Eczema can be healed naturally. Finding the right foods to emphasize, foods to withdraw or only use sometimes, and restoring gut health are key to naturally healing eczema. Sometimes, background infections need clearing too – but even for this task, babies and kids may not need prescription drugs. While you use soothing with skin treatments (which can help a lot by easing pain and itching), heal the underlying causes.
Eczema can hurt more than your child’s skin. Eczema can mean that inflammation is active systemically – that is, all over the body, inside and out. These widespread reactions can mean your child has more anxiety, more behavior problems, a pickier appetite, or more frequent infections. Where to start?
1) Plan on 3-4 months to see full improvement. Repair takes time. Painful eczema may mean the immune system is reacting to something deeper than skin, from the inside out. Identify the suspects, and you can repair and heal the skin. This takes good, non-inflammatory, nutritious food. Antibodies to trigger foods stay in the blood for at least three to six months after you stop eating that food. Every time your child eats even “a little” trigger food, the immune reaction is amplified. For best results, avoid the worst offender trigger foods completely. Remember, kids need food to replace what is withdrawn, and it must be of equal or greater nutritional value. Just withdrawing foods only to eat lesser ones can weaken growth and delay repair of healthy skin.
2) Get proper testing. If you’ve already tried months of eliminations and food rotations, and your child still has eczema, get properly tested. Food allergy tests may not show the type of reaction that is active when a child has eczema. So if you’ve been to your allergist, and the tests looked normal, you may need a different test for food sensitivities. Many MD allergists believe these reaction don’t trigger skin changes, but some research tells a different story. I can concur that in my 20 years clinical experience, I have consistently seen that IgG food reactions can drive eczema. I often start with testing this in my own practice, when the trigger foods remain a mystery. This lets families sort and prioritize what to eat.
Wheat/Gluten Reactivity and Autoimmunity Panel (click “Array 3” here) – Gluten (wheat protein) is so often a culprit, and so often incorrectly assessed – even by specialists in pediatric allergy and gastroenterology – that this is the panel I go to if I need an emphatic, clear, and detailed picture of exactly how a child’s body responds to eating gluten.
ELISA IgG Food Antibody Profile – Several specialty labs offer this test. I like using these labs best because they have developed a way to sample dozens (93 to be exact) of foods with a very small amount of blood, which is good for kids (who we all know hate to go for blood draws). There is even a method that uses just a few drops of blood from a fingerstick – so you can collect the sample at home and mail it in (nice option for teens or older kids).
There are many other tests out there. I review these options with my patients. Bottom line: Get tested if your child still struggles with eczema and you’ve done everything else you can.
3) Look at the gut. Emerging evidence supports the scenario that eczema starts inside, in the gut, and not outside, on the skin. Your allergist probably told you to get rid of carpet, launder sheets twice a week with hypoallergenic laundry soap, use natural fabrics only, or consider returning your dog or cat to the SPCA. Again, if the eczema is still there, or your child’s skin remains tender and highly reactive to even a puppy’s cuddle, it’s time to go deeper for answers. Humans evolved with microbes and the latest news is that these microbes are expert traffic directors for our immune systems. They may actually teach our immune systems what to react to and what to ignore, especially at the level of the gut wall. They exchange genes with us – potentially helping us write the software for our immune systems. The possibility is that this relationship with microbes gives kids an opportunity to reboot the software.
Here’s what to do: Clear any constipation, diarrhea, or bowel infections with high dose probiotics, a better diet without sugary and processed foods, and with herbs or even prescription medications to clear and balance microbes in the gut. Elimination diets can fail if this step is skipped, so don’t overlook that gut health piece. Need help? Work with me to do this safely and effectively.
4) Build with the right protein for the job. If you take out a protein source, put back a different one of equal or better value. Make sure it isn’t inflammatory – this is where testing is useful. For example, don’t replace cow’s milk with rice or almond milk. They both lack protein. Those are fine as a milk replacement as long as you add a protein powder blended into a shake, or add a protein food, like egg, meat, nuts or nut butters if allowed, quinoa with legumes, and so on. Kids need this protein to build and repair! Another example: Don’t switch soy milk, tofu, and soy yogurt in for milk either. Both have protein, but soy is often as triggering as cow’s milk. You may even get better results with elemental (amino acid based) protein products; many are available, but knowing how and when to use them is the key. Another great tool is collagen from chicken bone broth or beef. This is often hypoallergenic.
5) Add natural anti-inflammatories. Herbs and supplements, topically and orally, can be great add-ons or even good primary strategies. Skin salves can be great soothers, and herbs abound for this purpose. A favorite resource of mine for this is Rebecca’s Apothecary in Boulder. They can ship, and answer questions for you. For oral use, some of my favorites are turmeric, curcumin, fish oils, nettles, quercetin, vitamin C in higher doses (use a liposomal form to avoid the laxative effect), calendula, calcium lactate, and lots of healthy fats from coconut, organic eggs and grass fed meats, and tolerated nuts or seeds.
Long short, eczema can be healed naturally. Your child doesn’t have to suffer. Some kids have so many food reactions that they can’t possibly remove all of them from their diets and they need special supplementation until they get well enough to safely eat those foods again. I routinely navigate these options for my clients, so contact me if you need help!
Hi Judy – thanks for all of the helpful information on your blog. My 5-month old son has eczema, and I have always suspected it was more systemic rather than topical, in spite of being prescribed ever increasing strengths of steroid creams/antibiotic ointments. I noticed that my baby’s eczema usually decreased after a bowel movement.. it would seem like something toxic would be expunged and after a 2-3 days of no bowel movements, the eczema would flare up again. My baby is exclusively breastfed and I am thinking of starting an elimination diet to see if it is related to diet. I believe my son also has symptoms of reflux since he has always had wet hiccups/lots of drool/trouble sleeping/arched back, and not wanting to lie flat. He constantly wants to be picked up. At first I thought it was temperament, but now I suspect it is discomfort. I am especially troubled now because he is dropping in weight and cannot sleep for long periods of time. I recently started him on Biogaia probiotics. I have refused to give him any medications from the doctor for his reflux. Am I missing anything here? I refuse to believe that this is “something that will pass” or he will “grow out out it”.
Hi Teresa, this is an astute observation that skin seems to improve a little with passing stool. A pattern of stools only once every 2-3 days is sluggish, and gives microbes in the colon plenty of time to feed on stool and dump their toxins, where they are reabsorbed from the colon. These can exacerbate or trigger eczema. You are also correct in noting those symptoms as reflux, and in noting that this “behavior” of wanting to be picked up and soothed is legit. Dropping weight is a sign that it’s time to intervene. BioGaia drops are fine but too low potency to make a dent. Look for a higher potency option such ask Custom Probiotics products or Klaire Labs Infant Therbiotic.
My baby has the exact same symptoms as above. She is five month old and now I think when she isn’t having a bowel movement regularly she gets an eczema flare up. Would Mary Ruth liquid probiotics be potent enough?
I couldn’t know without assessing history and details, but it’s reasonable to give it a try!
Great information! I am a family nurse practitioner studying functional medicine, and mother of 2. I have seen major improvement in my daughter’s eczema by following an elimination diet myself as she is exclusively breastfed. I started my now-6-month old daughter on Klaire Labs infant probiotic when she was 6 weeks old for reflux and colic (now I know this was food sensitivities), but then she developed eczema and constipation. I discontinued the probiotic and stuck to a strict elimination diet. Her bowel movements returned and eczema has mostly cleared. Recently her stools slowed down again, to every other or every 3rd day, still loose/soft with no discomfort. I have since purchased Udo’s infant/toddler and adult probiotics. Would you recommend a probiotic for her, me, or both of us as I am breastfeeding? Thank you!
Hi Michelle, I’d suggest a stool study to see what is slowing her down. For specific product recommendations, I would base that on those findings. If still in the weeds, then I’d look at using digestive enzymes while you breastfeed, a measure which has been shown to improve stooling in the baby.