To avoid stresses try some of these tips:
- Plan your budget and stick to it. Finances are one of the biggest stressors at this time of year.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Have fun and laugh a lot! Again, great for your immune system and mental outlook.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article originally appeared on Healevate.
Leaky gut, as you might be imagining it in your head, is layman terminology for intestines that have increased permeability.
This can be due to a variety of reasons, which we’ll dive into shortly, but first let’s provide a basic understanding of how the GI tract works.
The gut is a tube that is about 20-25 feet long, covers 3000 square feet (the size of a tennis court) of surface area and is only one cell layer thick, according to Dr. Mark Hyman.7
There are spaces between this single layer of intestinal cells that open and close to allow only specific, very small molecules to pass. These spaces are controlled by tight junctions.
What Exactly is Leaky Gut or Intestinal Hyper-Permeability?
The primary purpose of the GI tract is to provide barrier function, as well as to allow the selective passage of substances it deems beneficial, all the while keeping foreign invaders out.
Every second of every day, your intestinal cells, along with the immune, neurological and hormonal components within them, screen your environment in an effort to keep you healthy.
Leaky gut occurs when there is a breakdown in this barrier function allowing substances to enter the bloodstream that normally wouldn’t be there, resulting in immune system activation and inflammation.
Dr. Alessio Fasano lays it out nicely, saying that “The intestinal mucosa is the battlefield on which friends and foes need to be recognized and properly managed to find the balance between TOLERANCE and the immune response.”2,3,4
How Does Leaky Gut Occur?
The tight junctions in a healthy gut operate like a club bouncer, selecting what to allow past the “velvet rope” and into the bloodstream. Simply put, they keep bad things out and allow good things through.
In a Leaky Gut however, the tight junctions leave the “velvet rope” unattended, allowing everything to pass through. This can result in serious problems.
Technically speaking, Leaky Gut, also commonly referred to as intestinal hyper-permeability, occurs when inflammation leads to the breakdown of the mechanism that controls the tight junctions between the intestinal cells, allowing them to become looser. This allows the “leaking” of either larger and/or foreign particles through to your bloodstream.
Modern lifestyles place a lot of stress on the gut in the form of poor diet, medications, alcohol, infections and environmental toxins, leading to chronic irritation, inflammation and ultimately the breakdown of the intestinal barrier.
This delicate layer that should be selective and tightly regulated, now has tiny pin-prick like holes in it that allow foreign substances such as undigested foods, bacteria, yeast and toxins to cause an immune response.
As this scenario progresses over time, a variety of conditions can arise, including acne, allergies, asthma, fatigue and joint pain, or even more serious ones such as Hashimoto’s, Graves’ Disease, Psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions.
Triggers of Leaky Gut
The most common triggers of Leaky Gut are:
Stress is a significant trigger and mediator in the development of Leaky Gut. According to Chris Kresser, LAc, “The biochemical changes that occur in times of stress have significant and immediate impact on gut function.”1
Once your body perceives a stressor, whether it’s work, infection, exercise, food or toxin, it mounts a biochemical response that results in increased gut permeability, mediation of inflammation, increased sensitivity to pain, altered gut motility and changes to the gut microflora. Over time this can lead to significant changes in GI function.
Kresser states that “Experimental studies have shown that psychological stress slows normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and even compromises the intestinal barrier.”1
These changes provide the gateway for other triggers to wreak havoc, as larger food particles, toxins, and pathogens enter the bloodstream through the gut, and thus the immune response occurs.
While the stresses of work and family are of noteworthy significance, the food that you eat is actually the biggest daily stressor, as perceived by your body, according to Dr. Robert Rountree.5
Common gut-damaging foods include:
Gluten: A protein that has been hybridized (changed from its original form) to the point that your body sees it as foreign and reacts to it.9,10
Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates: Support yeast overgrowth and promote bad bacteria over good bacteria.
Alcohol: Alcohol and its by-products are direct toxins and irritants to the GI mucosa. It’s also linked to yeast and SIBO infections.
Processed Foods: Contain additives and preservatives that your body sees as irritants or toxins.
GMO’s: Genetically modified foods that your body can’t identify. The largest GMO crops are Corn, Canola, Soy, Sugar Beets, Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Papaya.8
Food Sensitivities and Allergies: Gluten, Dairy, Corn, Soy, Yeast, Eggs, and Nuts are the most common offenders. With Leaky Gut, larger food particles enter your blood and the immune system responds. Since you’re likely eating very frequently, the result can be a continuous cycle of inflammation and immune upregulation.
Lectins and Phytates: Nutrient blockers that are produced by plants for survival that cause mineral malabsorption and alter the gut lining leading to immune activation. These are widespread in grains, legumes, and nuts.9,10
Conventional Dairy: The protein A1 Casein damages the gut lining, and according to Dr. Josh Axe, pasteurization causes degradation of enzymes that are critical to digestion of lactose.11
GI infections such as Candida (yeast), parasites, H. pylori, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) release toxic metabolic products that cause inflammation to the gut lining, as well as the breakdown of its physical barrier.
This toxic process also makes the intestines more hospitable to other pathogens, leaving you vulnerable to additional infections.
The presence of these GI infections also contributes to dysbiosis, or the imbalance of the bad gut flora over the good flora, essentially wiping away another level of defense against invaders and allowing the toxic environment to flourish.
Infections such as Lyme Disease and other tick borne illnesses, as well as certain viruses, can also play a role in the development of Leaky Gut, by contributing to processes that alter normal digestion and elimination, as well as perpetuate inflammation.16
Infections can also further complicate the situation through molecular mimicry.
Molecular mimicry occurs when the body mistakes a self-molecule for a foreign molecule and in error mounts an immune attack on its own tissue.14
A classic example is the bacteria Klebsiella attacking the joints, resulting in Ankylosing Spondylitis.15
Due to molecular mimicry, bacteria and parasites are often found to be root causes in the development of various autoimmune conditions.14, 15
In addition to the toxins produced from bacteria, yeast, and parasites, your body is exposed to an excessive amount of daily contaminants.
According to the EPA there are over 70,000 chemicals in U.S. commerce today.12 Some common ones include:
- Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic.
- Pesticides such as Glyphosate and Bt toxin.
- Mold mycotoxins.
- Chemicals such as BPA, BPS, PCBs, dioxins, phthalates, chlorine, fluorine, xylene and toluene.
Toxins can damage intestinal cells, alter the gut nervous and immune systems, or even kill beneficial bacteria. The worst effect however, may be that these toxins are being reabsorbed and recirculated rather than eliminated from your body.
Even the hormones in your body can act as toxins because they can be re-absorbed into circulation if the flora is imbalanced and the gut is permeable.
Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and acid blocking drugs are the main medication-type contributors to Leaky Gut.
NSAIDs actually block the production of prostaglandins, which are substances that can mediate pain, but that are also critical to rebuilding the lining of the intestines.
According to Dr. Leo Galland, NSAIDs can further cause damage by sensitizing bacteria and altering the GI flora.13 He states, “If you use a full therapeutic dose of NSAIDs for 2 weeks there is a 75% chance you will develop a leaky gut that will not go away when you stop taking the drug.”13
Along with killing pathogens, antibiotics also kill the good bacteria, creating the potential for yeast overgrowth, which directly causes and perpetuates Leaky Gut.
Acid blockers decrease the amount of stomach acid produced. This results in suppressed and incomplete digestion of food, which allows large particles through the intestines and into the bloodstream. This increases the likelihood of immune system reaction. Further, decreased stomach acid leaves you vulnerable to pathogens, as there isn’t enough acid to kill them.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
GI: Gas, bloating, belching, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, undigested food particles or fat in stool, gurgling in stomach, acid reflux, and food sensitivities or allergies.
Immune: Allergies, asthma, chronic sinus infections, frequent infections such as respiratory or urinary tract infections, candida overgrowth, and autoimmune conditions.
Liver: Poor detoxification, pain under the lower right ribs.
Skin: Acne, rosacea, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
Musculoskeletal: Joint pain, muscle pain, and fibromyalgia.
Brain and Mood: Headache, fatigue, brain fog, inability to focus, irritability, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, lack of coordination or balance and poor memory.
Hormone: Fatigue, poor temperature control, weight gain or weight loss, poor sleep quality, food cravings, poor blood sugar regulation and hormone imbalances.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that lead you to suspect Leaky Gut, you should address them quickly.
According to Dr. Tom Sult, “As the condition of the gut degrades, the health implications can become serious.”6
Minor Symptoms tend to be largely limited to the gut early on in the condition, where as a more progressive case will have symptoms outside of the gut.6
The more symptoms that you have, the higher the correlation to an increased immune system response and the subsequent possibility to develop more serious conditions that can be difficult to reverse, such as autoimmune conditions.
Every single autoimmune condition is thought to have the same root cause: Leaky Gut. Dr. Alessio Fasano’s research has been integral in identifying this linkage. In his 2012 paper titled “Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease,” he states, “In addition to the genetic predisposition and exposure to triggering non-self antigens, the loss of protective function of the mucosal barriers that interact with the environment (mainly through the GI and lung mucosa) is necessary for autoimmunity to develop.”2,4
In The Paleo Approach, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD writes, “A leaky gut is present in every autoimmune disease that has been tested, including Ankylosing Spondylitis, IBDs (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), Celiac Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Type 1 Diabetes.”15
Lab Testing For Leaky Gut
There are several testing options to determine whether you’re suffering from increased intestinal permeability, or Leaky Gut.
Some labs label it the Intestinal Permeability Test, while more generic labels include the Lactulose-Mannitol Test or Hydrogen Breath Test.
Since there are many contributing factors to the development of Leaky Gut, other important tests to consider are:
- Food sensitivity and allergy testing
- Dysbiosis testing through organic acids, stool cultures, and SIBO breath testing
- Toxin testing through urine or hair analysis
- Liver function testing through a blood test or an organic acids test
Treatment of Leaky Gut
Dr. Leo Galland explains that even though you have a leaky gut, the cells of the intestinal lining replace themselves every 3-6 days.13
This means that once you eliminate the contributing triggers and root causes of Leaky Gut you can repair the intestines fairly quickly. The hard part can be identifying all of the causes and eliminating them.
Functional Medicine’s approach to the treatment of Leaky Gut is the 5R Program:
- Remove the sources of irritation and inflammation:
Eliminate foods that contribute to leaky gut. Completing an elimination diet for 3-4 weeks is a good place to start.
Using a food diary is a great tool to identify food sensitivities when you add them back in. If you add them back in and have any type of reaction, you should keep them out until your gut is fully healed.
An anti-inflammatory, whole foods based diet is best.
Try to eliminate the use of medications known to contribute to leaky gut, if you can.
Reduce toxin exposure by eating organic when possible, using cleaner personal care and home products, and filtering your home air and water. Many green plants provide natural toxin filtration.
Remove all sources of parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infections in the gut. If you take care of these without resolution of symptoms, look into viruses and other infections such as tick borne illnesses.
- Replace the nutrients that your body needs to heal:
Using digestive enzymes and betaine hydrochloride to allow for proper breakdown and absorption of nutrients.
Taking a good multivitamin can help restore nutrients while your body is still not completely digesting and absorbing food.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is the primary source of fuel for intestinal cells. Supplementing with glutamine at 5-10g twice daily can help heal the gut lining faster.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils can help decrease inflammation taken at a dose of 2-4 g per day.
Supplements that contain Slippery Elm, Marshmallow Root, Aloe, DGL, and Zinc Carnosine are soothing to the gut mucosa. Use these cautiously as some of them can cause GI distress in people with certain dietary restrictions and autoimmune conditions.15
- Reinoculate with good bacteria to restore the flora:
Using a high quality probiotic with at least 50 billion CFU twice daily will help restore the gut flora. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter species are best.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, as well as kefir and yogurt (you can use dairy or non-dairy based) contain live, active cultures that will help the good bacteria stick around.
Prebiotic fibers and resistant starches provide the nutrients that support the healthy flora and maintain intestinal health.
- Repair the gut lining and normal physiological functions.
Taking many of the supplements described in #2 and #3 will help repair and rebuild the gut lining.
In addition, it’s important to also repair the normal physiological processes of digestion, or you risk developing a leaky gut again. This includes using betaine HCl to increase stomach acid, digestive enzymes to assist the pancreas, intestines and liver until they produce adequate levels on their own, and sometimes ox bile to assist the liver in the digestion of fats.
Additionally, motility, or the ability to keep waste and toxins moving through the GI tract, often needs to be repaired and restored.
Ginger and d-limonene are good agents to stimulate GI motility. Exercise and movement are also great ways to keep the bowels moving.
- Rebalance your body to heal faster and maintain vibrant health moving forward.
Decreasing stress through journaling, deep breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, exercising, or getting out into nature are great ways to achieve this.
Finally, one of the most imperative measures you can take is to get at least eight hours uninterrupted sleep as this is when the body heals.
There’s no smoking gun for overcoming leaky gut, but what you’ve just read is the blueprint used by top functional medicine practitioners the world over. And it works.
Like everything else in life that’s worth it, you must put in the work. If you can commit to these changes, you could be well on your way to healing your gut in short order.
This article originally appeared on Healevate.
Most of us have felt that special feeling. You know the one. Great night out with friends, maybe even a special someone. And then the next morning rolls around. THAT feeling.
You wake up to a pounding head, nausea, aches, brain fog and an inability to focus. That’s your liver screaming at you.
Those extra few drinks just needed to happen, huh?
So those are obvious signs that we recognize easily, but did you know that when your hormones are out of whack, your blood sugar is erratic, and you constantly feel sluggish, your liver is STILL speaking to you?
Most of us are great at listening to our bodies when we experience something as uncomfortable and excruciating as a bad hangover, but we’re more likely to ignore the signs when they’re less obvious or when they require lifestyle changes that we may not want to make.
The liver is the largest internal organ and has extraordinary resiliency, as it’s bombarded daily with an onslaught of assaults from air pollution, environmental toxins, medications, and microorganisms (bacteria, mold, fungi, and viruses).
“We are exposed to 6 million pounds of mercury and over 2.5 billion pounds of chemical toxins each year,” according to Dr. Mark Hyman.4 But the amazing liver isn’t fazed—it has the highest regenerative capacity of any organ in the body.
It’s clear that it takes a lot to knock the liver down, but somehow, in our crazy, high-stress lives, we find a way to do just that.
Impaired detoxification and liver function is the predecessor of many systemic diseases, including liver disease. At least 30 million people, or 1 in 10 Americans, has some type of liver disease.1
If you consider some of the other conditions where liver function is important, including autoimmunity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, it’s obvious that proper liver function and detoxification are central to health. So it’s important that we recognize the signs of impaired detoxification before it has the chance to become a full-blown condition, because reversing it is much easier than reversing most chronic diseases.
What Exactly is Liver Detoxification?
Detoxification is the process of transforming and removing harmful substances from the body. Normally, the liver takes a toxic substance, then neutralizes and transforms it so that it can be eliminated in a healthy way that doesn’t damage the body.
Once your liver detoxifies and breaks down a substance, it’s excreted to the blood or bile for elimination. Blood products are filtered through the kidneys and eliminated as urine, while bile products are sent to the intestines and eliminated as feces. Some items are also eliminated through sweat and breathing.
When detoxification doesn’t occur efficiently and properly, the liver becomes taxed and sluggish, which impacts almost every system of the body in some way. The liver plays a role (to varying degrees) in most biological functions, being responsible for over 200 tasks. Here is a short list of some other liver functions that detoxification impacts:2,3
- Conversion of harmful ammonia to urea
- Clearance of bilirubin (if there’s a buildup of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow in a condition called jaundice)
- Storage of essential vitamins and minerals, and conversion to their biologically active forms
- Regulation of amino acid and protein metabolism
- Maintenance of hormone balance
Impaired detox results in changes to all of the above processes, which can manifest as imbalanced hormones, high cholesterol, blood sugar abnormalities, decreased immune function, increased inflammation and pain, and a variety of symptoms ranging from fatigue and brain fog to rashes and headaches.
How Does Liver Detoxification Become Impaired?
Impaired liver detoxification occurs when any substance or disease process compromises the liver’s ability to perform its basic metabolic functions.
When your liver can’t function properly, toxins and metabolic waste back up and accumulate in your body, making you feel horrible and causing damage to your cells.
A good way to imagine this is to think about it like taking out the trash. If you empty the waste bins throughout your house daily, even every couple of days, you’re probably in good shape.
But what if you let it pile up for a month, or even a year? Pretty soon you’re looking like you belong on a late-night cable TV show because your house is teeming with bacteria, mold, parasites, and volatile chemicals, soon to be deemed uninhabitable by the health department. When your liver can’t empty the trash on a continual basis, this is what happens inside your body.
Damage to your liver cells can occur through a variety of mechanisms:3
- Metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver
- A high sugar and carbohydrate diet or processed foods
- Illnesses that produce toxins and inflammation or promote malabsorption
- Infections such as Candida, viral hepatitis, and any GI infection/dysbiosis
- Drugs and supplements
- Pollutants, chemicals, and heavy metals such as BPA, parabens, smog, pesticides, fluoride, mercury, arsenic, etc.
What all of these processes have in common is that they damage liver cells in some form, whether from oxidative stress, inflammation, or a lack of the nutrients the liver needs in order to work properly. The damage results in impaired detoxification systems.
Detoxification processes in the liver are controlled by many genes and the Phase 1, 2, and 3 detoxification pathways. In order for detoxification to occur properly, the genes that control the process need the correct nutrients and environment (epigenetics) to properly regulate the enzymes that control the detoxification pathways.
One group of genes that have received publicity lately are the methylation pathway genes (MTHFR, MTRR, CBS, COMT, etc.), and rightfully so. This group of genes plays a central role in detoxification, as well as neurotransmitter, hormone, and amino acid metabolism, cardiovascular health, DNA synthesis, and gene regulation.
Sometimes there are changes in a gene—SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms—that alter the function of the corresponding enzyme that controls a process such as detoxification.
When you have an SNP, it changes the gene’s instruction manual, which alters the way the enzymes work.
For instance, if you have one copy of an MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme) gene SNP, you’ll have a 30% reduction in the activity of the enzyme. If you have 2 copies of the SNP, you’ll have a 70% reduction in enzyme activity and significantly impaired detoxification. Many people have multiple SNPs in this pathway, resulting in reduced detoxification capacity.
Similarly, the 60 cytochrome P450 (CYP450) family of enzymes that are primarily found in the liver play a significant role in the breakdown of toxins. SNPs affect the CYP450 enzymes as well—especially those involving drug metabolism.
“Depending on the gene and the polymorphism, drugs and supplements can be metabolized quickly or slowly. If a cytochrome P450 enzyme metabolizes a drug slowly, the drug stays active longer and less is needed to get the desired effect. A drug that’s quickly metabolized is broken down sooner, and a higher dose might be necessary to be effective. Cytochrome P450 enzymes account for 70 to 80 percent of enzymes involved in drug metabolism.”5
The Phase I detoxification system is controlled by these CYP450 enzymes and is the first step toxins go through in the breakdown process. Once toxins enter this pathway, the substance undergoes a chemical transformation, producing an intermediate that’s often as toxic or more toxic than the original substance.
This isn’t a big problem if your Phase 2 detoxification pathways are sufficient, but there can be SNPs here too, reducing the process’ efficiency and causing you systemic problems.
Phase 2 detoxification reactions involve the conjugation (coupling) of the Phase 1 intermediate to a substance, making it water-soluble and suitable for elimination via urine and bile (feces).
The Phase 2 conjugation reactions are glucuronidation, sulfation, methylation, acetylation, amino acid conjugation, and glutathione conjugation.
Essentially, what’s happening in all of these processes is that the intermediate is combined with a specific type of molecule that neutralizes it for elimination. For example, in methylation, a methyl group (CH3) is transferred to the intermediate. Once this process takes place, the neutralized substance can be eliminated.
Phase 3 of detoxification takes the neutralized substance and transports it out of the liver cell to be excreted in the urine or bile.
Diet, nutritional status, illness, toxic burden, dysbiosis, and SNPs all affect the efficiency of the detox pathways, and vice versa. Identifying any potential roadblocks and cleaning up your personal environment and/or lifestyle is necessary to have detoxification systems running at peak performance.
Triggers of Impaired Liver Detoxification
We have toxins around and inside us that come in many forms. If we don’t have healthy detox processes, they accumulate and cause damage all over our bodies. Common triggers of impaired liver detoxification are:
Diet: High sugar and carbs, processed foods, charred foods, xenoestrogens, water, GMOs, and conventionally-raised meats contain toxins.
Nutrients: Low levels of necessary amino acids, vitamins, and minerals impede efficient detoxification processes.
Dysbiosis: Infections and an imbalanced microflora produce toxins.
Leaky Gut: Increased intestinal permeability allows toxins into circulation that wouldn’t normally enter the bloodstream.
Toxins: Medications, supplements, alcohol, and environmental chemicals and metals burden the detoxification pathways and can directly damage the liver.
Stress: Psychological stress, toxic relationships, and illness produce biochemical changes that impair detoxification.
Dietary triggers of impaired liver detoxification are many and significant, since you eat multiple times every day. This provides lots of opportunities to ingest something harmful.
High sugar and carbohydrate diet: When you eat excessive sugar and carbohydrates or refined foods, they need to be stored somewhere if you aren’t using them for energy. They end up stored in the body as fat and in the liver as glycogen.
Over time, if this process continues, the liver becomes inundated with fat, which compromises its function and promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, according to Dr. Mark Hyman.6
Processed foods: Any foods that come from a package may contain trans fats, preservatives, colorings, dyes, additives, and artificial sweeteners that are seen as toxins by your body. Additionally, some foods you think are safe may not be. Most cans are lined with BPA, rendering the foods inside very unhealthy.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “High acidity—a prominent characteristic of tomatoes—causes BPA to leach into your food. BPA is a toxic chemical linked to reproductive abnormalities, neurological effects, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems.”7
Charred/browned foods: Cooking foods until they have color may impart lots of flavor, but you’re also getting a hefty dose of toxins along with it. Grilling is the worst culprit.
Dr. Mercola says, “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are hazardous compounds created in meats and other foods that have been cooked at high temperatures.
Similarly, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, and the smoke surrounds your food, transferring cancer-causing PAHs to the meat.”7 HCAs and PAHs are also present in deli meats.
Xenoestrogens: Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic the hormone estrogen. Foods and chemicals are sources of these compounds. Not only are they endocrine disruptors, but also toxins and carcinogens. Soy is the most common dietary source. Consumption of soy is linked to infertility, thyroid disruption, and breast and prostate cancers. Toxins produced in the processing of soy include nitrosamines, lysinoalanine, MSG, and aluminum.7
Water: Water can be one of the most toxic things we consume daily. Water can have microorganisms, chlorine, fluoride, agricultural and manufacturing runoff, pesticides, or heavy metals. Dr. Deanna Minish states, “Current estimates suggest that there are more than 2,000 toxins in tap water.”14 Bottled water is often not much better.
GMOs: Genetically modified foods contain genes that aren’t native to the original organism, and your body sees them as foreign and toxic. Corn, for instance, might contain Bt toxin or Roundup Ready genes so that it withstands pests better. These toxins degrade the stomach of the target insects and are now found to be harming humans, causing allergies and immune system activation similar to that of inflammatory conditions.8
Further, the pesticide Roundup (glyphosate) has been proven to have harmful mechanisms. According to Dr. Mercola, a recent study found that “glyphosate inhibits cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, a large and diverse group of enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of organic substances.” This, the authors state, is “an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals (which means humans).
By limiting the ability of these enzymes to detoxify foreign chemical compounds, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of those chemicals and environmental toxins you may be exposed to.”9
Conventional meat and produce: Food grown or raised with conventional methods (non-organic) has some level of toxicity. Meat, poultry, and fish can be given antibiotics and drugs that affect their growth.
Vegetables and fruit can contain pesticides or be genetically engineered. One potent class, the organophosphates, are linked to infertility and impaired growth and development, and they’re known neurotoxins.
Nutrients: In order for detoxification to proceed the right way, it requires adequate amounts of the necessary raw materials to do so. These include amino acids, B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and sulfur-containing compounds. Deficiencies will result in impaired detox processes.
Dysbiosis occurs when there’s an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful organisms in your body, especially in the gut.
When this happens, the bad guys can produce toxins themselves or even undo all of the work the liver has done (deconjugation), allowing toxins back into circulation. While many organisms produce toxins (bacteria, mold, yeast, and parasites), here are some examples:
Candida: Yeast ferments sugars into ethanol and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogens that cause alcohol toxicity and hangovers. Candida increases levels of ammonia, which is another toxin.3 Yeast also produces toxins that allow them to bore into the intestinal wall, as some parasites and bacteria do.12
Clostridium difficile: Also known as C. diff, this bacteria produces several toxins that act on the gut and other cells of the body. These toxins are responsible for the awful diarrhea associated with an acute C. diff infection.
Mold: Molds are ubiquitous and often ingested in air and food. According to Dr. Jill Carnahan, “Some molds secrete mycotoxins. Exposure to mold and mold components is well known to trigger inflammation, allergies and asthma, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, and neurological damage in humans.”13
Increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, occurs when the cells that line the intestinal tract become irritated and compromised, actually spreading apart and allowing particles that wouldn’t normally enter the bloodstream to pass through. This causes the immune system to react to these substances, producing inflammation.
Some of the irritants that cause leaky gut are toxins ingested in medications, alcohol, food, and water, as well as the byproducts of any allergic or sensitivity reaction. Further, dysbiosis and any gut infections compound this effect by the contribution of the toxins they produce.
When you have a leaky gut, your overall toxic burden is increased, because many more substances enter circulation than usual, and your liver has to detoxify all of them. This can place a significantly increased burden on the liver.
Toxins are everywhere in our modern society. Unfortunately, our exposure to medications, supplements, chemicals, pesticides, pollutants, petrochemicals, heavy metals, tobacco smoke, and even alcohol are byproducts of contemporary living, and most of us have exceeded our liver’s natural capacity to cleanse us. If we can’t rid ourselves of these toxins, they accumulate and are stored in the body.
Heavy metals are everywhere—in the soil, in our homes and food, and as byproducts of industries, car exhaust, and tobacco smoke, so they’re hard to avoid. Things like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum are damaging toxins by themselves, but they also compromise our detoxification pathways, making matters worse.
According to Dr. Mark Houston, “Mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals have a high affinity for sulfhydryl (SH) groups, inactivating numerous enzymatic reactions, amino acids, and sulfur-containing antioxidants (NAC, ALA, GSH), with subsequent decreased oxidant defense and increased oxidative stress.”15
This means reduced antioxidant and detox capacity. He further states, “Mercury induces mitochondrial dysfunction with reduction in ATP, depletion of glutathione, and increased lipid peroxidation; increased oxidative stress is common.”15
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) include PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, flame retardants, Triclosan (the antibacterial chemical in personal care and cleaning products), and other chemicals. Like other toxins, they’re heavily present in food, water, soil, air, and products we use.
Over 80,000 POPs have been released into the environment, and we lack information on how they affect human health. We know they’re particularly toxic, causing infertility and endocrine hormone disruption as well as being immunotoxic, neurotoxic, and carcinogenic.16 They’re also linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.16
Even medications and supplements can have adverse effects on detoxification by damaging the liver. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs list liver damage as a side effect and a risk. Some of these include antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) (particularly acetaminophen (Tylenol)), and others.3 Some herbal supplements are implicated here as well since they can be toxic to the liver if not used appropriately, such as kava kava, skullcap, and germander.
Not only do we have toxins that come from the outside, but we also generate them from within. Psychological stress, toxic relationships, illness, and anything else that disrupts your body’s natural balance produces biochemical changes that impair detoxification. But to fully understand toxicity, you must understand the concept of total load.
Dr. Mark Hyman explains this idea well. “This is a total amount of stressors on your system at any one time, and what happens is like a glass filling over with water. It takes a certain amount to fill the glass, and then, after a certain point, you put more in and it overflows. When our detoxification system is overwhelmed, is overloaded, that’s when we start getting symptoms and get sick, but it may take years of accumulated stress and toxins to get to that point.”18
He further points out that stress is a significant contributor to the total toxic load, including “the mental, emotional, and spiritual toxins that affect us; isolation, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and hostility, which all translate into toxins in our system.”18
Dr. Deanna Minich elaborates on that concept, stating, “When we don’t properly ‘eliminate’ unhealthy emotions, we may experience increased levels of stress. Stress not only causes inflammation, but can elicit poor digestive function. Those who experience chronic stress have a difficult time maintaining a positive outlook on life and are at greater risk for disease and premature death.”17
Chronic stressors cause an imbalance between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, producing increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, the constant cortisol elevation and demand leads to cortisol resistance and diminished cortisol.
Cortisol is the main anti-inflammatory hormone in your body, and when levels are low, inflammation increases. This results in oxidative stress and free radical damage. This in and of itself can damage the liver, but it also increases the toxic load the liver must clean up. Further, these changes can also perpetuate dysbiosis and leaky gut.
Symptoms of Impaired Liver Detoxification
The symptoms of impaired liver detoxification are system-wide in the body.
Inflammation/immune: Pain, weight gain, lipomas (benign fatty tumors/deposits), cellulite, allergies, autoimmune conditions, recurrent infections, stuffy nose
Digestive/gastrointestinal: Gas, bloating, cramping, pain, diarrhea, constipation, inability to digest fats (oil in toilet or greasy stools), reflux (GERD), IBS, gallstones, nausea, bad breath, food sensitivities, allergies
Blood sugar: Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), fatty liver, Type 2 diabetes, cravings
Brain/mood/energy: Brain fog, dizziness, vertigo, fatigue, lethargy, depression, irritability, poor concentration, headaches, poor sleep, poor memory
Musculoskeletal: Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, muscle pain, joint pain
Skin/hair/nails: Rashes, hives, dermatitis, eczema, pruritis (itchy skin), excess or lack of sweating, acne, rosacea, liver spots (brown spots), red skin, flushed face, red/itchy palms, yellow skin or eyes, itchy eyes, dark eye circles, body odor, hair loss, cankers
Hormones: Hormone imbalances, PMS, severe menopausal symptoms, inability to lose weight, infertility
Detoxification: Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), inability to tolerate medications or alcohol, poor tolerance to hormone treatments
Lab Testing for Impaired Liver Detoxification
Liver function and organic acid testing is important so you know the state of your liver and detoxification pathways. When considering toxin testing, you need to be cautious, because some of the tests actually liberate toxins from storage in your cells, which can cause problems, especially if you have a leaky gut.
In general, it’s a good idea to make sure liver function has improved and the gut is healthy before testing and treating toxins.
General tests for liver function and blood sugar:
- Total bilirubin
- AST (aspartate aminotransferase)
- ALT (alanine aminotransferase)
- GGT (gamma glutamyl transpeptidase)
- ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
- Fasting insulin and glucose
- CMP or comprehensive metabolic panel (will have most of the liver tests on it)
- Organic acids
- Amino acids—urine, blood
- Heavy metals testing—hair, urine, feces, blood, red blood cell
- Toxic chemicals (such as BPA, phthalates, parabens, organophosphates, etc.)
- DNA profiles for methylation and detoxification
Treatment of Impaired Liver Detoxification
Supporting healthy and robust detoxification takes a little effort. Cleaning up your diet,environment, and lifestyle and adding in some supporting nutrients will lighten the load on your liver.
Detoxifying your diet is a good place to start, since we consume foods and liquids many times every single day.
Drink lots of water every day! Have at least eight glasses to flush your system. Add some liver for an added boost.
Eating organic and GMO-free will help you avoid many toxins.
Make sure your diet is rich in phytonutrients. Certain plants are known to support detoxification. The Brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, contains the sulfuric compounds sulforaphane and indoles (I3C) that activate the Nrf2 gene, which increases many of the detoxification enzymes, especially in Phase 2.10,11,20 Garlic also has sulfur compounds that exert the same effect. Other Nrf2 activators include curcumin from turmeric, capsaicin from hot peppers, and resveratrol from grape skin or wine.11,20
Many leafy green herbs and plants support detoxification, including dandelion greens, cilantro, parsley, watercress, and chard. Use them in cooking, salads, smoothies, and juices.11,19
Artichoke, asparagus, and beets are healing to the liver with antioxidants that prevent liver damage. Artichoke is also one of the best stimulators of bile flow.11,19
Be sure to wash your produce well—even if it’s organic.
Cook with lower temperatures to avoid generating harmful chemicals. If you must grill, marinating with olive oil, lemon, and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano will help decrease the amount of HCAs and PAHs formed.
Avoid packaged foods as much as possible, including drinks in plastic bottles.
Invest in a water filter that filters out chlorine, fluoride, metals, and microbes. Most sink-mounted and pitcher systems don’t do this.
Drinking green tea also supports Phase 1 and 2 detoxification pathways by increasing CYP activity.11,20
In addition to detox-supporting foods, there are nutrients obtained in supplements that directly support the liver and detoxification process.
Amino acids: This is one of the most critical nutrient groups, as these acids function in the detoxification process itself and serve as antioxidants.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is the precursor to glutathione, the master antioxidant of the body and a significant component of Phase 2 detoxification.
Cysteine and methionine contain sulfur and contribute to the sulfation pathways. Methionine is also a methyl donor to the methylation pathway in its activated form, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). Glycine also performs conjugation down the glycination pathway.10,20
Glutathione: Taking glutathione itself as a supplement or through IV therapy is helpful when levels need to be increased.
B vitamins: The B complex vitamins, especially B5, B6, B12, and folic acid are significant co-factors in the Phase 1 and 2 detoxification reactions that help drive the reactions forward. The methylation pathway is also very dependent on sufficient levels of B12 and folic acid.
Minerals: Iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium are all minerals that support the detoxification process as co-factors or through antioxidant functions.20
Antioxidants: Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA), vitamins A, C, and E, and flavonoids play an important role, since the detox process inherently produces free radicals that need to be quenched.10,11,20
Milk thistle: Silymarin is the polyphenol in milk thistle that promotes detoxification. The antioxidant capacity of silymarin can lower the liver’s oxidative stress associated with toxin metabolism, which has the effect of conserving cellular glutathione levels.11
Calcium-D-Glucarate: This nutrient helps prevent the deconjugation of toxins in the intestines by bacteria, thus preserving them for excretion.
Probiotics: Probiotics will help maintain the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, which supports healthy elimination and immune functions that in turn support the liver.
Diet and nutrients can support the detoxification process itself, but the other half of the equation involves cleaning up your world.
Lifestyle changes involve some work, since they require you to read labels, investigate your personal environment, and make some changes, but the benefits to your health are worth it.
Start reading labels: The more you know about what you put in, on, and around your body, the better. If you can’t pronounce it, you should probably avoid it. Knowledge allows you to make healthier choices for you and your family.
Clean up your products: Choose more natural personal care products, toiletries, baby products, home cleaners (especially window and bathroom cleaners), and lawn fertilizers. These products are laden with preservatives and chemicals. Baking soda, coconut oil, white vinegar, lemon, and essential oils can fill many of these roles without the unwanted toxins.
Detox your furniture and home: Furniture, paint, flooring (especially carpet), and building materials also contain chemicals that give off gas, meaning they constantly emit these toxic compounds into the air and you breath them in. Opt for more natural materials like bamboo, latex, wool, and organic cotton.
Get some houseplants: Many houseplants such as English ivy, rubber plants, peace lily, golden pothos, spider plants, Boston ferns, queen ferns, and dwarf date palms are all great at filtering toxins from the air.
Air filters: Having HEPA filtration added to your heating and cooling system will result in more toxins and fine particulates being removed from your home air.
Open your windows: Indoor air can be more toxic than outdoor air, so open your windows and let your home and office breathe.
Shower filter: Invest in a shower water filter or a whole house unit. Your skin is the largest organ in your body (and the liver is the largest organ inside) with a high capacity for absorption. It will absorb toxins in the water you bathe in.
De-stress: Lower your stress levels by finding ways to either decrease your stressors and create boundaries or find appropriate outlets like talking, journaling, or exercising. Getting out into nature can be especially helpful.
Toxic relationships: If you have a person in your life who’s causing you to feel bad, hurt, angry, or frustrated, you should let them know if you can. If you can’t, then try to limit contact with them.
Sleep: Getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night is important, since this is when your body regenerates and heals.
Exercise: Movement is essential in keeping elimination going. Moving keeps your lymph and blood pumping, promotes bowel movements, counteracts inflammatory processes, and lets you sweat.
Sauna: Sweating is also a critical component of detoxification. You can do it through exercise or using a sauna. Saunas increase circulation and metabolic rate. Studies show that many metals, especially cadmium and nickel, are eliminated through sweat at higher levels than through urine.15
Bowel movements: Make sure you have 1-2 bowel movements per day. Daily elimination through the bowels, urine, and sweat are vital for proper detoxification.
Have you tried the drug store potions, over the counter (OTC) medications, or even prescriptions only to have little to no improvement in your eczema?
This is a common theme in my virtual clinic. We see many people that’ve tried everything, including things we recommend like diets or supplements, only to have a small change in their eczema. So, what’s going on??
The truth is that eczema, like any other chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition, is complex and the causes are different for each person. This makes it difficult to treat, especially self-treat.
Super frustrating, right?
There’s a small percentage of people that can eliminate the common food triggers and take a couple of supplements, and achieve resolution of eczema. However, this is rare. If they don’t maintain their diet or have a major stressor, the eczema usually returns because they haven’t addressed the underlying causes.
You might be thinking- what do I do?
Addressing the root causes like stress, hormone imbalance, diet, gut infections, nutrient/vitamin deficiencies, and immune dysfunction provides long term resolution, but in the meantime here several natural eczema remedies to help control the symptoms and start healing.
Don’t: Petroleum jelly goes under many names such a Vaseline®, petrolatum, mineral oil, or paraffin, and it’s a byproduct oil refining that contains compounds such as hydrocarbons that are harmful to health. It also seals the skin, trapping potentially harmful bacteria and letting the skin breathe.
Even worse, it can cause collagen breakdown which is the opposite of what you want if you have eczema.
Do: Shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil are all great options and each their own benefits. Some people find they work well alone, but in practice we’ve seen that people usually benefit from a combination.
You can purchase one like Moon Valley Organics EczaCalm (there are many other options available and we’ll be doing a review of our favorites so stay tuned). You can also customize a blend of your own with our Healing Salve recipe. The recipe can be altered with different base butters, oils and essential oils.
Remember, topicals help soothe the skin, but real healing comes from inside the body.
Supplements seem to be an obvious starting place for natural eczema treatment, but in reality are a complex task to tackle, especially alone.
Don’t: Sadly, we see many people that are either on 20-30 supplements at once (YES…this is real unfortunately) and have no relief and lots of wasted money!!
The truth is this could be making the situation worse since you don’t know what ingredients are helping or hurting. Plus, there are the fillers, binders, and additives to consider as well as the active ingredients that could be causing issues.
Do: Start simply. Use single or few ingredient products that are clean, well sourced, and have a good reason for you to invest in them.
Here are two great options that have worked well in our clinic:
Collagen Protein has many benefits. It’s a critical building block of our skin that is compromised with eczema and it helps heal the gut which is a primary root cause in eczema and other autoimmune conditions.
Bifidobacterium based probiotics reduce histamine and can help heal the gut. This 2008 study shows using B. infantis and B. longum reduced histamine signaling which can translate to less itching.
Again, diet is often difficult to navigate on your own (even harder than supplements). We’re all different and for some just taking out a couple of foods or food categories may work, but no one will ever respond to the same exact diet (not even identical twins).
Don’t: Taking on too many dietary changes at once can be overwhelming and lead to unnecessary (and unwanted) stress. Don’t try removing gluten, dairy, salicylates, and histamines all at once. This will leave you with nothing to eat and likely cause confusion.
Do: Take baby steps with diet and monitor closely so you know what’s going on. An easy stepping stone is to remove all gluten or dairy products for 3-4 weeks minimum (you can do both if you’re willing). When you re-introduce them watch for reactions not only on your skin, but digestion, headaches, runny nose, fatigue, and achy muscles or joints.
Eggs, soy, corn, or nuts might be good options for you to test eventually too. If you find the main food allergens and sensitivities aren’t your problem, then it might be time to look at broad categories like salicylates or histamines.
The Bottom Line
These are all good, natural eczema remedies to start with and are things we recommend in the clinic while we’re working on reversing the root causes since the ultimate goal is healing on the inside and outside.
We’d love to hear what natural remedies have worked best for you?
Get out of the Stress-Eczema Flare-Clear Skin-Repeat Cycle
Is your life causing your eczema flares? Read on to find out if it is…
I believe it’s possible to teach old dogs new tricks. Yes, I’m referring to myself as an ‘old dog’ even though I’m not that old! However, it’s a fitting phrase to describe when I decided to retrain myself not to get stuck in the cycle of stress-eczema flare-clear skin-repeat.
My pattern was pretty obvious. I take good care of myself on every front except…drum roll…stress management. This is true for most of us, but this is a huge part of what I do to help heal people.
Yet, I wasn’t doing it for myself.
I was too focused on my job, side projects, and raising my son who was a baby at the time.
I dove into everything head first and never said no. I was all GO, GO, GO, 24/7.
Until my body would hit the wall from stress and I’d start get flare ups on my hands, wrists, forearms, stomach, and thighs. Tingling would turn into little red spots that itched so bad they’d spread out like an oil spill. Broken, inflamed skin would leave ugly patches.
I was especially embarrassed of my hands, wrists, and arms because people could see them. The palms of my hands and wrists were the worst unfortunately and people would sometimes look a little too long when I handed them payment, opened doors, or waved hello.
It’s amazing how many things our hands are involved in and how self conscious you can become once you’re aware that people are looking.
Gloves year round, anyone???
My usual approach was once I got sick of dealing with it, I’d really dial in my diet, take anti-inflammatory herbs, and engage in some stress reduction. That usually did the trick.
The itching would soon begin to subside, redness would retreat, and the bumps and patches would fade. After several weeks of being “good,” my skin would be clear again. AWESOME!!!
Then, I’d go back to my normal routine and inevitably have a flare up within a couple of months that was worse than the one before. It also started to get harder to treat.
Clearly I had a very short memory and I wasn’t learning from my past history!
Breaking the Cycle
After this cycle had been going on for over a year, I decided something need to change (there’s a longer version of this story that I’ll save for another day, but I’ll share the most important piece now).
The key change in retraining myself was managing my stressors. I needed to practice what I preached to my patients. Priority number one was establishing boundaries and stepping away from being a “yes” girl. I started to say “No” to many opportunities when I felt I had too much on my plate or felt I couldn’t give 100%. I also said “No” to social and family events if I was busy or starting to feel like I was being pulled in too many directions.
I also did a better job of decompressing and taking care of me, which meant giving myself breaks to exercise and have some quiet down time daily to do some deep breathing, journaling, or meditate (even if I had to sneak away to the “bathroom” to get it 😉). I also made consistent sleep a priority as much as I could with a nursing baby.
These are habits I’ve maintained to this day, except I don’t have to hide in the bathroom anymore for peace and quiet!
Stress management was the single biggest change I made to break the cycle, but I also developed strategies to tame a flare if I felt one coming on that I’m going to share with you.
7 Interventions to Stop Your Flare Before It Erupts
1. Clean your diet up. Most of us let our diet go when we’re under stress. Naturally, our bodies crave sugar and carbs to fuel our stress response (but we’re not running away from tigers and lions anymore). Sugar in general promotes inflammation, but so do gluten and dairy. I recommend eliminating these first if you haven’t already. Eating a diet focused on whole foods- meat, fish, eggs, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats will be supportive of calming inflammation.
If you’ve already pared down your diet, you might be sensitive to something else you’re eating. Start paying attention to how you flare responds to food. Do certain ones make you itch more? Do they give you other symptoms of inflammation like mucus production or joint pain? Is the response immediate or delayed?
Using a diary requires some effort, but it’s the best way to track the effects of diet and lifestyle. When I feel a flare come on, I open up an spreadsheet on my computer. I make columns for meals, immediate and delayed reactions, supplements, exercise, stress, sleep, and observations. I record everything that was notable and if nothing is notable I leave that spot blank. This way I can identify immediate issues, but also patterns that may otherwise be hard to see. This is actually how I figured out that I had a histamine issue.
2. Avoid Histamines. These nasty chemicals are produced in the inflammatory response and are part of the reason you itch. You can be consuming them in food or supplements like probiotics. There is a detailed list in my free triggers guide “Eczema: Seven Sneaky Sources Making Your Flare Worse.” Additionally, fish, seafood, cured and deli meats, aged cheeses, dried fruits, citrus fruits, pickles, and any fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Basically, if it’s aged in any way- pickled, preserved, fermented, dried, salted or cured, it contains histamines. That makes left overs a no-go too.
Unfortunately, bone broth which is very healing, also contains high histamine levels, so watch out for any histamine related symptoms including itching, runny nose, mucus or phlegm, redness, etc.
Some strains of the probiotic group Lactobacillus (L. casei and L. bulgaricus) are known to produce histamine which may aggravate your eczema. From my clinical experience, I’ve also seen patients have a histamine reaction to other probiotics too, so pay attention to how your body responds to them. Remember- everyone is unique and we’ll all have different reactions to different substance.
3. Consume anti-inflammatory foods (or their supplement form). I’m a big fan of food as medicine. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are herbs and spices, specifically turmeric, ginger, and garlic. Together, these are pack a triple threat anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and gut and skin healing punch. They can be consumed easily in meals- especially any Asian or Indian recipes, added to smoothies, pre-made tea bags, or in this healing tea/infusion recipe.
The supplement forms can be used too. Sometimes you’ll find an anti-inflammatory combo with all or a few of these ingredients or they can be used separately. I prefer to use them for specific actions when using them as separate often highly concentrated supplements. In this capacity is use turmeric (curcumin) for inflammation, ginger for gut healing and calming, and garlic as an antimicrobial.
4. Avoid extreme temperatures. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, or doing things like bathing or exercising, really hot or cold temperatures can have a negative effect on eczema. In the past, I’ve had a histamine reaction during exercise that resulted in extremely red and itchy legs in both summer and late fall. It’s really hard to workout when you stop to scratch every 10 seconds (plus people stare at your tomato red legs)!
Similarly, hot showers will do the same to me. I know when I’m in a flare to keep showers lukewarm or even cold.
5. Take a timeout. Not the kind where you sit in the corner and think about what you did wrong, but to similarly be still and contemplate. A couple of times each day take 10 minutes to just sit in silence while deep breathing. This doesn’t have to be a full on meditation (although if you want to- go for it because it’s amazing for stress reduction). The point is to let your mind quiet down and focus your intention to calmness and healing.
We spend all of our time in a stressed out, fight or flight mode (a.k.a. sympathetic nervous system ), which promotes inflammation, rather than the rest, digest, and reproduce mode (a.k.a. parasympathetic nervous system), which promotes healing. Chilling out, naps, eating, and sex are way more appealing anyway!
6. Laugh and play. Similar to the previous point, taking time to laugh and play does wonders for inflammation and counteracting the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. If you’re in a flare you might need to take a “personal day” from work.
Send the kids to school (if you have them) and just chill out watching funny movies or meet a comedic friend for lunch. When the kids come home, do something fun like playing games or something you all enjoy together. If you don’t have kids, grab a spouse, partner, or friend do your favorite activity.
The goal is enjoy life and put a smile on your face. There are lots of positive chemical effects that occur in your body when you smile, laugh, or share intimate moments with those you’re close with.
Bonus tip– if you’re a stay at home mom with a baby or small kids it’s hard to take a personal day. Instead of calling in sick to your boss, call a friend or family member to watch the kids for a couple hours (or more if possible) so you can focus on some fun or alone time. No running errands or chores- this time is for you to enjoy yourself!!
7. Pamper your skin with healing moisture. Once you get out of your not-too-hot shower, be sure to apply moisturizer ASAP. I’m a fan of my healing salve recipe, however, there are many options, especially if you’re just into the beginning of a flare. Coconut oil, shea butter, or a combination of the two may just be enough to get your skin going in the right direction. If you start to develop lesions, bumps, or extreme redness, the salve might be a better choice.
There are also many choices available online now too. I’ve had many clients tell me about creams and lotions that have worked for them. The key here is to get a clean and green one- avoid synthetic chemicals, dyes, and scents. Many of the good natural formulas have a base of coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, and/or tallow (usually from beef) combined with essential oils or healing herbs. Going with a blend like this will help avoid topical reactions on the skin.
What remedies have you tried that have helped calm your symptoms down? Let us know in the comments section. Thanks!
(Spoiler: There’s a healing swap-out suggestion with an Eczema Healing Tea recipe included)
Does Caffeine Cause Eczema
Who doesn’t love their morning cup of caffeine? Coffee and tea consumption have become a significant part of American society. The cafe culture is a multi-billion dollar industry. This isn’t anything new…many civilizations for centuries have worshiped them too. But do these beloved brews contribute to eczema?
This is a question I’ve had to tackle for years in my practice with patients and for myself. Like any issues related to food or root causes of eczema- it’s a matter of individuality and how it’s affecting the inflammatory process in your body.
Personally, I love both tea and coffee for different reasons- I’ve been a lifelong tea drinker (thanks Grandma), but in my early 30’s I discovered coffee. I’d always loved the smell, but didn’t care for the taste. But as I began changing my diet to be cleaner and gravitated to Paleo/Primal, my taste buds changed.
Suddenly, I really liked coffee. I enjoyed the slight bitterness, dark chocolate, and fruity notes, much like a good wine. I hear this from patients too- they report liking bitter things such as coffee and really dark chocolate as they lose the taste for sugar.
I can drink it black, but I really love a warm cup of joe with grassfed butter and coconut oil in the morning. That’s heavenly for me!
So when the question of caffeine consumption and elimination arises, the reaction is similar for most of my patients- complete horror (even for a short duration). I’m often met with comments like: “there’s no way I can do that!” Or else, “you want me to do what!! And, for how long???”
I get it. The thought of giving up my tasty, warm beverages (especially considering that I live in Minnesota) gave me slight panic too.
Caffeine is America’s number one drug of choice. Some of us like it for the taste, mental boost, or the purely for the energy surge. But sadly, your favorite pick-me-up can be counterproductive if you have a condition like eczema that has roots in inflammation.
I don’t ask patients to drop the mug to torture them (although some may strongly disagree). I do it because I understand the many ways caffeine alters the immune and inflammatory response.
How do Coffee and Tea Cause Eczema
At first thought it may seem crazy to consider coffee and tea as causes of eczema, but they can alter the inflammatory response in ways that play a role in the process of developing eczema. Once you have eczema, they can contribute to the vicious cycle of exposures (foods, infections, toxins, etc.) that perpetuate the condition until they’re removed.
Here are the most significant ways that coffee and tea promote eczema:
1. It spikes adrenal hormones just as stress does. I generally suggest stopping if someone has HPA axis dysfunction (also know as adrenal fatigue) because of caffeine’s effects on the inflammatory process. Caffeine sends a signal to the brain which sends a signal to the adrenal glands to pump out cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine), effectively putting your body in constant fight-or-flight mode. Not good if you have eczema and need your cortisol for its anti-inflammatory effects.
2. Elevated cortisol contributes to Leaky Gut. The chemicals secreted during the stress response are linked to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), inflammation, overgrowth in bad bacteria, and decreased microbial diversity that can alter immune function. These are significant root causes of eczema that need to be addressed to completely heal it.
3. You can react to the mycotoxins found in coffee. Mycotoxins are toxins produced by fungi and the 2 commonly found in coffee are ochratoxin A and aflatoxin B1. These compounds are known to be immunosuppressive, carcinogenic, and brain damaging among other health problems. Chronic, low level exposure can build up in your system causing an immune response that can promote inflammation.
Swap Your Caffeine with a Warm Drink That Will Help Heal Eczema
I hate to tell patients that they must avoid something forever. In some cases this is necessary, like a Celiac sufferer avoiding gluten, but generally, most people can handle some caffeinated beverages once they’ve healed their eczema and gut.
But until that joyous day when you can imbibe again, here’s an alternative that’s equally as tasty and will help heal your eczema and gut.
Eczema Healing Tea
I enjoy this drink because it’s reminiscent of my favorite morning coffee, but it also incorporates the spiciness of ginger and turmeric that I love. It’s also warming and soothing on cold days. Prep is quick and easy too- usually 5 minutes from start to finish.
- 1-2 inches peeled, fresh turmeric
- 2 inches peeled, fresh ginger
- 1 garlic clove peeled- don’t worry, the other flavors mask the garlic 😉
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 1 serving collagen powder
- 8-12 ounces hot water
Tip: If you want to have a speedy process, peel and portion out the turmeric, ginger, and garlic for several days. I keep mine in a mini mason jar or glass container in the refrigerator. If you prep too much it can start to dry out, so placing a small damp towel or cloth on top can help prevent that.
1. Get your water heating up before you start prepping so that you can pull if off and let it cool if necessary before you pour it into the mixture. I like to use a kettle to warm mine up.
2. Remove the skin from you turmeric, ginger and garlic. You can use a knife or spoon (scraping down the sides) to get rid of the skin. Note: spoon scraping gives a slightly better yield but is more time consuming than using a knife. Place them in the blender.
3. Add in the coconut oil and honey.
4. Pour the water over the mixture. Warning: don’t blend it up if it’s too hot and steaming because the pressure could build up and burn you when the lid is removed.
5. Add the collagen in last (truthfully, it probably doesn’t matter when it’s added, but I try to keep the collagen from clumping or sticking to the sides of the blender cup or carafe).
6. Blend up until all ingredients are fully incorporated. It should take 15-30 seconds for most high speed blenders.
7. Pour into a mug and enjoy!
The beauty of this recipe is that it can be adjusted to taste and needs. Don’t like turmeric- don’t add it. Have a sensitivity to collagen powder? Leave it out. Got Candida or a fungal issue? You may want to adjust or eliminate the raw honey. You can customize this as you wish.
I actually make variations on this recipe often. I’m a ginger lover so I’ll add a huge 3-4 inch piece in sometimes. I’ll bump up the collagen if I feel more stressed. I don’t always have raw turmeric on hand, so I make it without it. If I’m feeling congested or sick from a cold, I’ll decrease the water by 2-4 ounces and add in the juice of one lemon and/or raw apple cider vinegar (ACV). Be careful using this variation if you’re in an eczema flare as the histamines in lemon and ACV can make symptoms worse.
Eczema Healing Tea is a Healing Bomb and Inflammation Buster
The elixir is packed with several anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, antimicrobial, and skin supporting ingredients. Coffee and tea definitely can’t claim that. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits:
1. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family which is why they share similar characteristics. However, the curcuminoids are what give turmeric it’s superior inflammation fighting power. The journal Oncogene published a study that found turmeric to be one of the most potent anti-inflammatories in the world, even beating out NSAIDs. It can also help heal the lining of the intestines which is critical for resolving eczema.
2. Ginger, like turmeric, supports immune and anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. Ginger is a great antimicrobial too, acting against a wide range of bacteria and fungi like Candida. It’s widely supports the gut too- relieving nausea, bloating, constipation, and acid reflux which are symptoms that often accompany eczema root causes like dysbiosis, GI infections, and food sensitivities.
3. Coconut oil is considered to be the “motherlode” of healing foods. One of best features is the broad antimicrobial activity of lauric acid- helpful for addressing bacterial, fungal, and viral infection, but also maintaining daily health. The antioxidants in coconut oil are well documented to combat inflammation. It also has pain relieving (analgesic) capabilities. The same properties that make it amazing for internal use also apply to the skin. Externally it can be used as a cleanser, moisturizer, and as an ingredient in a healing salve or ointment.
4. Garlic in its raw form is a close second to coconut oil in it’s ability to protect against the “bad bugs,” having potent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. The sulfur containing compound allicin is effective against the opportunistic staphylococcus (staph) bacteria which is thought to play a role in eczema for many individuals. Personal note- when I did stool testing on myself during the peak of my symptoms I had a slight overgrowth of staph that had to be treated.
5. Raw honey is an antioxidant powerhouse. It contains several classes of polyphenols and flavonoids that support the immune system. In addition, it contains 22 amino acids, many of the B complex vitamins, and 27 minerals including magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, and phosphorous.
6. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and a critical building block of the skin. Using supplemental collagen powder has been shown to improve skin quality by increasing the barrier function meaning better elasticity, moisture, and texture. Good news if your skin is damaged from eczema! Another reason collagen is great is that it heals leaky gut, which is a primary root cause in eczema. It’s benefits are similar to what’s seen on the skin externally- it “seals and heals” the intestinal barrier breakdown that’s the hallmark of leaky gut.
Doesn’t all this goodness make you want to brew up a batch right now?? You may not ever want to go back to coffee or tea! Maybe….. 🙂
Leave a comment below about your caffeine swaps!
The No Cause, No Cure Paradigm for Eczema is Wrong
I’ve always been a questioner. This is why I believe eczema can be healed and reversed (and new science backs this). When I was a little kid, I asked lots of questions because I wanted to know how and why things worked. Conversations I’d frequently have with my parents would go something like this:
Me: “Why does my tummy hurt?””
Parent: “Probably because you just swallowed your gum.”
Me: “Why would gum make my tummy hurt?”
Parent: “When you swallow your gum it can stick to your insides.”
Me: “Why would it stick to my insides?”
Parent (frustrated): “Oh, I don’t know, it just does!”
At this point I usually stopped the dialogue because I was clearly annoying my parents and I was frustrated that I didn’t get the answers I desired. Even as little kid I couldn’t understand why gum wouldn’t be digested like the rest of my food?? It also didn’t make sense to me that it would stick to my insides. There is always a reason why (even if not everyone know the answer).
Those same feelings of frustration and disbelief came to the surface for me when I was told I had Eczema. I was instantly transported back to my childhood when I heard the words “there is no known cause or cure.” It was so infuriating and disheartening.
No cause. No cure. Yet, you’re still miserable, with a very real rash that makes you crazy because you want to keep scratching it incessantly and your doctor hasn’t provided you with any help at all. This is exactly how I felt.
The majority of conventional medicine still clings to the old idea that eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is purely a topical rash that makes your skin red and itchy, causes lesions, and is related to allergies.
And if you’ve ever had an eczema breakout you know that this isn’t just something to brush off, or something you should have to live with- it’s a problem that affects the way you look and feel too.
I’ve never accepted the no cause, no cure paradigm- there’s always a reason why something is happening. Your body just doesn’t start to malfunction- it’s way too smart for that. There are complex physiological processes that occur over time that culminate in conditions like eczema. We’ll get into the details of that later.
Those of us in the functional medicine community, as well as many researchers, are redefining what eczema actually is. In December 2014, this groundbreaking study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology confirmed what many of us suspected all along- that eczema is indeed an autoimmune condition. The study showed that by blocking 2 key proteins involved in the body’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses, the eczema was reversed. In the process of eczema, these proteins mistakenly target the body’s own tissues, causing an autoimmune reaction which can result in the body attacking the skin. That sounds like a cause to me!
But before we get into the details of how eczema develops as as autoimmune (AI) condition, let’s review what eczema is and briefly discuss the types.
What is Eczema?
As an inquisitive and frustrated kid, I’d reach for the encyclopedia when I got one of those “it just is” answers from an adult. Encyclopedias helped, but were still limited in information on many topics.
Now we have an overabundance of information coming at us 24/7 thanks to the internet, but it’s hard to digest and make sense of it all. So, let’s break eczema down.
Eczema is more commonly referred to as Atopic Dermatitis (AD) clinically. That term is very telling since atopy or atopic is Greek for “being out of place” and dermatitis is “inflammation of the skin”. What’s interesting is that in my graduate training (which was conventional medical clinical pathology) we learned that atopy refers to an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity occurring in a part of the body NOT in contact with the allergen. Based on this definition you’d think that conventional medicine would’ve realized the cause of eczema isn’t occurring on the skin level, but that hasn’t been the case.
Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis (AD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. AD is long lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically and then subside.” It’s the most common type of eczema and research suggests that a family history of atopic conditions such as eczema, allergies, asthma, and hay fever is a predisposing factor in developing it. The data compiled from my research analyzing over 7,000 patients shows that 1 in 5 people with a family history of eczema have eczema. 20% is significant.
Typical symptoms include:
- Itching, which may be mild to severe, especially at night
- Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Weeping wounds
- Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin
- Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees
Eczema symptoms and appearance differs from person to person. A mild form might look like red, irritated, and slightly speckled skin, to more severe forms where the skin is significantly inflamed, with lesions that are bloody and weeping. Discolorations often occur during the outbreaks and as the skin heals.
7 Types of Eczema (Yes, …there’s actually more than one)
There are many different types of eczema according to various sources. You could go a little crazy researching them all on Dr. Google, so we’ll cover the most common ones here.
Most varieties of eczema are named for where they occur or because they look slightly different than your typical atopic dermatitis. Regardless of where it located or how it looks, it’s still eczema.
- Contact Dermatitis occurs when an irritant or allergen contacts the skin causing redness, burning, swelling and sometimes blisters. It can be caused by things such as frequent hand washing, solvents, chemicals, foods, metals, animals, pollen, and plants like poison ivy. For the record, I don’t believe contact dermatitis should be classified with these other forms of eczema as the cause is external contact and can happen to anyone regardless of health conditions and family history. It doesn’t appear to be AI in nature.
- Dishydrotic Eczema occurs on the palm side of fingers, palms of hands, bottom of toes, and soles of feet. It presents as red spots, bumps, or blisters. Scaly patches, flaking, and deep cracks can form from damage to the skin. This type is 2 times more common in women. I can vouch for that since this one type that I had in a very classic presentation which makes it easier to distinguish from some of the other types.
- Hand Eczema is different from dishydrotic in that it occurs on the back of your hand and fingers, as well as the webbing between fingers. It visually looks more like typical atopic dermatitis.
- Neurodermatitis, also called Lichen Simplex Chronicus, which is similar to AD in that there’s significant itching but differs in that the surrounding skin is healthy. It occurs in isolated patches that look thick, discolored, dry, scaly or flaky and can be mistaken for psoriasis. There can be underlying dysfunction of the nerves in this area.
- Nummular Eczema, also known as Discoid Eczema is characterized by coin or circular shaped lesions that can be raised. Inflammatory reactions occurring in the body and dry skin are thought to play roles in developing this type of eczema. It can look like ringworm which is a fungal infection so it’s worth ruling that out.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis, Scalp Eczema, or Cradle Cap typically occurs in areas where there are high concentrations of oil producing sweat glands including the scalp, face, neck, upper back, shoulders, and chest. Individuals with immune system dysfunction are at increased risk for seborrheic dermatitis. It can have an oily or greasy appearance, unlike the other types of eczema, with white to yellow flakes.
- Stasis Eczema/Dermatitis, also called venous stasis dermatitis, is a special type of eczema that occurs in areas where there’s decreased venous blood flow resulting in pressure build up causing fluid leakage from veins. Red, swollen, flaky, itchy skin occurs initially and if not taken care of can progress to ulceration, infection, and/or permanent thickening or scarring of the skin.
What Causes Eczema
If you type in ‘causes of eczema’ in Google, you’ll get a variety of answers like:
- No true known cause
- Dry or irritable skin
- Genetic variant that affects the skin’s barrier function
- Immune system dysfunction
- Hormone Fluctuations
- Bacterial or viral infections or imbalances
- Environmental conditions such as cold, dry weather or humid, hot weather
Unfortunately, while many of the above are absolutely true, most conventional doctors still treat it like it’s a condition that only occurs on the surface and don’t address most of that list. They’re likely to suggest topical treatments and possibly tell you to avoid a couple of foods, allergens, and hot or cold weather. They neglect the impact of the true root causes beneath the surface.
The worst fact of all is that some doctors are still of the old school thinking that there is no cause or cure for eczema.
Thankfully, research is evolving and know we know otherwise.
Given that eczema is now considered an autoimmune condition, we know the conditions need to be ‘just right’ for one to manifest.
These are the 3 key factors that come together to initiate autoimmunity:
- A genetic predisposition/family history
- Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
- Environmental triggers such as stress, infection, gut or skin dysbiosis (imbalance between the good and bad bugs), food sensitivities or allergies, trauma, hormone imbalances, toxins, and nutrient imbalances.
With autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly targets a body tissue and tries to attack it like it’s a foreign invader. If you have eczema, this means that the autoimmune process is attacking your skin. And to get rid of eczema, you need to address each of your root causes, which are covered in numbers 2 and 3 above.
For me, the perfect storm for eczema flares was high stress levels, hormone imbalances, GI infections and dysbiosis, leaky gut, and food sensitivities. Histamine containing foods, exercise, and hot showers made it even worse. This scenario is very similar for most of my clients as well.
A New Paradigm for Eczema
Just like when I was a kid, I wasn’t satisfied with the explanation of what causes eczema, so I developed my own process to explain the cycle of how it occurs.
Stage 1: Flare Up
You know when a flare up is coming because your body send you little signals in the form of tingle, slight itchiness or a burning sensation. On the inside the panic begins to set in and you’re thinking, “Oh no, not again!” These are the subtle hints that you’re body is unhappy and it’s trying to tell you. The flames have been stoked and a fire is beginning to burn inside.
From a physiological standpoint, your immune system is activated from one or more triggers like foods, chemicals, toxins, or microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses) and has begun attacking your body tissues. Having a genetic predisposition toward eczema or autoimmunity, and a leaky gut make this the perfect storm.
At this point, trying to stop or slow the flare is a good idea as it will help begin to reverse the inflammatory process. Start with your diet as many significant triggers for eczema are food related. At a minimum go gluten and dairy free, but likely you’ll find other foods that need to be avoided while you heal.
Getting stress under control right now is key as it’s often what pushes you over the edge into a flare. It’s hard to eliminate it, but try to manage stressors by maintaining boundaries, saying no, or asking for help. If you can completely eliminate a stressor (like avoiding a toxic person or situation) even better! Also, finding an outlet like journaling, deep breathing, meditation, or walks in nature can profoundly reduce the stress response.
Stage 2: Outbreak
Your flare up transitions to a full blown outbreak when the tingle, burn or minor itch escalates to constant itching causing red, inflamed skin with welts, wounds, and/or blisters. At this point it can appear to be treatment resistant since all of the root causes likely haven’t been addressed.
The outbreak occurs when the inflammatory process mediated by the immune system goes unchecked. The inflammatory chemicals have kicked up and are peaking resulting in your extreme discomfort and many symptoms. During this phase eczema can interfere with life, making social gatherings, work, sleep, and sanity difficult due to the incessant itching. There’s a full blown inflammatory fire raging inside.
Getting to the bottom of all of your triggers and root causes is essential now so you can heal. Addressing diet and stress may do the trick for some, but others may require deeper digging or testing which is easiest with assistance of a trained professional. Even though I do this for a living, I call upon my friends and colleagues to make sure I’m not missing anything. We can all use some help now and then!
If you haven’t begun dialing in your diet- there isn’t a better time. You need to focus on taming the fire burning within. Anti-inflammatory supplements and foods are super important now. This blog article I wrote provides a recipe, as well as 6 healing foods and supplements to help put out the flames.
Topically, some people may benefit simply from coconut oil, but I personally didn’t and many of my patients echo that sentiment. The same can be said of shea butter. However, by combining these an easy and wonderful healing salve can be made.
Eczema Healing Salve Recipe
- ½ cup unrefined, organic coconut oil
- ½ cup unrefined, organic shea butter
- 10 drops calendula essential oil
- 10 drops yarrow essential oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 5-10 drops frankincense essential oil
Mix these together in a bowl by hand or with a mixer. It will be hard and clumpy at first, but eventually will soften and everything will come together. Note: you can play with the essential oils as some people respond better to certain ones than others. If you can’t some of these, that’s fine too. These all have healing, calming or anti-inflammatory properties.
The most important thing to remember in the outbreak phase is the root causes. If you don’t identify and address them all, your eczema is likely to return at some point.
Stage 3: Healing
Relief is in sight! This is when you start to feel better and symptoms are less severe, but still present. You may or may not be itchy. Your skin still shows signs of irritation, but no open wounds and blisters. It may also appear thick, leathery, scaly, dark, or ashy now. The fire within is now just smoldering embers.
Your immune system is now ramping down and under control, but in physiological time things go slow which is why there are still visible signs (think of how long it takes to completely heal a cut or broken bone).
Steering clear of dietary triggers or any other triggers you’ve identified through self investigation or testing is still a must to maintain healing. Continue use of natural topicals to protect the skin and help rebuild integrity. Nutrients like vitamins A,C, D, and E, biotin, zinc, selenium, and collagen support healing and skin structure.
Stage 4: Clear Skin
Hooray!! When you’re suffering through an eczema flare you often don’t think this day will come, but it is possible to completely reverse eczema and have clear skin again. You’re skin is fully healed and looks great again. No more hiding in long sleeves or gloves!
Think of this stage as maintenance or dormancy. You immune system is finally calmed down and balanced so the attack on skin is over. The fire is out completely!
Maintaining a healthy diet, stress levels, and getting adequate sleep will help keep you here in your happy place.
Common Treatments for Eczema
Again, if you look eczema treatments up in Google, you’ll get a list that looks like this:
- Over-the-counter medications such cortisone cream, Benadryl cream, or antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, and Allegra)
- Prescription medications topical corticosteroids, oral steroids, and oral antihistamines.
- Moisturizers that contain petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or synthetic emollients like lanolin or glycerin
- Special baths with bleach, salt (sea salt or table salt), baking soda, epsoms salts, oatmeal, or apple cider vinegar.
- UV Light/Phototherapy
- Wet Dressings
- Stress Reduction
While the medications may be helpful at first for managing symptoms, they don’t address the root causes and the eczema returns. Long term, the topical creams can damage the integrity of the skin and the topical steroids and oral medications shut off the body’s natural inflammatory response which is counterproductive to healing the body.
The moisturizers typically suggested sometimes work and other times cause more irritation due to the ingredients. Unfortunately, if they do work it’s only addressing issues at the skin level and not what’s beneath the surface.
Special baths can definitely be helpful in managing symptoms, but some need to be use with caution. I am personally not a fan of the bleach baths, ever. Sea salt, table salt and apple cider vinegar can be great, however should be tested first since they could irritate open wounds. Oatmeal baths are also very soothing as long as you know you don’t have Celiac or it’s skin variant called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. If you do, you should probably avoid oatmeal completely as it’s often contaminated with gluten.
Phototherapy from the sun is my preferred use. While using phototherapy lamps that emit UV light definitely have benefit, there are a few more risks associated with them due to broader spectrum of the light rays, such a burning, blistering, accelerated aging/breakdown of the skin, and skin cancer. More recently narrow band UVB therapy, which uses a smaller spectrum and thus less radiation, is a better option for artificial light therapy.
Wet dressings can be very helpful in healing eczema when used with natural moisturizers. However, topical corticosteroids are often used and I believe they’re a bad long term strategy for the reasons given above.
My Methodology for Healing Eczema
While some of the commonly used treatments listed above can be helpful at soothing or even resolving some symptoms, they’re all missing the most important factor: addressing the ROOT CAUSES.
Even if you’re in remission and asymptomatic, you’re still at risk for a flare up because you haven’t addressed the important factors lingering beneath the surface. You’re trigger might be work, family, or financial stress, a stomach virus or infection, passing of a loved one or pet, a divorce or separation, moving to a new town or job, or even injuring yourself exercising.
My major trigger was always work related stress (or not addressing it) as it is for so many that suffer from eczema.
The good news is that I healed my eczema and we, together, can heal yours too.
My process starts with a detailed history, from birth until now, that identifies all of the contributing factors to your eczema and what potential root causes need to be investigated.
Next we order the appropriate tests to identify your specific and individual underlying causes.
From there, I design a comprehensive program based on your results and history that addresses all of your root causes in a systematic way. We don’t throw the kitchen sink at you all at once and hope it works. Instead, the plan is outlined in a step-by-step manner that makes it easy for you to follow and allows your body to heal.
If you’re tired of living in the eczema cycle of remissions and flare ups, or have an active, raging outbreak that itches so bad and looks so horrible it’s affecting every aspect of your life and you don’t think it will ever end, I invite you to work with me and my team to heal your eczema for good.
We’ll work together to put the pieces of your health puzzle in place. We’ll guide you at every step with a plan of action to get your body healing and skin happy again.
If you’d like 1-on-1 support troubleshooting which root causes are contributing to your Eczema, and get a specific plan to reverse it, the first step is to book a 1-hour “Eczema Root Cause Troubleshooting Session”.