Have Eczema? Look at the Gut
Eczema and Your Gut
Eczema and Your Gut
No matter how minor or severe your child’s eczema is the symptoms are the same – red, itchy and inflamed patches of skin. Preventing outbreaks can be very frustrating for a parent who is often directed to using corticosteroid creams as a solution. Although the use of topical steroids often work wonderfully to improve symptoms, you have to be very careful depending on the strength of the steroid and its frequency of use.
As an alternative, consider addressing your child’s root cause for presenting with eczema. Although more than one root cause often contributes to its development, eczema’s etiology often starts in the gut.
Eczema (or, atopic dermatitis) affects 15-30% of children and 2-10% of adults (Simon et al, Adv Ther, 2014) with most children impacted before they are five years old and 60% of them developing eczema before their first birthday. Forty percent of children still experience outbreaks into their adult years (Bantz et al, J Clin Cell Immunol., 2014). With such high percentages, it is not surprising a clinically important root cause would be an imbalance in the immune and gastrointestinal systems.
Stages of Eczema in Childhood
Infantile Phase (up until 2 years old): Although affecting each child uniquely, the characteristic pattern of symptoms usually start around 6-12 weeks of age in susceptible cases. It often starts on the cheeks and chin as a dry patch of skin and can also be found at the back of the neck, the outside of the elbows or legs. The dry skin becomes itchy and scaly with frequent scratching often causing it to worsen with crusting, cracking and “weeping” of clear fluid. Outbreaks tend to correlate with exposure to trigger foods, teething, emotional stressors and /or infections.
Childhood Phase (up until puberty): The rash is more likely to occur behind the knees, inside the elbows, on the wrists, ankles and hands. There is often subconscious scratching in the middle of the night increasing the risk of “lichenification” or the skin becoming thickened, somewhat raised and hardened. In addition, there is more risk of bacterial infection from the playground or local swimming pool – potentially causing rapid spread of bacteria in affected areas. In some kids, eczema goes into remission only to return with the surge of pubertal hormones or the daily application of irritating make-up and/or acne skin products.
A Defense System out of Balance
Approximately 70% of the immune system is located in the gut in Peyer’s patches lining the walls of the intestine. It is here where the first line of defense waits for incoming bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Eczema can be the end result of this elaborate defense mechanism if a child’s relatively immature immune system is exposed too early or too frequently to a reactive food protein.
Daily exposure to a food trigger mistakened by the immune system for a pathogen can set off a cascade of antibody reactions and localized gut inflammation. Over time, the gut wall becomes compromised allowing sensitized antibodies to cross to the systemic side and potentially induce an autoimmune disease like eczema.
Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity?
Blood tests can identify and measure the immune system’s reactivity for specific foods. Two types of antibodies commonly triggered are IgE (immunoglobulin E) and IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies. A food allergy is an immediate immune reaction with production of IgE antibodies. Because of the potential for acute danger, the use of an Epi-pen is often recommended with severe food allergies.
To differentiate, IgG food reactions can be delayed with symptoms evident up to 72 hours post food exposure. IgG reactions are more associated with autoimmune conditions because of the often associated chronic inflammation which works more slowly to imbalance immune function. The more chronic nature of IgG reactions provides us with the opportunity to avoid potentially more severe autoimmune diseases if gut imbalances are addressed early in life.
Eczema is a classic example of an autoimmune disease with the potential for many different etiologies.
The start of eczema in an infant can often be traced back to early exposure to a specific food. Research confirms developing eczema before the age of one significantly correlates with higher odds of food allergies and/or sensitivities (Luccioli et al., Allergot Int. 2015). Interestingly, the first food typically introduced is cow’s milk and IgG food sensitivities to dairy products are often identified as one of the key triggers to eczema in childhood.
It is important to stress hypersensitivity reactions causing gut and immune imbalances are individual to the patient’s own immune system. Although studies indicate cow’s milk as often responsible for triggering eczema in infants (Wefel et al., Allergy 2007) this may not be the case for your child; it may be another entirely different food. Immune reactions are specific to the individual so it is best to take the time and get IgG testing done. After all, treating eczema today often means preventing a more serious autoimmune condition later in life.
The Healing Power of Infrared Saunas
The experience of getting into a hot car on a sunny winter day is to experience the power of the sun’s infrared light. Similarly, this infrared energy in a sauna will penetrate deep into your body – approximately 1.5 inches deep!
Unlike a regular sauna, health benefits from infrared therapy are achieved in a cooler, more comfortable environment. Saunas relying on electricity or steam warm the air first and then your body to increase perspiration; this increase in air temperature and humidity may also increase your heart rate and respiration with frequent use. Elderly or asthmatic patients are thus often prohibited from benefiting from regular sauna use over long periods of time.
Rather, infrared saunas use ceramic heaters producing radiant (ie. infrared) heat. It is this radiant heat which can penetrate deep into your organs without having to heat the air in between. Infrared wavelengths cause slight vibrations at the cellular level enhancing metabolic changes between cells and increasing body temperature (Kaur, 2006). By doing so, the average person sweats 2-3x more at much lower temperatures (45-50 Celsius), enhancing the experience and the number of patients who can benefit from infrared sauna therapy.
Infrared heat can quickly stimulate your body to sweat releasing toxins stored in fat tissue as well as your organs. The liver, kidneys and other internal organs can become overwhelmed in today’s environment with estrogen, chemicals and heavy metals. Infrared saunas encourage movement of blood to the body’s surface resulting in increased elimination of toxins.
Infrared saunas have also been medically proven to help lower blood pressure, as well as treat type 2 diabetes and improve cardiovascular function in people suffering from congestive heart failure. Since blood vessels dilate during infrared sauna, blood pressure is usually lower at the conclusion of a session than when you started. Repeated exposure to sauna therapy will stimulate this vasodilating action improving the flexibility of blood vessels and lowering blood pressure. According to several clinical studies in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, infrared saunas have already helped many people treat high blood pressure. These studies also measured enhanced tissue oxygenation promoting the formation of new blood vessels which are often critical in the rehabilitation of a weakened cardiovascular system post heart surgery, heart attack and stroke.
Are there Any Side Effects?
Adequate hydration is important during sauna therapy. Due to the increased mineral and electrolyte elimination (as well as stored toxins), a multi-mineral and electrolyte replacement supplement should be used as well as drinking water.
It is advisable to start slowly with temperatures around 35 Celsius for 10-15 minutes. As your body learns to sweat more effectively, the duration of the therapy can be increased. Ideally, you want to work up to one hour sessions with 30 second cold showers every 15 minutes. This rapid change of temperature enhances organ detoxification and can be considered a mild cardiovascular exercise for your body’s blood vessels. These very brief cooling showers every 15 minutes also help to build up the strength of your immune system.
If you are taking medications, be sure to tell your healthcare practitioner as drugs like diuretics (commonly referred to as “water pills”) and beta blockers can affect heart rate as well as your body’s ability to sweat.
Making sure your body’s organs of elimination (liver, intestines, kidney and lymphatics) are functioning well is key prior to the start of sauna therapy. If this is not possible, then concurrent cleansing is still effective although you might experience some adverse reactions such as headaches, nausea and fatigue as examples.
With so many benefits, it is easy to see why infrared saunas are catching on and becoming more popular with individuals across Ontario. Mahaya Cambridge uses infrared saunas in their naturopathic protocols to assist people in improving their overall health. If you feel you may benefit from using an infrared sauna please contact us at www.mahayacambridge.com or call us at 519-267-48