Hi Sandra, what can you suggest to naturally help relieve eczema/dermatitis, or to at least minimise its severity? Any help would be much appreciated!

Thank you for your question. There are many reasons why the skin can become irritated and itchy, such as the obvious insect bites, stings and contact dermatitis, which require acute treatment and elimination of the irritating agent. A soothing and anti-inflammatory natural cream with the medicinal plants calendula, chickweed and nettle can be applied directly to the skin as a first option to relieve itchiness and help to heal the skin. It is important that the cream is of therapeutic strength in order to have the desired effect.

However, in cases of chronic eczema where the affected area is widespread and has been present for years or even decades, traditional medicine looks to address internal causes. Optimising the function of the skin itself as well as the elimination organs such as the kidney, liver and bowel, can be beneficial to treating chronic skin problems.

Traditional medicine views the skin as the 'third kidney' - meaning it is an elimination organ. Its health is also a reflection of the state of our other primary detoxification organs, the liver and kidney, as well as the digestive system, in particular the bowel. If these organs do not function optimally, possibly due to poor digestive function, diet, genetics, chronic infections or increased stress, there is a greater likelihood that the skin will be used as a detoxification exit port and burdened with unwanted by-products.

Simple lifestyle choices that optimise the primary elimination organs, if done regularly, can help to manage and lessen the severity of eczema:

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-Eat a diet of minimally processed whole foods, with plenty of vegetables. Research has shown a link between regular fast-food consumption and the risk of eczema, with children who consumed fast-food at least three times a week being much more likely to have eczema.

-Drink plenty of pure water as well as medicinal teas that support kidney function. Most sufferers of skin complaints benefit from the regular use of kidney-strengthening herbs such as Birch leaves (Betula pendula), Golden Rod (Solidago virgaurea), Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus). With alkalising and cleansing actions, these medicinal herbs are effective at helping to get on top of skin impurities and irritations.

-Alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks can add additional load to the elimination organs. Decrease your intake or consider having a break altogether for an extended period of time if your eczema has flared up recently.

-Consider the health of your digestive system. Do your bowels work effectively i.e. do you empty them completely at least daily or ideally more than once daily? Are there other digestive complaints that could indicate less than optimum functioning, such as reflux, bloating, nausea or intolerance to foods? If so, consider the addition of liver and digestive herbs such as St. Mary's thistle (Silybum marianum) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Both medicinal plants are used to support normal digestion as well as detoxification to help the regular elimination of metabolic wastes and environmental pollutants which can aggravate skin conditions.

For best results in chronic eczema, a combined approach that takes into account diet and lifestyle factors, alongside the use of plant medicine for topical soothing as well as internal healing support is likely to bring better results that just one intervention alone. The plant medicines listed here are most effective when they are used regularly over the longer term, such as 2-3 times daily for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. Once relief is achieved, lower doses can be used as a preventative measure to keep flare ups at bay.

If your skin condition worsens or does not improve, see your primary health care professional without delay.

References

Ellwood, P., Innes Asher, M., GarcĂ­a-Marcos, L., Williams, H., Keil, U., Robertson, C., Nagel, G. (2013). Do fast foods cause asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema? Global findings from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase Three. Thorax. http://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2013/01/03/thoraxjnl-2012-202285