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Often, I have been asked to recommend products for babies, kids, or adults suffering from eczema. Before compiling a list of eczema care products, I wanted to hear from a medical doctor about the nature of eczema and how to treat it. Dr. Myrto Ashe kindly agreed to share the knowledge she has accumulated in her 20+ years of practicing medicine. I highly value Dr. Myrto Ashe’s expertise, not only because she has a lot of experience but also because in her functional medicine practice, she focuses on curing diseases by improving the body’s natural ability to heal, as opposed to temporarily improving the symptoms with drugs that often have bad side effects.
What To Do About Eczema
By, Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH
Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a condition that leads to the use of several medications and cosmetics.
The basic problem in eczema is that the immune system overreacts and causes skin damage. This is called inflammation. The skin becomes dry, itchy, and breaks down. It may even get infected. Eczema affects both children and adults, and may improve by itself gradually over the years or persist. Traditionally, medicine has tried to provide the skin with a substance that will act as a barrier to irritants, and/or lock in moisture.
But one can also take a more comprehensive approach: eczema involves the skin and the immune system. If you want to repair the problem at the root of eczema, there are two issues to consider: how to improve the quality of the skin, and how to help the immune system function better. Skin quality improves when we have the right nutrients and beneficial bacteria. The immune system functions better when we avoid certain toxins and stress.
Here are some basic issues that need to be solved in eczema:
- The basic building blocks of skin: most Americans need more omega 3 fatty acids, more vitamin C and a good amount of protein. Once weaned, too many toddlers transition to a diet with many carbohydrates and not enough protein. They are picky, they may not be excited about eggs, chicken, fish, meat, beans and nuts. They may even be allergic to eggs, fish or nuts! Adults also typically eat too many starchy (and sugary!) carbohydrates.
- Some foods cause inflammation: omega 6 fatty acids (abundant in any dairy products and meat that don’t come from 100% grass-fed animals, and in any fish that was raised in captivity) are at the top of the list. They are also very high in corn and soybean oil, so as soon as children can eat processed food, they should avoid it!
- Grains are inflammatory for many people, and especially gluten-containing grains. This makes feeding a child very hard, I know. However, gluten just happens to be so constructed that the gut cannot break it down properly. The gluten itself causes increased intestinal permeability in everyone: some repair it faster than others. Any leaky gut causes inflammation, however.
- Stress is inflammatory: it is perceived by the body just like a toxin or an inflammatory food. In the case of small children, this is about parental stress. The parents are the ones that should learn and adopt “stress antidote” techniques, and aim to reduce the stress in their lives by reducing the number of activities and busy-ness. Sometimes it requires therapy: if we learned from our parents that the world is an unsafe place, we tend to transmit that to our children even when circumstances have changed.
- Most soaps, shampoos, detergents, etc… strip the skin of important protective substances and aggravate the problem further. You should begin by banning consumer items with the words “antimicrobial” on them, because they contain triclosan, a harmful chemical (look at everything you own, from toothbrushes, to toothpaste, pencils, shoe liners and of course hand soap). Next, use as little soap as possible. Laundry detergents can also be a problem, as residue stays on clothes: you can find non-detergent laundry soap.
- Finally, you can help the skin with barrier substances. Irina’s article will consider simple edibles like coconut oil, olive oil, etc… as well as creams and ointments especially designed for eczema. As is the case too often in medicine, narrow focus on protecting and calming the skin sometimes happens at the expense of what we already know about protecting the body from hormone disruptors.
About Dr. Myrto Ashe
Myrto Angela Ashe, MD, MPH is a family physician with 20+ years’ experience in conventional medicine. She trained at McGill University, Brown University and U.C. Berkeley. After a close family member was diagnosed with a chronic condition that failed to respond to conventional treatment, Dr. Ashe began to explore alternative options, stumbled upon functional medicine and was so impressed she decided to completely change her orientation. She now provides functional medicine consultations to address common or uncommon illnesses. She specializes in reversing chronic disease by enhancing the body’s natural ability to heal.
For more information, please visit Dr. Myrto Ashe’s website here.