Eczema is a catch-all term to describe a medical condition in which patches of skin become rough and inflamed, which can cause itching and bleeding.
There is debate amongst the medical profession as to what causes eczema. Some doctors simply say it’s a case of sensitive skin, while others are now understanding and investigating the link between eczema and other inflammatory or gut conditions.
Eczema among children is becoming incredibly common in our modern-day environment. For some it is a mildly annoying patch of dermatitis that hints at other health concerns, while for others it is painful, raw, prone to infection, itchy, and in extreme cases covers the entire body.
Many parents tell me their young children are kept awake at night by the itching and pain of their eczema. Living with that level of discomfort is hard enough, but you can also imagine the toll this loss of sleep plays on both the child and their parents, so it's worth working on a solution.
What causes eczema?
At the BePure Clinic we have found eczema and other skin conditions are related to systemic inflammation. Inflammation in young children is often linked to an exaggerated immune response within the body, especially within the gut.
Inflammation occurs in the gut for a couple of reasons, but one of the most common ones is a food intolerance. This usually points to the individual eating something that does not agree with them. The most common culprit we see is gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and its consumption stimulates the production of a protein called zonulin in everyone who eats it.
Zonulin is currently the only known regulator of the tight junctions between the cell walls of the digestive tract. The wall of the digestive tract is meant to serve as a barrier between us and the outside world. However, zonulin can loosen these tight junctions, allowing undigested food and other inflammatory particles to pass into the bloodstream.
These undigested foods (particularly proteins) can then pass through the intestinal barrier and into our bloodstream, where they are tagged as an invader by our immune system. This can cause increased inflammation across the whole body and is known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.
If you are susceptible to the proteins and lectins in gluten, this can lead to an immune response, contributing to a whole host of immune conditions, including eczema.
The number one thing we recommend at BePure in this instance is to eat a clean diet, free of gluten and pro-inflammatory foods, such as damaged fats, sugar, alcohol, preservatives and highly refined grains. This is important to think of for your child and for yourself if you are breastfeeding.
For many children, eczema can also be a sign that they do not tolerate dairy very well. Dairy contains some complex proteins which are difficult to breakdown and therefore can also initiate inflammation. When trying to tackle eczema I recommend removing both dairy and gluten for a time period of at least 30 days to notice an improvement. If you do notice an improvement, it is important to keep going with this way of eating too!
How can I treat, prevent or improve eczema?
If you or your kids are experiencing eczema as a result of inflammation or a food intolerance, taking a quality Omega 3 fish oil to balance the ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s in your body will be beneficial due to its high anti-inflammatory properties.
If taking gluten and dairy out of your child’s diet (or your own diet if you are breastfeeding) has not resulted in improvements - it may be worth getting them tested to see if there is another food that is the culprit. Other common allergens include eggs and nuts.
Another reason that children may have inflammation in the gut, which can then manifest as eczema, is due to a dysbiotic microflora. Microflora is the term to describe the living bacteria inside our gut. Dysbiotic means there is an imbalance of the good bacteria compared with unfriendly, sometimes pathogenic, bacteria. This can happen when babies don’t get enough probiotics or good bacteria early in life, or they have an dose of antibiotics which can whip out all the good guys.
It’s essential to acknowledge that babies will inherit their gut microflora from their mother too - which means that a mother’s gut health is extremely important! This is something to consider if your child was born by caesarean, as they may have missed out on a big dose of their first good probiotics.
“The number one thing we recommend at BePure is to eat a clean diet, free of gluten and pro-inflammatory foods, such as damaged fats, sugar, alcohol, preservatives and highly refined grains,” says Ben.
To ensure that your baby or child’s gut microflora is as well balanced as possible, it’s important to first of all focus on your own gut health. If you are breastfeeding, it is a good idea to take a probiotic daily and look to include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha as much as possible.
If you child is a little older, feel free to include fermented foods in their diet and even mix a probiotic capsule into their food. Bone and chicken broth is also our favourite gut healing food. The amino acids in bone and chicken broth help to nourish and heal the gut lining, providing more of a barrier against inflammatory foods, meaning your child is less likely to react to food intolerances in the first place.
Eczema is a very difficult condition to experience, especially for young kids and babies and the symptom of eczema itself sometimes needs managing. Epsom salts baths can provide welcome relief from the itching, as well as boosting your body's magnesium levels. When choosing a soothing topical cream, it’s also important to choose a product that doesn’t add additional strain on the liver with unnecessary chemicals, steroids or parabens.