What is Childhood Eczema?
Childhood eczema is characterized by dry skin, with patches that are red and intensely itchy. These eczema patches may ooze, become scaly, crusted, or hardened. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the condition can negatively impact child’s and parents’ quality of life. Incidences of chronic allergic skin conditions such as baby eczema has increased in the last fifty to eighty years.
Conventional treatment for baby and childhood eczema includes anti-inflammatory medications, like topical steroids or topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), which are used to treat inflammation. Occasionally, oral anti-inflammatory agents are needed to treat the most severe cases.
What causes childhood eczema?
According to the National Eczema Association, childhood eczema “tends to be more common in families that have a history of eczema, hay fever, and asthma… Children with eczema may be more likely to develop allergies or asthma but one does not cause the other.”
Childhood eczema is a very common thing in my practice, and parents tend to treat or ease this skin condition topically as opposed to looking into kids’ diet and surrounding environment for potential triggers.
In her book, The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care, Dr. Sally F. Morell claims that childhood illnesses such as allergies, asthma and eczema have become prevalent in the last fifty years and have “nothing to do with genetic changes. Our genetic material would take hundreds if not thousand of years to change this much.” She believes that the answers to allergies, asthma and eczema can be found in the many dietary and lifestyle changes that have occurred during the last fifty years. Just a few decades ago, baby and childhood eczema were a rare care.
Why Just a few decades ago, childhood eczema was a rare case?
What is different in the lives of children today, and which of these differences may be responsible for the increases rates of childhood eczema? The answer is this: today, our children grow up fundamentally differently.
“Until the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of children’s lives happened outside in the company of peers and away from the watchful eyes of any adult… During the summer, children were out all day and got really dirty, and came in only to eat and then go to bed. In contrast, one or two generations later, children rarely play any game that isn’t adult supervised, rarely run in a pack with their friends; they have schedules to follow most of the time. Or they are home in an air-conditioned environment watching television or playing computer games. What has changed is the culture of childhood, which in spite of the best efforts of any particular family, is difficult to overcome.” (1)
The Hygiene Hypothesis
Higher rates of childhood eczema has to do with the Hygiene Hypothesis, which basically claims that modern life is a lot more “clean” than in the past. Since the introduction of technology into our lives and homes, children are exposed to fewer germs and less dirt; children play less with their peers; children have almost no contact with animals and soil. Mothers clean everything with Lysol and other antimicrobial wipes and detergents. Nowadays our indoor lives are almost entirely germ-free and in a sense too clean.
The result of all this is a weaker immune system, which has been passed from mothers to their children in a quiet and seemingly unnoticeable manner. Our children’s immune systems don’t get the indispensable “workout/training” they need, which happens naturally when they play outside and come in constant contact with dirt and soil. Our immune systems become compromised (susceptible to illnesses after consuming contaminated foods) and overactive (with asthma, allergies and eczema). Dr. Weston A. Price had researched indigenous cultures for years and concluded that indigenous children had virtually no immune diseases, such as childhood eczema.
Which role does our diet play in immune diseases, such as childhood eczema?
Our culture is rich in foods that deplete the body’s immune system, such as white sugar, white flour, and industrial fats and oils. Pasteurised dairy products create an immediate immune response every time they are consumed, leading to the debilitation of the immune system.
Bacteria: children’s best friends
With all the hype about bacteria, scientists and doctors have been forced to seriously revise their views on the topic. We now know that we have 10 times more bacteria in and on our body than cells.
As babies get through the birth canal, their skin and gut get colonized with mother’s microorganisms. If mother has thriving beneficial gut flora, baby will get the gift of healthy gut bacteria. However, if the mother is prone to candida and yeast infections from excess consumption of refined sugar and/or antibiotic use – “her baby may start off life prone to digestive problems, yeast infections, and thrush, with allergic diseases” 2 such as childhood eczema.
There are more and more cases of baby eczema in my practice and I instruct mothers to interpret it as a sign that baby’s immune system might be compromised and their gut needs immediate support through breast milk or nutritional supplements if baby is formula fed.
As baby grows, he/she should undergo a daily restoration of the gut flora, first from colostrum and breast milk and then through the consumption of fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. In the past, growing children used to ingest a good amount of local soil and dirt, lick stones, drink well water, and share some germs with their friends. All that ensured that child’s gut is constantly replenished with gut bacteria which is crucial for a healthy immune system.
How is gut health related to childhood eczema?
Unfortunately, today’s children grow up much differently than the scenario described above, and most of them have what is called gut dysbiosis which is caused due to:
- failure to have proper implantation of microorganisms at birth, either because of imbalances in the mother’s vaginal flora or C-section.
- antibiotic use, either by the mother in the perinatal period or by the child.
- chlorinated water
- vaccinations, which have a dramatic adverse effect on the health of the gut flora.
- improper diet, in particular the failure to use local cultured foods in the child’s diet; use of pasteurized dairy products; and inclusion of processed foods in the diet.
- overcontrol of child’s environment, including sanitation of bottles, limited exposure to dirt, animals and other people.
- and finally, the philosophical failure to understand the true relationship between the human being and everything else “out there”, thereby projecting fear and antagonism onto the natural world, which instead deserves our awe and humility.
Eczema Treatment Protocol
Treatment plan with food:
- introduce fermented foods into your child’s diet. This step is very helpful to heal their gut and replenish good bacteria.
- allergies to citrus fruits, eggs, wheat, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, peanuts, soy and/or chocolate are related to eczema. Use an elimination diet to check for any possible food allergies in a breastfeeding mother’s diet or in the child’s diet.
- children with eczema seem to have an essential fatty acid deficiency. This results in the decreased synthesis of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and increase in inflammatory response. Increasing the dietary intake of omega-3 essential fatty acids, either by eating more fatty fish (e.g. wild mackerel, herring, and salmon) or through consuming flaxseed oil or fish oil supplements helps to alleviate childhood eczema. You can add omega-3 oils to baby’s formula or consume it yourself if you are breastfeeding.
- Include cooked/steamed carrots and leafy greens which are excellent choices of foods high in potassium and vitamin A or cartecortecoids in your child’s diet.
- Include anti-inflammatory bio-flavonoids foods such as organic berries in your child’s diet frequently (provided they are not allergic to berries).
- Include vegetable soups in your child’s diet daily. Garlic and onions contain sulfur and amino acids beneficial to the skin. If your child is a picky eater, you can strain the soup to remove anything floating in it, and add gluten free noodles, brown rice, or barley just before serving it.
Treatment plan with nutritional supplements:
Introduce the following nutritional supplements one at a time. Observe how your child responses to the first nutrient and add another after a week or so.
- Culture kid’s gut and colon with probiotics. Use a good quality powder probiotic for kids obtained from the refrigerated section at your health food store. To see baby eczema disappear, you have got to be very diligent with probiotics. Remember that skin would be the last organ to heal as the body gives priority to internal organs.
- Supplement with nutritional plant enzymes which contain at least these four enzymes: protease, amylase, lipase, and cellulase. For children under age two, look for a children’s enzyme formula. Capsules may be opened and mixed with the first bite of food. Enzymes should be taken with each meal and with all snacks. Enzymes help to break down food particles and help to halt adverse food reactions. In my practice, enzyme have been very effective in treating baby/childhood eczema!
- Grapefruit seed extract should be included for its antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties (do not confuse this with grape seed extract, a potent antioxidant). Because it has a very sour and bitter taste, it should be mixed with a favourit food or a bit of maple syrup or natural fruit syrup. Grapefruit seed extract has a strong action, and only a very few drops are necessary. Follow the directions on the bottle as dose goes by body weight.
- Black currant seed, borage, and evening primrose oil are good sources of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), and essential fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. (note: evening primrose oil should not be given to a child who has a fever!). Flax seed oil is also very beneficial in the treatment of eczema. Flax seed oil must be stored in the fridge and should not be heated, as heating destroys its medicinal properties. To warm the oil before applying it, rub it in your hands and apply on baby’s skin. Do this daily for a month, until you see improvement on skin.
- A good quality whole-food based multivitamin for kids provides a good source of vitamin A, E, Selenium and Zinc which are essential for repairing skin tissue.
- Apply calendula cream or gel that contains tea tree oil to the eczema patches one to several times a day.
(1) Morell, Sally Fallon., and Thomas S. Cowan. “15.” The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends, 2013. 241. Print.
(2) Morell, Sally Fallon., and Thomas S. Cowan. “15.” The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends, 2013. 242. Print.