Searching for the best natural eczema treatment in Australia? Atopic dermatitis or eczema is one of the most common skin conditions we see in our clinic.
Eczema can have a significant impact on quality of life for people of all ages, from causing discomfort and distress in infants, to concerns about appearance and self esteem for adults.
Eczema is currently the most common chronic inflammatory skin disease, estimated to affect 10 to 30 percent of children, and two to 10 percent of adults in developed countries.
This figure has seen a two to three-fold increase globally in recent years, and according to Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia may now be as high as one in three children and more than one million adults in Australia alone.
But the problem isn’t just skin deep.
Research is beginning to uncover the links and connections in the gut-skin axis, and studies in humans and animals have revealed atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is often associated with dysbiosis of the gut and skin microbiome.
Research has also found that dietary factors can exacerbate and even cause dermatitis, making food and nutrition both a potential trigger, and treatment, in the fight against eczema.
This is why our practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine treat eczema with a holistic whole-of-body approach.
Often our patients come to us seeking a more permanent solution after trying the conventional approach, which is commonly limited to topical ointments and bleach baths. While these measures can provide some limited relief from symptoms, they fail to address the root cause of the issue.
Whether you’re caring for a child or loved one with eczema, or living with the condition yourself, we know how important it is for you to find a lasting treatment for eczema that works.
So we’ve put together this article supported by some of the latest research into a functional medicine and natural treatment approach to managing eczema.
Eczema treatment: What is eczema?
Eczema and dermatitis are interchangeable terms for the same common but non-contagious inflammatory skin condition.
Eczema presents as patches of dry, red, raised or scaly skin, which can blister, crack and exude fluid.
Because of this, people with atopic dermatitis are prone to skin infections and more susceptible to colonisation by Staphylococcus aureus.
Rates of the condition vary across the world but there is a higher prevalence of eczema in children and family clusters.
Atopic dermatitis often occurs in conjunction with other inflammatory conditions, known as the atopic triad or eczema march, including a strong association with asthma and allergic rhinitis, or hayfever.
Interestingly, more than 60 percent of eczema cases occur within the first year of life, which is prompting interest in preventative measures during the preconception and prenatal period, such as probiotics.
Eczema treatment: What causes eczema?
Data suggests there is not one single cause of eczema, but a range of potential contributing factors unique to each individual. These include:
Genetics: Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.
These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.
Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)
If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected.
Food allergy and sensitivity: Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10 to 30 percent of cases, and 90 percent of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat. Foods that drive inflammation such as those high in sugar and processed or artificial ingredients can also be a contributing factor. Breastfeeding appears to offer some protective benefits against atopic dermatitis, with studies finding prolonged breastfeeding is associated with significantly lower prevalence of eczema at ages one and three years.
Compromised gut health: The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways. Digestive disorders such as leaky gut syndrome, bowel toxaemia, liver congestion, slow or rapid transit time, and coeliac disease are also associated with a higher prevalence of eczema.
Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA). This contributes to eczema directly by affecting the skin’s barrier function and indirectly by causing selective hyperactivity of parts of the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has also been identified for increasing predisposition to atopic dermatitis, while low levels of zinc and Vitamin A are often discovered in people with eczema.
Weather and environment: Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals. Some studies have found cold temperatures, low humidity or dry air and air pollutants can all aggravate eczema symptoms, while other research has concluded that warm, humid and high sun exposure climates are associated with poorly controlled atopic dermatitis. Interestingly, several epidemiological studies have found children born in summer have a lower risk of atopic dermatitis. Both active and passive exposure to cigarette smoke has been linked to a higher risk of eczema.
Hormones: Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.
Mould exposure: Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.
Conventional eczema treatment: why they don't always work
The conventional approach to eczema treatment focuses on treatments such as topical corticosteroids for reducing inflammation, antihistamines for mediating itchiness and moisturiser for rehydrating dry skin.
But these measures are really only responding to the symptoms at a surface level, not addressing the underlying causes previously covered in this article.
The side effects and risks of topical steroids may also outweigh the benefits for some people, and most commonly include atrophy and thinning of skin, as well as increased potential for easy bruising, ulceration, rosacea, perioral dermatitis, acne, skin discolouration, contact dermatitis and increased susceptibility to bacterial and fungal infections. Long term topical steroid use can also result in topical steroid withdrawal syndrome, also known as red skin syndrome. Symptoms include redness of the skin, a burning sensation, along with itchiness, which can progress to skin peeling.
More recently, topical calcineurin inhibitors which inhibit immune system responses have been used for short term or chronic intermittent treatment of atopic dermatitis, as an alternative to steroid use. But these products too can carry potential risks, and now carry a Boxed Warning for potential, albeit debated, risk of lymphoma associated with TCI use.
The Royal Children’s Hospital also provides an eczema bath formula for children, which combines bath oil, pool salt and White King bleach in a bath of tepid water. The protocol is not intended to cure eczema, but to reduce Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on the skin in an attempt to reduce the rate of infection.
Usually, our patients have already tried all of these options when they come to our clinic seeking a functional medicine approach to eczema. Our skin health practitioner Rebecca Hughes often sees patients who have already seen several doctors and skin specialists for their condition without lasting success.
“Typically I see them once they’ve been down that pathway of pharmacists, general practitioners, specialists. They might experience periods of relief, but they are not long lasting. They come to see me because they feel like they’ve not been given any real answers as to why this keeps happening. They want to know why, and what they can personally do about it besides applying a cream that may or may not work.”
Listen to our skin expert Rebecca Hughes talk about the functional medicine approach to skin health and natural treatments for eczema
A natural treatment for eczema: the functional medicine approach
At Melbourne Functional Medicine, our practitioners take an individual whole of person approach to any health concern, including eczema.
This means we can use assessments, analysis, and functional testing to determine which of the underlying causes or contributors apply to you.
By identifying the root of the problem, we can then tailor a natural eczema treatment plan that addresses these factors.
And that nearly always starts with a focus on gut health.
“I would say almost all of my patients who have eczema have some kind of digestive dysfunction occurring at the same time,” says Rebecca.
“And more often than not, it's slow transit time or constipation.”
Just some of the potential options available for natural eczema treatment at Melbourne Functional Medicine include:
Functional testing: We offer a range of testing options including food sensitivity and allergy tests, intestinal hyperpermeability assessments, and microbiome and hormonal profiles.
Improving gastrointestinal integrity and function: Gastrointestinal symptoms are common among people with eczema, so the functional medicine approach in our clinic focuses on improving digestive function. This can include food, nutrition supplement and herbal protocols targeting intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’, supporting detoxification pathways in the liver, soothing the lining of the gut and correcting dysbiosis.
Restoring the microbiome: Prebiotic oligosaccharide supplementation during infancy has proven to offer prophylactic benefits against atopic dermatitis, while maternal consumption of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG during pregnancy and breastfeeding has reduced eczema and allergy in offspring. Regardless of age, we use a mix of prebiotics and probiotics to help restore healthy balance to the flora of the gastrointestinal system.
Balancing hormones: We take a multifaceted approach to hormonal balancing, combining lifestyle changes with herbs and supplements designed to restore hormonal balance. Lack of sleep and high stress levels can alter hormonal profiles, driving up inflammation and aggravating eczema. Studies have also found high maternal stress levels in pregnancy can increase the risk of their child developing atopic dermatitis. So our practitioners can work with you to develop a healthy lifestyle plan, while also supporting hormones with key nutrients and herbs.
Reducing inflammation: One of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation is dietary change, reducing or removing inflammatory foods like sugars and processed ingredients, as well as any potential allergy or intolerance triggers including foods containing salicylates, amines and glutamates, which can cause or exacerbate eczema. Topically, we often use anti-inflammatory herbs like hypericum, calendula, chickweed, chamomile, as well as manuka honey, and also comfrey when the skin barrier is sealed. They may be administered in an oil base like jojoba or sunflower oil. Our practitioners can also dispense plant-based herbal medicines for consumption in liquid form which works to suppress inflammation internally.
Supplementing nutrients: In addition to an anti-inflammatory diet, we may supplement key nutrients that play a role in skin health and reducing inflammation, including Vitamin D for its role in supporting filaggrin production, omega 3 and 6, zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, glutamine, curcumin, and bioflavonoids.
Modulating the immune system: A functional medicine approach can also extend to calming the overactive immune responses seen in eczema with natural immunomodulators like echinacea, astragalus, albizia, baikal skullcap and even therapeutic mushrooms. These herbs are not suitable for everyone and should only be used under the supervision of a trained practitioner.
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