Do a quick web search for eczema treatments, and you will find an overwhelming array of options, everything from prescription medications to sites offering “miracle cures.” You will probably find that many of the most effective pharmaceutical options have serious side effects. If you are looking for alternative treatments, you will find a dizzying amount of information about everything from topical creams, to food allergies, to environmental contributors, such as soaps and detergents, dust mites, and water hardness.
The main pharmaceutical treatments involve suppressing the immune system – either through corticosteroids, systemic immune suppressants, or topical “immunomodulators” (which suppress the immune system locally in the skin). Corticosteroids and immune suppressants can not be used for prolonged periods of time because of the side effects, and the eczema comes back when they are stopped. Reading about the side effects of these drugs will quickly send you looking for other options.
Naturopathic medicine is guided by the principle, “First, Do No Harm.” This means that no treatment should be used that causes further damage, unless all other options have been exhausted. Fortunately, there are many other effective treatments that can be used first – and that can reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription medication.
Eczema sufferers have often been told that “there is no cure for eczema.” This is true, if “cure” means a magic bullet that will make it go away forever and never come back. However, with naturopathic treatment – a plan designed specifically for you, with the guidance of a naturopathic physician – eczema can become a thing of the past. A naturopathic doctor guides patients with eczema through the entire process.
All patients with eczema have positive skin scratch, radioallergosorbent (RAST), and other allergy tests, and at least 80% of patients with eczema have elevated serum immunoglobulin (Ig) E. This immune reaction causes inflammation in the body – exactly the thing that the prescription medications target. From the naturopathic perspective, we want to treat the underlying cause – not the inflammation, but the allergens that trigger the immune system to create the inflammation in the first place. So the first step is to do lab tests to determine which foods and environmental allergens the patient is reacting to, and create a plan to avoid those allergens.
Years of eating foods that cause an immune reaction does physical damage to the gut (called “leaky gut” or intestinal hyperpermeability). Frequently, eczema sufferers also have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, or discomfort. So the next step is to repair the damage with targeted supplements and nutritional support that helps soothe and heal the intestinal lining.
Finally, there are additional supplements and nutrients that can directly reduce inflammation, in a healthy way. Fish oil is a great example of this. The healthy omega-3 fatty acids that fish oil contains are well known to be good for the hair and skin, and eczema is no exception. With healthy oils in our diet, the intercellular signaling molecules, called prostaglandins, actually shift from more inflammatory to less inflammatory. This leads to beneficial effects on other body systems – like reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fish oil is just part of a comprehensive plan to reduce inflammation.
Finally, naturopathic doctors use herbal medicines, both internally and topically, to reduce inflammation, aid healing, and reduce secondary staph infections.
Patients who follow our eczema protocols experience less itching, greatly improved skin, increased immunity (not decreased, as with prescription medications), less need for cortisone cream or no use at all, and decreased secondary staph infections. Another benefit is improved sleep, since the itching is greatly reduced or gone.
Dr. Lutack says “I enjoy treating patients with eczema, because most of the healing comes from dietary changes and dietary supplements that will make the rest of the patient’s life healthier.” When it comes to naturopathic treatment of eczema, the only “side effect” is feeling healthier overall.