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Eczema is actually a group of inflammatory skin conditions which is an essential part of our immune system—and while we don’t really know for certain why, the skin’s immune system appears to “over-react” to something in the environment
First off, what IS eczema? Eczema is a chronic skin disorder that is characterized by itching rashes. These rashes may be red, scaly, dry, or leathery. There may also be blistering of the skin with some oozing and crusting. Eczema is actually a group of inflammatory skin conditions—it is the inflammation which causes the symptoms. The inflammatory response is an essential part of our immune system—and while we don’t really know for certain why, the skin’s immune system appears to “over-react” to something in the environment.
The tendency for eczema runs in families, so there appears to be a genetic component. Often other “atopic” disorders such as asthma and hay fever are found in the same families. Asthma has recently been associated with something called the “hygiene theory” and my suspicion is that eczema will be associated with it as well—not only does eczema and asthma run in families, but the rates of both are increasing.
The “hygiene theory” 1,2 states that atopic disorders such as asthma and eczema increase when individuals are not exposed to enough of a variety micro-organisms at birth and during early childhood. The idea is that our immune systems is built up, organized and “educated” during these early years.
Very early protection, while the immune system is getting its on-the-job-training is from breastmilk which carries loads of antibodies and other protective factors. But, since we have become nearly fanatical in cleaning bathrooms, countertops and darn near everything else in sight, since most of us do not live out in nature (or a farm) and are not exposed to such a variety of micro-organisms, and since not all babies are breast fed, there has been an increase in these disorders because the immune system has only been partially trained. Don’t get me wrong—cleanliness is admirable, but using strong anti-microbial agents to kill off everything in sight (or out of sight) is not the way we (or our immune systems) evolved!
The first thing to be aware of with eczema is the possibility of food sensitivities. The most common are a sensitivity to gluten (in wheat products) and dairy sensitivity. Unfortunately, many of our favorite foods are often found to be the problem. I for instance, absolutely love chocolate. But, every time I have some, I have to deal with stomach upset. Very often, the foods we crave represent the rather bizarre way our bodies are telling us NOT to have any! I can’t explain it, but I do see it often. An elimination diet can give a clue as to what we may be sensitive to. Start by eliminating gluten for 1-2 weeks and see if there is any change in your condition. You can also eliminate dairy products if the gluten doesn’t seem to be the problem. The process can take awhile—people can be sensitive to any number of foods. But, if this is the problem, this process can lead to better health and the elimination of the eczema.
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