anti-inflammatory properties. And more than Epsom salt, it’s packed with lots of minerals that help balance pH.

I like to add dead sea salts with baking soda or Epsom salt with baking soda to my bath— usually a cup of each if the itch is bad. You can buy them at any natural food store or on Amazon.

  1. Borax/Boron. You might be familiar with Borax (sodium tetraborate) as a cleaning agent, but it can also be very soothing for an eczema flare. It helps lower inflammation and can be used to treat infection.

You’re probably starting to see a pattern that most of these have an anti-inflammatory response which helps decrease itching (but it’s all about finding out which ones work best for YOU).

Read here for further information on the many benefits of Borax, because like many of these remedies you can use it for many application.

  1. Essential Oils. Essential oils (EOs) have a variety of healing benefits, but you have to be very careful because for some people they can incite more of a flare. Even if they’re used in small, diluted quantities in the bath, they still can be a little caustic to the skin.

I tell people to use them very sparingly if you’re going to use them. Tea tree oil or lavender oil are the two that I tend to use most frequently and recommend starting out with.

Of all the EOs, tea tree oil is one of the best for treating eczema symptoms. It has antibacterial components that help fight infection and stop it from spreading. It also has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce itching.

Lavender oil can be calming for both your mental and physical state. It helps restore and balance healthy nutrients in the skin which reduces irritation. Bonus- lavender also minimizes the stress that goes along with an eczema flare.

  1. Sitz Baths, Herbal Blends, and Chamomile Tea bags. If you’ve ever given birth, sitz baths are commonly recommended for their healing properties. I used them after both of my births and they significantly helped with the soothing and healing my skin.

I had an “A-ha” moment with my second baby last year because I’d had an eczema flare because of the hormones during pregnancy. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can probably use this for the eczema too,” so I tried it.

I actually bought Earth Mama Angel Baby (which just recently changed its name just to Earth Mama) since they make pre-made sitz bath pouches. I bought those because, quite frankly, who has the time to make them when you’ve got a new baby or kids or just have a busy life?

I also augmented it with dried chamomile that I got from a natural food store that I put that in cheesecloth or a sock if you don’t have cheesecloth. Soaking with those for about 20 minutes really soothes my skin (and my mind). Chamomile tea bags also work instead of preparing the dried herbs.

Bonus tip— sitz herbs are also recommended for hemorrhoids and diaper rash!

  1. Colloidal Oats. I put a big asterisk by this one because of the *gluten issue*, but some of my patients have experienced healing benefits from colloidal oats or oatmeal so I didn’t want to exclude it.

Many people with skin and gut issues tend to have problems with gluten internally and sometimes externally. Those with Celiac can get a skin manifestation called dermatitis herpetiformis. I’ve seen people who have not been diagnosed with Celiac, but do have the dermatitis herpetiformis and it’s misdiagnosed as eczema.

Now, the cool thing is, really, it doesn’t matter what you label something on the skin. You’re going to end up treating it essentially the same especially because these are all in the autoimmune realm.

Like I said, I’m really careful when it comes to recommending anything that is grain-based, but this is where bio individuality comes into play. One person’s poison can be another’s medicine. If you’re going to do this, make sure it’s gluten-free. If gluten is an issue for you, and you don’t know it yet, you want to make sure you’re not adding fuel to the fire.

You can read more about the uses and benefits of colloidal oats here.

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide. Most of us have this under our bathroom sink to clean out cuts or as a natural cleaner. When added to a bath, it helps disinfect eczema sores and promotes new cell growth.

Be sure to use a food grade hydrogen peroxide and add no more than one cup to your bath. I recommend starting off a little slower with maybe ½ cup to see how you tolerate it.

  1. Baking Soda. This is another household item that has many uses. I buy a giant bag at Costco because of the quantities I use and it’s way more economical. I add this to almost every bath for myself and kids even when I don’t have a flare because of its other benefits.

As I mentioned in #1, combined with Epsom salt it makes for a great detox bath.

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar. Similar to the previous point, apple cider vinegar is also multifunctional. It has compounds like riboflavin, vitamins, enzymes, and mineral salts which can improve the quality of your skin.

It acts as an astringent and helps remove surface bacteria that shows up when the skin is compromised from a flare.

Experiment with the quantities that work for you, but I would start by adding ½ – 1 cup to your bath.

Bottom Line

Many of these are items you likely already have in your home for other reasons, or you’ve built yourself a “natural medicine cabinet.” Start with one ingredient at a time. Go slowly by using ¼- ½ cup with of the powdered ingredients or single drops of essential oils initially, then work up to the full dose you need from there.

If something completely doesn’t work for you, try something else from the list. Remember that it may take some time to see what works for you and dial in your recipe. You can always tweak it once you see what works for you.

Most people will get some type of relief from something on the list, even if it’s only a small amount.

Resist the urge to go hog wild with any of the ingredients because you could end up stoking the flames and adding fuel to the fire. It’s so easy to go overboard when you finally find a remedy that provides some relief. But heed my words… don’t do it!! (I know from personal experience and it was a disaster!)

There’s no one blanket approach to calm an eczema flare which is why I like to suggest a variety of options. All of these are going to provide different healing properties. Some are going to balance the pH while others will have antimicrobial effects, but they’re all going to be anti-inflammatory to some extent.

Have you experimented with any of these healing baths? Let us know in the comments section!

How to Find an Experienced Functional Medicine Practitioner

I frequently get asked to do talks on summits, podcasts, and master classes. I often speak about eczema, gut and skin health, and preventing autoimmunity in children. But aside from those, one of the most common topics I’m asked about is how to find an experienced functional medicine practitioner (we covered this a bit on this podcast).

And, I totally get it!!!

Finding a new practitioner can be difficult itself- let alone a well vetted functional medicine practitioner.

This space has blown up in the past three to five years, and it seems a little like the wild west.

Trying to decipher credentials, training, and experience can make your head spin.

I’m fortunate that I know many practitioners, so that if I need help for myself, a family member, or a patient that needs referral, I have a solid base to choose from. However, I’m in the dark as much as the next person when I don’t have a word-of-mouth recommendation or a person to refer to.

Truth be told, I kind of dread it.

Having a checklist of wants and needs can inform the process and make it much less daunting. Hopefully this information will guide you in your process 😊.

What To Look For

  1. What is their focus/specialty. If you have specific needs such as skin issues, gut issues, or cancer, you probably want to see a specialist rather than a generalist. They typically have experience treating a great number of patients with your concerns and needs which is important.

    For example, our practice specializes in eczema and autoimmunity, but at the core of those issues are gut, hormone, and immune system imbalances. Every practitioner within the practice has extensive experience treating all of these areas.

    We’re definitely not cancer specialists and would refer you to an appropriate practitioner if that was the reason you reached out to us. We know our strengths and focus on them!

    2. Formal Education/Degree. The practitioner’s base education may vary depending upon your needs. If you are first beginning your healing journey and would like assistance with lifestyle coaching or tweaking your diet, then a health coach would likely suit you well. They are trained in walking people through those processes step-by-step.

    Sometimes health coaches work alone or as part of a team. We have a few that we work with when we feel somebody needs a little extra help dialing in their diet or lifestyle.

    When you have something more significant going on, like eczema, an autoimmune condition or IBS, you’ll likely want to work with a higher-level practitioner that has an advanced degree (preferably one where they’ve learned in physiology, biochemistry, pathology, differential diagnosis, etc.) plus  Functional Medicine training. Doctoral, advanced nursing degrees, and physician assistants (MD, DO, DC, ND, DOM, DPT, DNP, APRN, PA etc.) will have the most extensive education with regard to being trained as a healthcare provider.

    3. Functional Medicine Training. There are several organizations that train functional medicine providers as certifications or training programs.

These three have been around the longest and offer comprehensive training in Functional Medicine:

  • Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Functional Medicine University
  • A4M

These organizations teach specific versions of Functional Medicine

  • Kalish Institute
  • Kresser Institute

Many other organizations offer specialty training in hormones, immune function, environmental medicine, autism, etc. This is all great too! It means your practitioner cares enough to keep pursuing more knowledge to help people heal.

  1. Bonus Experience. Here is where a little extra digging might help you out. You never know what experiences someone might have that would make them and even better practitioner. Teaching, research, counseling, or even having rescued themselves from the corporate world might be to your benefit. There are many life experiences or jobs that might make a practitioner more well-rounded. One-on-one mentorships with experts are also a bonus.

    5. Years Practicing Functional Medicine. This one is pretty obvious :). Experience is important. Ask the practitioner how long they’ve been practicing functional medicine. Really, FIND out how long they’ve been practicing!!! I’ve been burned by referring clients to new practitioners that really didn’t know what they were doing but their website made it seem otherwise.

    In our practice, Dr. Tammy and I have over 30 combined years of clinical practice, and over 20 combined years of Functional Medicine practice.  We’ve trained with the IFM, Kalish Mentorship, Seeking Health Educational Institute, and 1000’s of hours of continuing education courses and seminars on topics from gut health and autoimmunity, to hormone balancing and environmental toxins. Dr. Tammy also did a hormone mentorship program for several years.

Additional Considerations

1. Personality. Above all else, and almost as important as experience and training is personality. If the functional medicine practitioner you choose doesn’t resonate with your personality…RUN. You’ll serve yourself best if you find somebody you jive with. Your communications and outcomes will typically be better.

Think about it, would you marry someone you didn’t get along with??  This is an important relationship, much like a marriage.

2. Exploratory Call or Free Consult. This is your golden opportunity to learn more about the practitioners and the practice! You can find answers to the questions laid out above, as well as many other details that important to you. If you call or email a practice and they aren’t willing to give you any information, that might be a red flag. They should be willing to share some information with you.

Many practitioners do anywhere from 10 to 20 minute consults now so that you can see if they are a good fit or you, and likewise, you for them. An honest practitioner will tell you if they can’t help you or if your case doesn’t fit their practice.

We offer free 15-minute consults for this reason (click here if you’re interested).

Pro Tip: Write your list of questions out before you contact any providers you’re interviewing so you can compare all of their answers and find who is best for you.

Wishing you the best of luck on your journey!

My Story of Eczema, Infertility, and Miscarriage

There is one thing that eczema, infertility, and miscarriages have in common…

All three can make you feel very alone and very tortured physically and mentally. I’m sharing my story with you because I think it’s SUPER important to change attitudes on child loss AND, inform people about the link between inflammation, autoimmunity, and infertility.

Bear with me first though- some confessions.

First, you’ll note as you read through this that I started writing it in December. I started but couldn’t bring myself to finish it, let alone publish it. I was afraid and still broken.

Second, because of the inspiration of some of my superwoman friends and colleagues in the health space, I’ve been able to process my traumas and gather the courage to share this with you all. THANK YOU to Anna Cabeca, Brie Wieselman, Christine Faler, Jaime Ward, Jenn Fugo, Jessica Drummond, Jolene Brighten, Keesha Ewers, Sheri Fox, and Steph Gaudreau.

You ladies all inspire me. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I have so much gratitude for having you all in my life. We don’t tell people often enough how much they matter to us, so I want to let you all know.

Third, there are some very raw and vulnerable moments, so you might cry reading it as I have writing and editing it.

My Story

Miscarriages SUCK and are still taboo in our culture. This is really unfortunate because those of us who have suffered in the dark know what a lonely, hellish place they can be. NO ONE should have to suffer in silence when they’re dying inside. And sadly, no one can really relate unless they’ve ever suffered the loss of a child. It leaves you with a hole inside that never goes away.

[Initial thoughts from December] I’m doing something I never do right now. I’m attempting to write this in the throes of many emotions. On one hand I’m extremely happy because my little sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It’s a pretty exciting time for our family this year since I had my little girl almost 5 months ago.

On the other hand, I’m feeling very sad. Alone. Gnawing pain.

Because today is the anniversary of my first miscarriage. That was one of the hardest days of my entire life.

Worst day ever.

Looking back, it taught me many lessons about life, autoimmunity, and eczema. But that doesn’t make it hurt less.

On Christmas day two years ago I was trying to act like it was a normal day. I should have been extremely happy to watch my almost three year old open his presents and have family over.  I was in the kitchen prepping Christmas dinner, but deep down inside I knew something was very wrong.

I was wearing a shirt that said “joy” and I couldn’t have felt further from that. I knew deep down that I was probably having a miscarriage. I went through the day thinking, “things like this happen… women have spotting and cramping and they still have healthy babies.” I was in complete denial.

I made it through dinner and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I had a sense of impending doom that would not leave. And like many women, I tend to labor in the middle of the night. The cramps got worse and then my worst nightmare was realized. I was definitely having a miscarriage.

If you’re far enough along it proceeds exactly like a labor. I’ll spare you the details because it was HORRENDOUS as I’m sure you can imagine.

The experience is seared into my brain. I wish it was a foggy memory but I can’t forget. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor just sobbing and feeling so alone. My husband was there but I don’t think he knew what to do. I just sat there for what seemed like an eternity.

Eventually, I laid back in my bed next to my husband, but I felt like I was the only person in the world.

I couldn’t go to sleep so I went downstairs to our couch, laid in the fetal position and cried for 4 hours. Literally to the point I was nauseous and had no tears left.

The next several days were a blur.

I was largely catatonic. My sister was one of the few people I told and she came over and brought me flowers which I really appreciated but it still felt unbearable. I’ve had a few low moments in my life but I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt depressed.

I was quite depressed after this. I was numb. Thankfully, I had my son because if I didn’t I really don’t know what would have happened.

I got pregnant again in March and was cautiously optimistic. Things seemed to be progressing fine. I made it past the 8 week mark and was breathing a minor sigh of relief since that is when I had my first miscarriage. But then at 12.5 weeks, I had another one.

This one was different. Still agonizing, but I felt like I knew what to expect and went through the motions.

Almost like an out of body experience.

Again, I’ll spare you the details. And again, I really only told my sister and super close friends.

I suffered in silence.

I don’t want that for you.

It’s the worst feeling in the world.

And, it’s the opposite of what you should do.

For mamas that’ve experienced any loss, you know your world will never be the same. There will always be a hole in your heart for your little angel. As time goes on it hurts a little less but it will creep up on you when you least expect it and that empty, hollow feeling can return.

Mother’s Day will never be the same, even if you have children. The two Mother’s Days since I’ve had my miscarriages have been filled with both love and sadness. Last year when I was pregnant was particularly hard. I was sad and silently hoping that everything turned out fine because I didn’t know if I can handle another even more dramatic loss. I cried A LOT on Mother’s Day in a mix of hormones, fear, and grief.

Rainbow Baby

Thankfully, my story had a happy ending. My amazing and beautiful rainbow baby was born in August of 2018. She’s such an amazing little girl. She’s been so sweet and so happy from day one. People comment on how smiley and what a good demeanor she has.

I don’t take for granted how incredibly blessed and lucky I am because I know that there are women out there that won’t get that chance.

Women’s health, fertility, pregnancy, and birth are sacred. We need to support each other through the good and the bad. We need to make a long-term commitment to each other not just in the days and weeks after a birth or a loss, but in the months and years that follow. Because these moments become the fabric of Who We Are and intertwine us all together. They form the blanket of support that we need to give one another.

So, I want you to know, I am here for you.

And those ladies I thanked above- they’re in your corner too. They are all in the health and functional medicine space too- many are women’s health specialists- but all are darn awesome women.

A few of them (you know who you are) are probably why I was able to get pregnant and keep the baby to term.

Together, we ran a bunch of tests on me. My hormones were low across the board (thyroid, adrenals, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. I had dysbiosis from stress and previous birth control pill use (that’s another long and horrible story).

The likely culprit for my losses began as STRESS. Long term stress. That stress depleted my hormones, damaged my gut, and caused food sensitivities, nutrient depletions, and my eczema.

You need progesterone to maintain your pregnancy and I couldn’t make enough. Had enough to get pregnant, but not enough to stay pregnant. This is a big problem for women today. We’re all depleted from the stress and abuse we put our body’s through.

So, I got to work.

The Fix

Since my hormones were a mess I got on compounded, bioidentical DHEA and progesterone. I also upped my dose of compounded T3/T4. I knew I needed to get my hormones going in the right direction quickly and this was the best way for me, especially since I’ve had reactions to other types of hormone support in the past.

I went on an AIP rotation diet to calm my system down and start to heal my gut. Then I did 8 weeks on a dysbiosis protocol for pseudomonas and staphylococcus (using herbal blends, monolaurin, and rotated probiotics) with liver support. I followed that up with 3 months of gut terrain rebuilding and immune support. I also did some work on resolving past traumas too.

In all, this process took me 8 months, but then….

I missed a period and found out I was pregnant even though I wasn’t actively trying.

Again, mixed emotions.

I was so happy, but so scared. I went through 75% of the pregnancy scared. Loss traumatizes you in ways you can’t imagine. I was super paranoid and had been before.

I took progesterone for the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy- 4 weeks longer than was recommended because I was that worried. It worked…and you know the rest of the story.

I had my beautiful rainbow baby.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t scars and wounds that surface from time to time.

So, I need my tribe, which now includes you.

I’m here if you need me, because I want to help mamas be healthy, clear eczema, get rid of autoimmunity, and have healthy babies.

That is my mission.

And, we have to support each other. As women we need to have a voice and not stay in the dark.

It took me a couple of years to come out and share this, but I’m so happy I did. Because if I help even just one mama get through her dark time or resolve her root causes to have a healthy baby, I’ve accomplished my goal.

I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day 2018 no matter your circumstance. Earth babies and angel babies all count!! It’s okay to feel both happy and sad too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you know anyone that could use support, please share this with them. I really wish I had reached out for more help or someone gave me a little nudge to get more support. If they aren’t ready, just be there for them through the process and step up when called upon.

You CAN Do An AIP Elimination Diet While Breastfeeding

Many people wonder if you can do an elimination diet while breastfeeding (and working, mommying, friending, and wifing… that’s wife-ing not wifi-ing)???

The answer is YES.

If you’re on our email list, you know that I decided to give myself the gift of health this year. The only thing I asked for as a gift was new sneakers (thanks hubby!). At this point in life, experiences with family and friends and my health matter much more than material objects.

I felt like my health needed to be more of a priority since the longer I nurse my 8 month old, the more some of my deficiencies and imbalances seem to becoming apparent.

I have news for all of the pregnant and nursing mamas out there, regardless of how perfect your diet, supplementation, and lifestyle are it’s super difficult not to become depleted in some way after you have a baby and are nursing.  This is a very metabolically (and MENTALLY) demanding time in a woman’s life, so we need to support ourselves accordingly.

And like we always tell our clients, you can’t take care of your family or be present in your life if you’re not taking care of yourself. So…. What was I waiting for??

Questions and plain old procrastination!!!

Contrary to what people probably think- I often have the same initial questions as you all do even though I’m a trained practitioner. I was concerned about my milk supply and if any treatments impact the baby or my milk content.

Yes, it is true (I’m being 100% honest).

Why?

For the same reason we as practitioners don’t recommend treating ourselves. It’s really hard to view yourself objectively. It’s easy to second guess, dismiss, or blow things off when you’re the only one analyzing yourself.

That’s how I got to my elimination diet.

I planned on doing all of this after I weaned my sweet, little babe. But all of my practitioner friends said a resounding, “HECK, NO.”

Truthfully, my immune system has been challenged since the baby was about 4 months old. I’ve had several viruses in that time. I usually get that many viruses in a year… not 3 months.

I also had a little eczema patch develop on my eyelid a couple months ago that I haven’t been able to completely clear.

So…..

Time to look inside (hello root causes)!!

On the advice of my observant and smart friends (read: persistent!), I ran some basic serum labs and things looked a little off.  According to my CBC (complete blood panel), my immune system seemed overwhelmed and my thyroid was less than optimal even though I take a compounded T3/T4.  My immunoglobulin levels were also off.

What are immunoglobulins you ask??

When you hear people talk about IgG, IgE, IgM, and IgA, these are your immunoglobulins. These are antibodies produced by your white blood cells that help you fight foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites (or foods if you have a leaky gut!!). In Functional Medicine these are important because they give us an idea of what is going on regarding infections and autoimmunity.

My IgM was high which generally signifies acute infection. This wasn’t surprising since I’ve literally had viruses piggy-backing each other.  Ugh.

IgG is the most abundant and typically higher when you’ve been sick, especially as time goes on, but mine was low. Not a good sign.

The low IgG is telling me a couple of things…

My body has been fighting a battle against respiratory pathogens (and possibly foods, my own tissues, and/or some gut stuff). IgG is the immunoglobulin that can enter tissues making it important to fighting battles in your body. It binds pathogens and toxins directly. Mine being so low means that my ability to fight off infections and handle toxins is impaired. No Bueno ☹.

The writing was on the wall.

This was all the motivation I needed to get myself into action.

I knew if I didn’t do anything I’d keep getting sick, have potential eczema flares, and not have enough energy to be a good mommy/wife/worker/friend.

The Action Plan

  1. AIP Elimination Diet. I knew I need to clean up my diet. For me, this means going the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) route since we tend to follow a Paleo-ish diet in our home. Normally my diet looks something like this:

– No gluten.

-Occasional dairy outside of regular use of butter and full fat cream in coffee.

– Rice, quinoa, or corn only 1-2x per month.

– Occasional legumes.

– Otherwise, we mostly eat meat, fish, fowl, veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, and eggs.

AIP is a good place to start on an elimination diet, especially now that there are studies showing the benefit for autoimmunity. It also naturally takes out highly reactive foods.

I wanted to make it easy on myself (unlike my previous autoimmune rotation diet) because I’m spread pretty thin these days with an active little one.

I’m eliminating nightshades, nuts, seeds, coffee, all dairy, all grains, and eggs for 4 weeks. Simple enough. There are so many resources out there on the internet now, but I really like Whole 30 and Against All Grain since they have modifications for AIP.  I’m adding them back in one at a time over a 3 day period and watching for any reactions.

  1. Ramping up anti-inflammatory and immune supporting supplements. I’m taking a super concentrated fish oil at 4x dosing (I take 2 caps at breakfast and dinner). I’m using a variety of probiotics specific to my past needs since I haven’t tested my gut yet****. Notice I said YET.  I’m also using a mushroom blend that has reishi, maitake, coriolus, and shitake. Lastly, an immunoglobulin product.

Immunoglobulin products such IgG (usually dairy based) or IgY (usually egg based) help support the gut and immune system. Many people get nervous when they find this out, especially when they’re doing an elimination diet because of the dairy or egg source. The truth is that most people can tolerate these, except those with an IgE allergy or a severe sensitivity.  I’m using this twice daily.

  1. Adding in LDN. LDN, or low dose naltrexone, was recommended to me a couple of times in the past when colleague friends analyzed my labs. I always put it on the back burner trying to fix other things first. This time I decided to listen since my immune system needs some real help. LDN works by increasing your body’s internal opioids (think endorphins) and supporting the immune system.

Midterm Results

The diet has been easy to follow because I’m not over complicating it. I make batches of meat in the slow cooker (beef, chicken, pork, or buffalo) to have throughout the day or my husband will grill meat or fish. I always have big containers of greens for salads and use Primal Kitchen salad dressing so I don’t have to make it (good for marinade’s too). Last, there are always roasted veggies, plantains, yams, and sweet potatoes on hand. I’ll have berries or pears as a treat.

I’m 3 weeks in and feel good. I have more energy and my sleep seems to be more regulated outside of the baby waking me. I had been waking myself or unable to fall asleep. No new viruses.

My milk supply has remained consist too!!! YAY!!!!

My patch of eyelid eczema is almost gone too. I noticed the eczema fade after 1.5 weeks and I attribute that to both the LDN and diet because I had started the supplementation before and that was helping but didn’t have the same effect. (Note: NOTHING topical was helping it ☹). It’s mostly dry skin and a few tiny bumps which is encouraging.

What’s Next?

I’m so encouraged that I’m going to do another experiment that I’ll let you all know about next month. This one will be exciting (and scary for me). But you know my philosophy- I’d never ask a patient do to anything I couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

Stay tuned!! And, reply in the comments about your experiences with elimination diets.

Manage Stress For An Eczema Free Easter

Don’t let the Easter Bunny bring you eczema for Easter!!

The topic of stress is tossed around so much these days that it seems we’ve become desensitized and brush it off. But the fact remains that stress is indeed one of the most notorious triggers for eczema and autoimmunity.

And, the holidays are often stressful times for most of us. On the surface, Easter seems pretty easy and benign, right??

Well, not really.

Granted, it isn’t the long, drawn-out process that Christmas has become now that the “holidays” start the day after Halloween (not to mention cost in money, time, and sanity). But, it definitely shares a few key components of the other major holidays that might cause an eczema flare.

Stress Related Triggers

Travel. Preparing for travel and the act itself are bigger stressors than you may think. It burdens your mind with all of the things you need to do before you leave, even if it’s only for a day or two. Packing and prep are hard enough, but add kids and pets and the stress is magnified (parents of kids and fur babies know what I’m talking about!!).  Then there’s coming home to laundry, no food, and maybe even work since technology can be a ball-and-chain that way.

Family.  It depends on your family dynamics and for many this isn’t so bad, but the larger the gathering, the bigger opportunity for issues to arise. Often family members feel free to let their opinions fly, disregard others’ feelings, or like to “stir the pot.” Every family has one (or more!).  In my family we give out the Blueberry Muffin Award at the end of events for the person that causes the biggest problem. (I’ve only received it once- about 20 years ago when I was in college).

It can also be difficult if you make healthier (“different”) lifestyle choices, and this is very real possibility if you have eczema. For years I’ve been teased about my diet and lifestyle choices. I’ve learned to ignore them because I’m WAY healthier than the people teasing me. Usually when people give you a hard time it’s because they’re feeling insecure or inadequate about themselves. Psychologically, it makes them feel better to go after you because you’re doing something they can’t or won’t do. That doesn’t make it okay, but you can take the high road.

Gawkers. Perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with when you have eczema is people staring. As if you’re not self-conscious enough!?!?! If it’s family or close friends, these are usually the same people who have some smart-ass comment too. Being in a public setting with strangers can be rough too because that’s like an open invitation to stare because of the mob mentality.

Don’t Let Stress Get You Down

Having a strategy going into the holidays is key to not succumbing to the stress monster and ending up with an eczema flare. Take some time to think of possible stressors you’ll encounter and figure out how you’ll handle them before they even happen. Here are some helpful tips :

  1. Planning will help you take some of the stress out of travel. Make a list of what you need to bring and getting things ready during the week prior to your trip helps avoid chaos right before you leave. Gas your car up a day or two earlier if you’re driving (this usually saves time and money). Get healthy food ready for your journey and make sure it’s easily accessible. Even if your only traveling down the street, preparing food the day before will help things go smoothly.
  2. Bring food if you have special dietary needs and there won’t be options for you to enjoy the occasion. Ask ahead what will be served and let them know your situation. Often people are accommodating and understanding, especially if you’ve been down the eczema road for a while. If they aren’t helpful, control your own destiny and bring your own food. Upsetting your host’s feelings is not your problem when you’re skin is on fire (or could flare back up).
  3. Don’t let the emotional bullies and energy vampires ruin your holiday! If people tease you for your choices, make snarky comments, or stare too long, you’ve got options on handling this. 1- Laugh it off and know that they lash out at others from their own place of hurting or insecurity. 2- Ask them when they got their medical or health care education when they give you unsolicited advice (since their comments are almost always rooted in opinion). 3- Bring an awesome dish that follows your dietary needs or restrictions, but don’t tell anyone it’s any different until they taste it and love it. Prove to them that their misconceptions on diet are exactly that. There are soooo many gluten, dairy, soy, corn, histamine, or _______ (insert any food here) free recipes that rock, so show them!
  4. Attitude is everything when dealing with stress. If you go into the event with a positive attitude, chances are things will go well. This is where self fulfilling prophecy comes into play.
  5. Breathing can also help get you through rough times. On many occasions I have chosen to take a few deep breaths and move on instead of engaging someone that’s trying to make me feel bad. I try to remember that it’s a them issue and not a me issue. They are just projecting onto me. It still sucks and can hurt, but I consciously know it’s not me and that’s huge.
  6. This point may be controversial, but when we’re talking stress and health it’s completely valid- skip the holiday events if you think they’ll be too much for you. If you’re in the middle of a horrible eczema flare or have had lots of stressors in your life recently, this may be the best option for you. If you know going to Easter brunch or dinner will be a battle and will put you in a worse place then politely decline. Tell everyone you’ll see them at the next event. You don’t owe anyone an explanation even though family often feels entitled to one. If you do say something tell them the truth and be authentic because that will serve you better.

Make the holidays enjoyable and as stress free as possible to avoid the Easter Bunny leaving eczema in your basket! If you have any tips or suggestions for stress free holidays, please share in the comments below.

Treating Eczema With Functional Medicine: 101

Understanding  an eczema outbreak is really complex. And like a child learning language, you have to understand the alphabet and sounds first before you can talk. Same goes for eczema.

To really understand an eczema outbreak, you have to first understand the difference between the way functional medicine and conventional medicine views it.

Why Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine (FM) is a “systems” way of thinking. And when we say “systems,” it’s not like conventional medicine that views the body as a group of isolated systems where you have a cardiologist for the heart, an endocrinologist for hormones, etc.  In FM, we view the systems, or areas of the body, as operating as a whole response to the environment (kind of like the operating system of a computer).

It makes perfect sense because each area influences the others.

A good analogy to help you understand functional medicine versus conventional medicine is to think about a tree. Visualize the entire tree with its roots, trunk, branches, and leaves.  Conventional medicine looks at one branch, whereas functional medicine views all of the branches, trunk, and roots. It’s going to look at the leaves and even further in-depth because we really want to understand what’s going on in the entire person.

When we do this, we take a really detailed history and look for root causes. It’s interesting that we look for root causes and use the tree analogy, because the goal is to find out what is foundationally disrupted in your body to figure out what’s causing the eczema flare.

Conventional medicine really tends to see eczema as something that doesn’t truly have a cause yet. When I was told that I had eczema the doctor said, “You’ve got eczema. There’s no known cure. See you later.” However, in functional medicine—and now even in the medical literature (check it out here)—they’re starting to talk about it as an autoimmune condition and starting to identify some causes of it. And that’s what we’re going to get into here a little bit later.

This is why taking a FM approach to looking at eczema really can help you get down to why things are happening.

The ATM Model

One of the foundational principles of understanding functional medicine is the concept of antecedents, triggers and mediators. We call it the ATM model. These are how a functional medicine practitioner frames an understanding of your entire life history and contributing factors to your condition. We’re looking at all of that to figure out how you got to where you are today.

Let’s start off with the antecedents, which are the predisposing factors. Those are things like genetics and family history, lifestyle, past illness, and exposures (occupational, home, or environmental), and are the underlying or precipitating cause of illness.

A key point regarding genetics and family history is that they aren’t life sentences. A lot of people think, “Oh, there’s cancer in my family. I’m going to get cancer.” That’s not necessarily the case. There are so many modifiable factors here that can prevent you from actually having that illness even though you might be very prone to having it. Great news!!

To recap: Genetics are largely modifiable. NOT your destiny. **Note, in a future post I’ll address genetic concerns such as the filaggrin protein and common SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that matter to eczema suffers.

Triggers are what provoke the signs and symptoms of illness. Those are along the lines of infections, allergens, toxins, radiation, surgery, social conditions, and things of that nature. They’re going to combine with the antecedents to actually cause more signs and symptoms.

Last, the mediators perpetuate the illness. You can think about these on a biochemical or psychosocial level. Biochemically speaking, the hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolites, free radicals, and inflammatory chemicals are what perpetuate what’s going on. Once you have that genetic factors, plus the triggers, these mediators keep that cycle going. In the case of eczema, it’s going to cause the flare to continue.

The psychosocial factors—stress, thoughts, beliefs, community- are extraordinarily important in this model, but also in eczema. Stress is often the primary trigger and tipping point for most people (***remember stress can be emotional or physiological like trauma or infection…regardless of the source, it causes systemic biochemical changes that are bad if they continue for a prolonged period of time).

Eczema ATM’s

Genetics, family history, lifestyle, past illness, and environmental exposures are key antecedents for everyone. For example, if you have certain historical factors like a family history of autoimmunity or allergies, asthma, and eczema (the allergic triad) you’re much more likely to get eczema than the rest of the population.

The most common triggers I see in practice are infections, allergens, toxins, diet, and dysbiosis (an imbalance in the microorganisms in your body—not just in your gut, but all over your body).  In eczema, skin dysbiosis can be an important piece of the puzzle too.

The primary mediators of eczema are (without getting too crazy science-y):

  • Hormone imbalances (especially from stress and sex hormones). Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalances can perpetuate inflammation and make eczema flares worse.
  • Depleted Nutrients. In practice it’s usually omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. Protein malabsorption can be an issue too since you need the amino acids to make collagen and skin tissue.
  • Inflammatory chemicals. Histamine, cytokines, and free radicals are major contributors here, though there’s a long list of players in this biochemical pool.
  • Impaired liver function. If you’re liver can’t function optimally, you can’t clear metabolic waste, toxins or hormones efficiently which are essential for a healthy gut and skin. This is often one of the key places we address first.
  • Leaky gut. This occurs when many of the above factors cause increased intestinal permeability allowing things into the bloodstream (like bacteria, toxins, proteins, etc.) that shouldn’t be there. This causes inflammation and immune system activation driving the eczema cycle.

I find for most of the clients we see in our virtual clinic is that stress is often the most significant factor, either as a trigger or as something that’s perpetuating, or both. We work on addressing it in its many forms, in many different ways.

To recap- if you’re having an eczema flare or a flare-up of any autoimmune condition-  you’re looking at: antecedents + the triggers + the mediators= cause of flare.

It’s a cyclical process that self-perpetuates until you identify the triggers and the root causes to stop this cycle. You must eliminate the root cause imbalances such as infections, hormone and nutrient imbalances, allergens, foods, etc., to get this cycle to stop. Then you actually need to take the proper steps to heal it (replacing nutrients, healing leaky gut, balancing hormones, improving liver function, etc.).

Real Life Eczema Example

I’m going to use myself as an example. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but we’re all human 😉

I was driving home from my sister’s this past Halloween. I had just thought to myself that I was so excited because I didn’t have any Halloween candy…. but then I did.

BAD IDEA!

About an hour later, it triggered a flare. And for me, the area where my eczema always, always, always starts is my left wrist and my left hand. They started itching like mad. I was scratching for four hours.

UGH!!!

Immediately, I went downstairs and took some anti-inflammatory nutrients because I knew I had to get at that flare before it became a full-blown outbreak. Yes, it is possible to dampen the effect of a flare once you have your eczema under control.

But for me, I had a major flare. My last major flare was 1.5- 2 years ago. I hadn’t had anything go on since then until I was pregnant recently and had a few minor flares (due to hormones) that went away quickly.

Let’s also review my ATM’s.

My major antecedent is the allergic triad in myself and family members.  As I mentioned above, the allergic triad is allergies, asthma and eczema. Most of that manifests in childhood, but not always. I only had allergies in childhood. Eczema started in my 30’s! If you have any of those, you’re also going to be more prone to autoimmunity as an adult.

And, eczema often accompanies other autoimmune conditions, not just in and of itself.

So I have 2 of the allergic triad, and a family history of autoimmunity and inflammation conditions. There’s lots of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in my family. Historically, I was bottle fed and was around smokers growing up which are also key antecedents in developing eczema.

My main trigger for this flare was hormone imbalance and dysbiosis that developed during pregnancy. In the gut, when your hormones such as progesterone are high, it slows things down in pregnancy. It sets the stage for things like leaky gut and dysbiosis to occur. This was something that I had experienced quite a bit of during my pregnancy (even though I tried my hardest to prevent it since I know what I know!!).

Diet was also a key trigger (especially the candy). I kept a clean, organic diet for the most part. However, after the birth, my diet has not been quite as tight. I’m gluten-free and try to be in the realm of Paleo/Autoimmune Paleo. But sometimes I have corn or dairy or beans. And those things have crept into my diet more frequently now that I’ve had the baby.

The candy just happened to be the breaking point for me… that little bit put me over the edge!

My primary mediators were hormone and nutrient imbalances from pregnancy and breastfeeding, leaky gut, and STRESS.

I’m going to reiterate stress here… I’ve got a new baby. I’ve got a 5 year old. I’ve got work. I’ve got life. Everybody’s got stress. But I currently feel like I have a lot on my plate. That’s the main mediator perpetuating the cycle for me.

And for me, stress is probably the number one factor that contributes to my flares every single time. When my stress levels get high, I can get a flare super easily. And I know that’s true for many of the people we work with in the clinic as well.

Another less obvious mediator is lack of sleep. Lack of sleep is a major contributor to manifesting any autoimmune condition, especially something like eczema. We heal and regenerate when we sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s not happening.

Lastly, there’s the issue of support and community, or a lack thereof.  When you first have a baby, everyone comes and sees you for the first couple of weeks. And then it’s suddenly, it’s gone. This can leave you with a sense of feeling like you’re lacking community or lacking support. I won’t say that I feel that tremendously, but I feel it a little bit.

All of these things added up and resulted in my eczema flare.

I got it under control by tightening up my diet, doing some key supplementation, and topical salves.  Thankfully, this prevented it from erupting into a full-blown outbreak.

If you’re looking for more support in healing your eczema and understanding your root causes, you can always book a free 15-minute consult with our clinic:  http://drstephaniedavis.com/consultation/.

Do you know you’re root causes or ATM’s? Leave a comment below if you do!