What causes eczema?
If you see a dermatologist, you’ll be told that eczema is a disease of the skin. An inflammatory issue, which causes excess dryness, irritation and rashes. A problem with the barrier function causing moisture loss.
Often, you’ll be given no specific reason for having eczema, except that if you’re ‘atopic’ (suffer from allergies, hayfever, asthma, etc) it’s a buy-one-get-one-free deal.
So you’re sent away with a prescription of emulsifiers, steroid creams, perhaps even wrap or oral steroids if it gets bad. Told to avoid biological washing powders, keep your house free of dust and keep slapping on the petrol-based moisturisers.
Treating the symptoms
So what’s happening here? As you can see, everything our healthcare system is set up for is treating the symptoms.
Got a headache? Take an aspirin.
Depressed? Take a different sort of pill.
Got a rash? Use a cream
Now don’t get me wrong. This works for a bit. Steroid creams can be very effective at reducing inflammation locally. But let’s be clear. This is spraying water onto a burning fire. If the fire isn’t raging too hard, and your bucket of water is big enough, you’ll win.
But as we treat the symptoms, we’re ignoring the underlying causes. And often, the treatments we’re given actually exacerbate the underlying issue.
So what happens? We end up with a bigger fire. That’s burning more intensely. And the bucket of water is no match. So you’re given a stronger steroid cream. A bucket upgrade. Which is great. For a time. Then the fire gets bigger and you have to up your game.
Eventually, you find yourself on the strongest creams you can get (I’ve been prescribed Dermovate on repeat). Your skin starts to thin. As soon as you stop, your skin flares like crazy. The fire is out of control, and your bucket is running dry. It’s an exhausting battle.
The hormonal effect of corticosteroids
What you may not realise, is that steroid creams, especially the potent ones, can get systematically absorbed into your bloodstream. The leaflets may dismiss this as a ‘low risk’ but when you’re applying creams every day, for weeks, the effects add up. These creams are only meant to be used for short periods of time, but doctor’s have nothing else to offer, so they often get prescribed for years.
Corticosteroids are very important hormones within your body that control inflammation. A huge number of processes are controlled via your corticosteroid hormones, and now an external, artificial source is being added which your body can’t control.
What follows is down regulation of your own hormone production. Meaning that if you stop the creams, you’re left with suboptimal levels, making the inflammation worse than before.
This can lead to issues with adrenal output (adrenals are glands that sit on top of your kidneys which produce the hormones), leading to fatigue, frequent illness, inability to cope with stress, weight gain (or loss) etc.
If you keep relying upon steroid creams, you will very likely reach a crisis point where your body will start to suffer considerably. Several years ago, I reached the point where the creams were no longer working effectively, my energy was in my boots. I was a regular gym goer, eating what I thought was healthily, yet I was missing weeks of training and having days off work as I now know my body was suffering greatly. Not just that but I started experiencing other issues such as major food intolerances, gut disbiosis, insomnia.
Getting to the root cause of eczema, psoriasis, acne and other skin conditions
So as you can see, the conventional method of treating eczema doesn’t work. At best it’s a band-aid, at worst it’s a dangerous path to bigger issues.
So let’s look a bit deeper. The body contains a number of ‘systems’ which are closely regulated and linked to each other. No issues
The body contains a number of ‘systems’ which are closely regulated and linked to each other. None of these systems are isolated, which is why our healthcare system is flawed.
A dermatologist or ‘skin doctor’ has very specialised training in all areas of the skin, but only a basic knowledge of the rest of the body. So it’s hard for them to see the bigger picture.
I was told by several dermatologists that “food had no impact” but when probing further, got blank responses.
One of the most important organs within the human body is our gut. All our energy, our macro and micronutrients are derived from our digestion. Often seen as a simple ‘utility’ which processes food, the gut is actually our second brain, linked via a highly complex neural system to our brain and most other organs in the body. It’s also our first line of defence between our body and the outside world.
So when we eat food, we’re initiating a highly complex process to digest this food, extract the nutrients and provide the raw materials for many processes. As well as keeping the nasty stuff out via excretion.
The leaky gut connection
And this is where it can go wrong. Usually, your intestines create a very finely tuned barrier, which allows digested nutrients to pass into the bloodstream but prevent toxins and undigested food from entering.
As we expose ourselves to ‘stressors’ such as environmental toxins (eg pesticides), processed foods, ingredients which we may have sensitivities or allergies to, antibiotics, painkillers, gluten, bacteria, viruses and parasites, etc this intestinal barrier can become compromised. Lifestyle factors such as stress, lack of sleep, malnutrition also contribute.
Leaky gut is a colloquial term which describes a condition whereby the barrier is hyperpermeable. In simple terms, the tiny gaps which let nutrients pass through, become larger.It’s a well documented ‘natural’ process, and drugs manufacturers often take advantage of this to help the delivery of their drugs.
When this happens excessively, undigested food and toxins can reach our bloodstream.
The immune system
So, we’ve explained the delicate balance of the gut, how it digests food and protects ourselves from toxins which shouldn’t be reaching the rest of our body. Sometimes this gets out of balance, and the barrier becomes too permeable and permits bad stuff to enter our bloodstream. What does this cause?
The next layer of defence in the body is your immune system, 80% of which is based in the gut. As you’ll know, its role is to hunt down and destroy any foreign invaders. So, taking a step back and thinking about the ‘leaky gut’ issue, you can start to realise the issue. Food which isn’t fully digested, and toxins which would normally be excreted, are starting to enter the bloodstream. So your immune system goes into overdrive to battle the ‘invaders’.
Immune system activation like this causes inflammation, which can go unseen within the body or produce symptoms. While some may get achy joints, fatigue or perhaps a dodgy stomach. Some people get autoimmune conditions. Others may get skin rashes. Eczema. Psoriasis. Rosacea. Acne. Starting to see the connection?
And the further the body becomes out of balance, the more the immune system gets fired up, and the worse the eczema/psoriasis becomes.
Treating eczema from the inside
So, we’ve tracked the cause of inflammation down to our digestion, activating the immune system. There can be other causes, such as contact irritants, but they are often short lived and easy to spot. If you’re suffering from eczema in a small spot on your hands, and you often wash up, start looking there. But if your eczema is affecting much of your body, start with the gut.
Now that you know some of the causes of eczema, it’s hopefully clear that healing eczema needs to start from inside. By focusing on what’s causing the fire, we can cut off the fuel source, allowing our body to calm the flames and bring things back to normal. You see, the body is exceptionally good at healing, you just have to give it a chance.
Most chronic conditions can be treated quickly when the aggrevating factors are removed. We’re just not very good at knowing what these are.
In the next post, we’ll look at ways to rebalance the body and remove the triggers, starting with how diet affects eczema.