Eczema, also called “atopic dermatitis”, is a common inflammatory skin condition affecting many adults as well as children. It is thought that eczema affects 15% of all children. Eczema typically appears on the face, hands, elbows, but can be anywhere on the skin. It is described as itchy, dry, and rash-like patches and called the “itch that rashes.”
Eczema can be caused by environmental allergens such as pollen, chemicals, soaps, detergents, and certain fabrics. Eczema can also be aggravated by change in stress, a change in seasons, and any disruption to the skin barrier. In addition, eczema is thought to be associated with a disruption in intestinal health leading to an immune response resulting in inflammation triggered by certain allergens.
How does Chinese medicine view eczema?
When diagnosing eczema in Chinese Medicine, it is often associated with dampness. Dampness is a condition that arises from the body not being able to move fluids properly. Think of dampness as you see humidity in nature; excess moisture that is stuck and sticky. This is very similar to how you feel if you have dampness in the body.
Dampness can result from a poor diet eating foods that are too raw, cold, sweet, or damp forming foods (which include the fatty, fried, or overtly spicy foods), living in damp environments, or from over-medication. Dampness can be seen in the body as fluid deposits (edema), cysts or overgrowth of yeasts, bacteria, or parasites. Some conditions in addition to eczema associated with dampness include: blisters, water retention, diarrhea, productive coughs, edema, and arthritis especially osteoarthritis.
How can you treat eczema using Chinese Medicine?
The use of acupuncture as well as dietary modifications can be used to help resolve eczema. Certain acupuncture points target clearing dampness as well as helping the spleen do its job of transporting and transforming fluids (which help dry up the excess moisture in the body). In addition to eating foods that can resolve dampness, liver healthy foods are also recommended. See below for foods to add to your diet to help resolve dampness, foods to avoid and other treatment options for eczema.
Treatment options for eczema:
• Typical treatments: hypoallergenic moisturizers and salves. Look for herbs like calendula, yarrow, comphrey, lavender, and chamomile in salves as these will provide nourishment, decrease inflammation, and sooth the skin.
• Exploration of food allergies: Recently, there have been numerous studies that have linked food allergies to eczema. It is estimated that 1/3 of children with eczema had a food allergy. Current research is mixed on what type of foods most commonly cause eczema but it may vary with the individual and can be determined by elimination diet or food allergy testing.
• Probiotics: current research exploring relationship between gut health and eczema has shown that probiotics can help improve symptoms of eczema by strengthening the GI tract and improve intestinal health.
Dietary Recommendations for the treatment of eczema:
• Examples of foods that can resolve dampness include:
Corn, barley, rice, mushrooms, celery, lettuce, pumpkin, lentils, garlic, horseradish, and beverages such as green, raspberry, chamomile, and jasmine teas.
Others include: lettuce, mustard greens, cucumber, mushrooms, daikon radish, onion. Cooking with spices such as turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cumin, and fennel are also great at decreasing inflammation, clearing dampness, and regulating qi.
Foods to avoid if there is dampness in the body:
- Dairy products
- Concentrated fruit juices
- Deep fried and fatty foods
- Refined wheat products
If you suspect you or your child has eczema, please consult with your primary health provider for further evaluation and recommendations, these listed here are suggestions and do not take the place of a medical diagnosis.
Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc is a Naturopathic Physician and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA. She is a strong advocate for patients reaching their optimum health goals, and also has a passion for helping people with food allergies and Celiac disease. For more information, please see her website at www.startingptacupuncture.com.
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Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition: third edition. California: North Atlantic Books.
Pizzorno J. et al. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 2006: 3rd edition.
Rosenfeldt V, et al. Effect of probiotics on gastrointestinal symptoms and small intestinal permeability in children with atopic dermatitis. J Pediatr. (2004)Nov;145(5):612-6.