I remember seeing little red patches of skin for the first time on my son’s belly when he was three months old. It wasn’t eczema, or at least that’s what I was telling myself. My husband had severe eczema as a child and so did my dad; I’d been hoping my son wouldn’t suffer the same diagnosis. At our next wellness check, our naturopath confirmed my worst fears. My son had eczema.
We were exclusively breastfeeding so I was tested for food allergies as we’d most likely be mirroring one another’s sensitivities. While we were waiting for the results I removed the most likely culprits; dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten and citrus. Through elimination and reintroduction, I quickly determined my son was reacting to dairy and gluten at a minimum.
Three years on and we have managed my son’s eczema almost exclusively through nutrition. His eczema is extremely mild or non-existent when we’re on top of our game and eating well. I have a medical background, having worked as a veterinarian for many years, which has helped me decipher the language used by doctors. To say the medical profession has been a disappointment in regards to my son’s eczema is a massive understatement. One allergist suggested nutrition has no bearing on eczema and that we should use cortisone cream up to eight times a day because it is “natural” and therefore safe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Eczema is a complex, frustrating and heartbreaking condition. Hearing my son scratching in the night as a baby made me wish I could go through it for him. But, in a way it has been a blessing. It has helped me dig deeper as a mother and ensure that my son’s diet is optimal. Our whole family’s diet has improved because of it. If my little guy didn’t have eczema perhaps I wouldn’t have been as diligent about avoiding foods that offer very little nutritional value. If he didn’t have eczema, I would never have discovered the incredible benefits of bone broth or cod liver oil or gelatin.
Tracy’s story illustrates the power of food and nutrition in healing eczema. The incidence of eczema has increased by 500% over the last 40 years and the exact cause is unclear. What is clear is the increase in eczema (as well as other childhood conditions such as asthma, autism, A.D.H.D. and allergies) has coincided with two things:
– 1 – Decline of proper nutrition for kids
– 2 – Increased toxins in the environment.
Eczema is rapidly rising in Australia with as many as one in four children developing the disease before the age of two and removal of an identified allergenic food from the diet can significantly improve eczema symptoms. Food intolerances and leaky gut syndrome are also implicated in eczema meaning certain foods can affect your child’s skin and eczema symptoms even if they don’t have diagnosed food allergies. Here are the 5 foods you are feeding your kids that could be triggering their eczema
- Cow’s milk, cheese and other dairy products
- Wheat and other gluten containing grains
- Vegetable oil and margarine
Cow’s milk and other dairy
It is clear that multiple food allergens serve as triggers for eczema and in my clinical practice, I have found eliminating milk and other dairy products as a first-line treatment has a positive outcome in many cases of eczema.
Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is the most common food allergy in infants and young children, affecting 2% to 3% of the general population
There can be some confusion around dairy so let me break it down for you. Firstly, there are two main nutritional components to dairy products, the protein, Casein and the sugar, lactose. It is the protein, casein that is usually the problem when it comes to eczema. An immune reaction occurs as a result of ingesting casein which can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, gas, bloating, headaches, dermatitis, skin allergies, and eczema.
Heat treatment has been shown to make casein more allergenic and resistant to digestion by infants. Unfortunately, it is a legal requirement for all milk to be pasteurised (heat treated) in Australia and many other countries around the world! This is one of the reasons I choose raw milk for my family and get around the legalities by owning shares in a cow! There are plenty of dairy alternatives around these days so it is a fairly simple process to remove dairy from your child’s diet.
Wheat and other gluten containing grains
Although eczema is a skin condition it requires a holistic approach to heal long term. This holistic approach centres around gut healing and immune balancing and gluten is damaging to both of these areas of our children’s health. Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt and triticale but let’s focus our attention on wheat for a moment.
Modern day wheat is nothing like the ancient nutritious grain it once was. With advancements in farming and processing technology came genetic modification, pesticides refining and bleaching all of which stripped the nutritional content and increased the toxic load of this very popular food. Studies have shown that many children with atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) also have a wheat allergy. If you want to know more about wheat check out this documentary by the brilliant Cyndi O’Meara.
Now let’s look at the broader picture of Gluten. There is a growing evidence that skin conditions such as eczema are strongly related to gastro intestinal conditions such as gluten sensitivity. Atopic dermatitis is 3 times more prevalent in people with coeliac disease. and a gluten-free diet has been shown to improve a range of dermatological conditions such as eczema.
There is no doubt that removing wheat and/or gluten reduces the load on your child’s system and improve their eczema symptoms.
Corn is another example of a relatively healthy food turned toxic due to modern day farming and processing. Today most of the corn we eat is genetically modified and highly processed. Worse still, we don’t even realise we are eating it as it is used to make dozens of different ingredients which are hidden in the processed and packaged foods we eat. Because it is gluten free corn is used is many gluten free foods but it can cause digestive upset in many people especially those with allergies and sensitivities (such as children with eczema)
Although there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence that corn consumption is linked to eczema, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and I have personally witnessed the reduction of eczema symptoms in many of the children I have worked with over the years when eliminating corn from the diet. Many of these children had increased their corn consumption after cutting out gluten without even realising it!
Vegetable oils and Margarine
Eczema is an inflammatory condition so it makes sense to reduce foods that promote inflammation in the body. The balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in our diet is one of the biggest determinants of how much inflammation we have within our bodies. Ideally, we should have a ratio of 1:1 omega 6: omega 3 but in our modern western diet this ratio is typically 16:1, meaning we have 16 times more omega 6 than we should! The over-consumption of omega 6 fatty acids in our diet is a major contributor to inflammatory conditions such as eczema.
Vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oil are high in omega 6 fats and are added to almost every food you will find on the supermarket shelf. You have to look hard to find foods that are free of vegetable oils but it is possible and worth the extra effort.
Margarine is basically one of the vegetable oils I mentioned above which has gone through chemical processing to make it a solid. It is deemed as healthy by mainstream health authorities and practitioners because of it’s non-existent saturated fat levels. What we now know is that saturated fats don’t have the negative health consequences that we once thought they did
Not only does margarine contain omega 6 rich fats which promote inflammation, it also contains man-made trans fats, artificial preservatives, colours and chemicals such as bleach and solvents used in the extraction process. Not a combination beneficial to a child with eczema (or any child for that matter!)
Eggs are one of the most common food allergens with experts estimating that up to 2% of children are allergic to eggs! Skin reactions, such as swelling, a rash, hives or eczema are just some of the potential symptoms of an egg allergy.
The combination of egg allergy and eczema is a risk factor for asthma. A small study of children with both these allergic conditions, 80% also suffered from asthma
Over the years of clinical practice as a naturopath, I have found how important it is to have a holistic approach when treating kids with eczema. While removing problematic foods from the diet is a big piece of the eczema puzzle, increasing nutrient levels, balancing the immune system and enhancing gut health are all equally as important.
If you want to ease the pain or suffering of your child’s eczema condition, then I invite you to join my Natural Super Kids program, a 6-week comprehensive online program where I have distilled my core nutrition and naturopathic knowledge for you to make your kids as healthy as possible! During the program we work on building your kids health together and addressing the underlying drivers of eczema.
The next round of Natural Super Kids starts on Monday March 13th, join us here