eczema, exercise and activity, flare-up, food and nutrition, my journey

how to “solve” eczema

assemble challenge combine creativity
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Over the years I have gotten so much advice from well wishers about how to cure my eczema/topical steroid withdrawal (because in my case, the condition that changed my life was TSW, which was caused by the treatment of eczema). While some of the suggestions may be useful, more often than not they aren’t, and it may not be because the advice is something I’ve already tried or something outlandish. It may be more so because advice about a single aspect in my life to change doesn’t do anything impactful, because eczema’s root cause can be anything but singular.

I know some people are lucky: they remove the allergen (mold, gluten, soy, eggs, nightshades, dairy, dust), they decrease their stress, they exercise more, they find a supplement that really works, and bam, no more eczema. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

My root cause seems to be tied to many different aspects, from overuse of topical steroids, to unresolved emotional issues after familial deaths, to increasing sensitivity to foods (on top of food allergies I was born with), to increasing discomfort with specific exercises and a sensitivity to heat and sweating, to insomnia and other sleep issues, etc. So being given a new product to try doesn’t really solve the other issues preventing me from quickly recovering from each flare.

What I do find interesting, is people that have learned to live with eczema (and/or topical steroid withdrawal) and the various lifestyle changes they have done to help keep their flares under control. I came across a post a while back called The Metaphysical Meaning of Eczema – Do People Get Under Your Skin, which I thought would just be talking about how my emotions cause my eczema, but I was pleasantly surprised to read the author’s inclusion of a whole host of other things she does in her life to help. Because yes, I am sensitive, both skin-wise and emotion-wise (I can now flare-up from heightened nervousness from public speaking, or due to misunderstanding over trivialities at the store) but, and I am indignant about this, my sensitivity didn’t cause my eczema, and it definitely didn’t cause my topical steroid withdrawal. It probably is the reason it takes me so long to heal (on top of the constant flow of changes in my life… e.g. getting married, moving 4 times, leaving my graduate program, buying a house, having a baby- all within the last 3 years). I have learned to be zen about skin-related sleep deprivation, about hives from foods I normally can consume, over having to adjust all forms of activity I enjoy, over forgiving myself for making “mistakes” that then provoked a flare, etc. I know I still have a ways to go to consistently help my emotions flow naturally and not build up stress, but I have made immense progress and my skin doesn’t always reflect that. Hence why I get up in arms when people try to reduce my condition down to me “just not doing x”.

Woof, okay so now that I’m done that rant, back to my initial idea around today’s topic. The point is, eczema can be a multifaceted b*tch of a condition, with varying twists and turns that dictate how it goes for different people. If you don’t believe me, try reading the experience of Daniel Boey in his book Behind Every Itch is a Back Story: The Struggles of Growing Up with Rash, or peruse any number of personal blogs out there these days about someone going through TSW.

My point is that while I am happy for people who find ways to rid themselves of eczema flares through a singular method, I find it frustrating when we see the gimmicks of “anyone can cure their eczema if they just do x!” and find it somewhat damaging to reduce all people with eczema into the same world because said singular solutions don’t work for everyone. I appreciate people that talk about the myriad of changes they have had to do, because it shows that the cause of eczema, as it is still unknown for the most part, requires different management for different people, hence why it is so hard to “solve”.

Note: Some of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one and purchase an item, I will receive a small affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

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eczema, exercise and activity, flare-up, food and nutrition, my journey, women's health

how to handle a baby when you have eczema

white bed spread near a human foot during night time
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the first few days after having my little one, I was on such a high of nerves and adrenaline that I felt great!  I had been on antibiotics while in the hospital, and after getting home my skin started to feel really dry. I started taking some probiotics and focusing on drinking lots of water (I knew getting enough sleep was a lost cause), and keeping my stress down.

Initially, my skin was calm enough that I had no problem doing skin-to-skin contact with baby Fi, but around week 4 or so I started to experience more flare symptoms- sweating, itching, redness- whenever I had the baby lay on me for too long. I started to have to wear long sleeves when holding her to not get overheated. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but it may have also correlated when the humidity increased, and the temperature with it.

I’m not sure if it was due to the antibiotics, the temperature, the lack of sleep, the terrible diet I had in the hospital (think chicken fingers and ice cream for multiple meals in a day), or the hormone fluctuations but my skin definitely became more sensitive post-pregnancy. Though estrogen has been considered one of the reasons women can flare-up worse during pregnancy (see my post about pregnancy and eczema), after pregnancy the estrogen drops so it’s unclear what would be provoking my symptoms (besides the above mentioned items).

Either way I’ve had to be more creative about adjusting to life with a newborn. The biggest aspect I’ve had to cultivate is endless patience mixed with quick stress-reduction habits. My lackadaisical approach to getting house and life stuff done has been somewhat of a saving grace because my little one has wreaked havoc on my schedule. I’m exhausted in the afternoons, I have no idea what it feels like to sleep more than 3 hours at a time anymore, I tend to eat a bit worse now (mostly eating too many carbs and too much) because I lack the self control to stay as dietarily balanced when I’m sleep deprived. It’s something I’ll have to work on in the coming months.

I find ways to not focus on my skin when it’s getting all sweaty from holding her and I have learned to wear light layers or wrap a small blanket between her and myself when breastfeeding to avoid irritating the more sensitive skin areas like my stomach.

There are some inherently awesome aspects to having a newborn when you have eczema (at least in my experience). For one, I tend not to think about myself as much so I am not as aware when I am itchy. She keeps me busy to such an extent that even when I’m immersing my hands in water (which is traditionally a huge irritant) to give her a bath, I barely notice. Also, lately my core temperature seems to be evening out even as my skin fluctuates (which means that the hot, sweaty skin nights and cold shivers have been decreasing). I actually enjoy the cold temperature more than I used to, and I don’t enjoy basking in the sun for quite as long.

And overall I do think that my skin has been able to consistently heal slowly but surely. I feel as though I look more or less human again, what with the redness decreasing.  I think the hormones from breastfeeding are helping my skin heal to some extent; I know my hair has gotten shinier, which is an awesome boon.

alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, skin care

herbaceously delicious: herbs for eczema

green leaf plant on brown wooden surface
Photo by monicore on Pexels.com

I have decided to start a new series within the blog. I have had a deep and abiding love for herbs and gardening since I was a wee one (I used to try to collect dandelion roots to make my own coffee around age 12, despite the fact that I didn’t drink coffee. Anyway, I digress). As a result of said love, I have decided to really delve in and learn about an herb, and then I’ll hopefully try to use that herb to create something (be it edible, a body product, incense, or other) to use to help manage my eczema.

Currently, my garden looks like this below, so I’ve got a lot to work with (basil, wood sorrel, marshmallow, licorice, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, raspberry leaves, chives):

2018-08-05 19.54.04

To start off this series, I collected basil from my garden last week. I have two types, sweet basil, and English basil, but I only used the sweet type.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 12.24.10 PM

Sweet basil, or (ocimum basilicum), is an edible herb of which we eat the leaf and flowering top. It’s other names include St. Joseph wort, arjaka, and luole.

  • ocimum = ‘smell’
  • basilicum = ‘kingly’

Historically in Europe it was a symbol of love/romance and of grief, and it has associations with the Basilisk (it was thought to be poisonous in the past).

To grow it you need rich, well-draining but moist soil, and full sun. It can grow well in containers too if you don’t let it flower. The season to grow it is in summer.

For food: It’s usually used in soups, salads, with eggs, most red meats, in tomato sauces, or in general cooking. I’ve also heard of it being used in ice cream though I have yet to see or try it. It combines well with vegetables such as zucchini, beans, and mushrooms.

It’s key constituents include:

  • essential oils
  • caffeic acid
  • tannins (estragole and eugenol)
    • estragole can have a sharp/hot and numbing effect
    • eugenol is in cinnamon and cloves; it imparts a spiciness
  • monoterpenes
  • beta-carotene
  • vitamin C

It can be used to make teas, tonics, poultices, etc.

It is used to help with:

  • itches and pain (of bug bites and other small wounds)
  • removing heavy metals and toxins from the body
  • promoting the growth of hair, specifically oily types
  • melancholy/low spirits and headaches/stress (due to its antispasmodic properties)
  • fatigue if it’s steeped in wine (so if you are going for a glass anyway, might as well add some basil in there)
  • deterring flies (though I am not sure how well that works)
  • indigestion, stomach cramps, relieving nausea and vomiting, and easing gas (because it’s an aphrodisiac)

Given that basil is a pretty frequent herb in our savory meals already, (and because I can’t eat dairy currently for Fiona, so alas no basil ice cream), I decided I wanted to use it in a non-edible manner. As I’m always thinking about my skin, I decided to make it into a skin toner. I talked about it a bit in a recent post (korean skincare for eczema), but here’s a picture of it again:

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 8.56.26 AM

The final product was lovely. It was refreshing and smelled delightful. The recipe I used is here, and I did add a little witch hazel. It’s fairly gentle on my skin and in the future I may try it without any witch hazel.

Just in case the above link ever gets taken away, the recipe was as followed:

  • bring 3 tbsp freshly crushed basil leaves to a boil for 4-5 minutes
  • remove from heat and let cool to room temperature
  • strain leaves from mixture
  • add teaspoon of witch hazel (optional)
  • place liquid in a bottle (glass preferred)
  • store in refrigerator for one week

To use:

  • pour about a teaspoon onto a cotton ball and gently dab onto face as wanted, or
  • freeze and then use the cubes on face as a pore minimizer after a wash

 

And that’s it!

alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, exercise and activity, flare-up, food and nutrition, my journey, NEA, pregnancy, relationships, skin biome, skin care, sugar, topical steroid withdrawal, topical steroids, topicals, women's health, wounds and infections

how my skin made me take the road less traveled

gray pathway surrounded by green tress
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Today’s post is all about trying to convey what life with eczema is like for me. The first thing I need to stress is that my condition was not always this severe. I can remember a “before”, as my condition didn’t start affecting my skin globally until I was 21 or 22.

So how has eczema affected me?

  • insomnia – Some nights I was unable to sleep until 6am. More recently off and on I have difficulty sleeping from midnight to about 6am.
  • food paranoia – Given that I have legitimate food allergies to peanuts, pistachios and cashews, I know how to deal with food allergies that cause anaphylaxis. What I don’t know how to deal with is the thought that some common food might have developed into being the cause for the severity of my skin issues. Also sometimes I’ll eat something that is usually fine for consumption, and I’ll break out in hives in my mouth inexplicably and the next time I consume said food, it won’t happen.
  • many different diets – I have tried the gambit of elimination diets, auto-immune diets, vegetarianism, paleo diets, sugar-free diets, low-carb diets, detox diets, etc).
  • food-related social repercussion – You have no idea how frustrating it is to have people think I am “just being picky” when I am avoiding certain foods or diets. It’s usually when I’m avoiding gluten, dairy, or soy or other common American-diet staples. What I don’t understand is why people think I enjoy avoiding these foods… do they not know my undying love for pizza and ice cream?
  • intimacy issues – picture not being able to cuddle on the couch while watching a scary movie without covering myself in a blanket to make sure my skin doesn’t touch my husbands. Long drawn out hugs? Nope.
  • skin-to-skin with baby issues – I have adapted to the lifestyle of needing to put a barrier between me and my baby’s skin. When I feed her, I throw a cloth on or wear long sleeves before I put her head on my arms. When I have her in a carrier, I try to put a layer between her face and my chest, or else I know I’ll have to take her out earlier as my chest will start turning red, flushing, and itching.
  • exercise limitations – Up until my junior year of college I was doing many different sports and activities including soccer, track and field, long runs on my own, ultimate frisbee, generically running around like an idiot, etc. Post-eczema life, unless I can get a flare to calm down for months, cardio is a nightmare. Hell, at this point in time, just going for a long walk in the summer induces itching everywhere that takes at least 10 minutes in an air-conditioned building to relieve.
  • summer nightmare – See what I mentioned about walking above and now just add that to general life in the summer. I do well if I don’t move, and if I avoid direct sunlight. Though I also need sunlight for vitamin D (and in my previous life I loved the sun) so I’ll pop outside for a few minutes to bask in the sun’s warm embrace and then I’ll overheat and have to come inside. At least the itching only starts if I sweat.
  • pain (cracked skin) – During certain stages of a flare I dry out (especially at night or after washing my hands or other random times) and my skin will crack. The worst areas are my hands (which will fissure all over) and my ears, as well as sometimes under my eyes.
  • obsession – I spend so much time thinking about my skin and worrying over if I am doing something to make it worse, or not doing enough. It gets exhausting really.
  • career switching – I dropped out of my physical therapy doctorate program because I just couldn’t deal with my skin. I wasn’t sleeping, I was uncomfortable sitting (more on that in a bit), and I couldn’t stand being in an air-conditioned room (see below), or being touched or coming in contact with another’s skin, which made it incredibly difficult to practice the hands on aspects of PT. I am now still in a stage of making my own career, which while exciting, is stressful when I have to talk about it because it’s not a clear cut “oh, yeah, I do X” anymore.
  • fear of infections – As my skin barrier is compromised so often, the risk of infections, primarily Staph, is high. I spend a lot of time wondering if I am infected and worrying when I catch a cold or something that I have contracted Staph (again).
  • hand washing (pain/itching) – Imagine how many times you have to wash your hands or use hand sani when you are a PT student working in a clinic. Doing dishes is irritating enough. Sometimes even just taking a shower will irritate my skin.
  • cleaning frequency – Given that I shed skin faster than the average human, I spend a lot of time cleaning to try to not live in my own skin dust filth.
  • social situation aversion – When I am flaring, I have no desire to go out, not only because I worry about the stares I get for physical appearances, but also because it takes so much energy to deal with varying temperatures, varying foods, varying stressors, usually a lot of sitting, the inability to play/dance without itching, etc.
  • general discomfort (pain, itch, smell) – Eczema this severe is uncomfortable. The obvious is that it itches, and not like a “I have a random little itch” but more on the level of if a swam of mosquitoes bite you all over your body but instead of having angry welt-y bite marks externally, they are all inside your body and not visible to anyone. The pain comes from the cracking I mentioned above, as well as the pain of the self-inflicted wounds from scratching too hard. When I have a bad flare, I develop this scent that I call the burning rubber skin that I loathe.
  • depression and anxiety – It’s no surprise that aggressive and long lasting flares take an emotional toll. As I spend time in pain, itching, paranoid about foods I eat, avoiding people, and unable to exercise and play as I normally would, sometimes my moods take a nose dive.
  • money spent – From skin care lotions and moisturizers, general soaps, bath products (bleach, epsom salt, apple cider vinegar), natural house cleaning products, dry brushes, the rebounder, to the doctors’ visits, etc, this condition isn’t cheap.
  • doctor visits (dermatologists, endocrinologists, neurologists) – There is something very frustrating about seeing many doctors and still getting no relief. I have moved a few times in the last past 4 years and as a result have an even larger number of individual doctor visits under my belt. The general consensus? I am fine (as in no underlying crazy cause of my skin issues like cancer), but I have eczema. Oh and have I tried using steroids creams? -.-
  • hormone imbalances – Since I spent so much time inflamed, I usually have a highly elevated level of immune stuff, like my white blood cell count. When my skin first started going haywire, I also have high cortisol level, which made doctors think I had a hormonal imbalance and first order an MRI of my brain.
  • forever fielding questions – “Have you tried X??” “What’s wrong with your skin?” “Do you use lotion?”
  • excoriation disorder (dermatillomania) – Due to very often having flaky skin, I have developed a picking disorder where I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to remove dead skin from my body. It’s become partially therapeutic and partially me trying to exert control over my uncontrollable presentation.
  • scratching OCD – I scratch all the time. In my sleep, when I’m stressed, when I’m relaxing. I don’t even notice I’m doing it sometimes.
  • scarring – Go figure from all that scratching I’d have scars.
  • ring wearing/jewelry/piercings – I no longer wear my wedding band on my left hand because the ring finger on that side is usually swollen. I wear it on my right now. I also had to take out my belly button piercing, my nose piercing, and all ear piercings except tragus one because the skin started itching so badly around them all.
  • hot inflamed skin with cold chills/shivering – One of the worst stages of a flare is when my skin is constantly wet and weeping and heated, but I’m losing so much heat that I am internal freezing and will shiver uncontrollably.
  • winter is bad – It’s hard enough to regulate my body temperature without the weather outside being frigid.
  • sensitivity to pressure contact (sitting/laying down) – This made PT school very trying. Hell, going to a doctors office and laying on the table, or sitting on a chair for too long made my skin feel terrible and heat up and start itching. This is even through wearing long sleeves and pants.
  • nervousness = flares – Some nervousness is good for keeping our brains alert. Unfortunately, any little bit of social nervousness (like before a practical or talking to new people) would cause me to start to flare and itch.
  • wrinkly, swollen skin – Still not sure why this happens (maybe it’s a product of topical steroid withdrawal) but the skin around my joints especially, on the extensor side, starts to look like that of an elephant.
  • discoloration – From redness to drying out gray/white, I am a veritable human mood ring.

And since people love me and will forever want to help, here is a list of what I have already tried:

  • topical steroids (for a good 20 years as this was the main accepted solution to eczema for decades)
  • topical medicines that are not steroids (Elidel/protopic, etc)
  • oral steroids
  • lotions/moisturizers (cetaphil, cera ve, aquaphor, dove eczema line, exederm, burt’s bees, obscurely-named-other-ones, etc)
  • going moisturizer free (actually does help with the red/weeping stage)
  • ocean water
  • chlorinated pools
  • naturopathy
  • acupuncture (including herbs, cupping, and massage)
  • diet (gluten free, soy free, dairy free, vegetarian, sugar free)
  • phototherapy (clinically done in light boxes, and just being in the sun)
  • antihistamines
  • sleep aid pills
  • yoga, meditation, and deep breathing
  • coconut and sunflower oil
  • bleach, epsom, and apple cider vinegar baths
  • antibiotics
  • collagen powder (edible)
  • collagen cream
  • wound care
  • probiotics

Update: I have not tried any biologics because I have been pregnant and am now nursing.

Despite all the shit that comes with eczema, there have been some silver linings in my experience including:

  • Having to deal with eczema year round has made me live much more seasonally. In the warmer months I try to take advantage of being able to walk outside for hours and garden to get vitamin D and get exposed to bacteria in the soil (and as stress relievers). In the colder months I turn to herbal teas and nourishing soups, and bundle up well to go on walks to get fresh air. I pay a lot more attention to what can grow when, and try to eat accordingly (like lighter foods in the summertime).
  • Having dealt with the difficulties of eczema for so long, in juxtaposition pregnancy wasn’t half bad (though to be fair my belly was small and I didn’t have morning sickness… but discomfort with sleeping? Aversions to certain foods? Tired randomly? Feeling generally uncomfortable? Yep, I was used to that all already).
  • In effort to control my flares, I am constantly open to trying new things (though my wallet isn’t!).
  • When I first came up to visit Jake, before we were dating, we had an honest conversation about eczema and I told him how bad it gets for me, and he still wanted to be with me. To this day, I’ve never had insecurity about my skin around him.
  • I have learned to really appreciate the good days. As a result, I’m generally even happier of a person.
alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, my journey, skin care

korean skin care for eczema: the overview

BoysOverFlowers_A5GLDKW
Source for the cover photo is here.

A few years back I came across an article about how a woman named Kathleen Hou managed to keep her eczema in check by using Korean skin care routines/products. Naturally I was intrigued, but the level of steps involved was so daunting to me (I tended to be a frolics-in-the-sun-and-to-h*ll-with-my-skin kind of girl before my eczema got bad), that I never bothered to try it out.

Well, I was watching a Korean drama the other day (comment the name of that drama pictured above if you know it!) and was again struck by how flawlessly nice all of the actors’ skins were, including the men. Being in a TSW phase I felt like a flaky snake in comparison and decided to rethink about trying Korean skin care to see if it could help me. My sister reminded me of the article by Kathleen Hou, so I followed up with checking out her company Peach and Lily and began more seriously looking at the section titled The Best Korean Skin Care Routine.

However, Korean skin care routines are amazing and intense and I’m not ready to commit to that level of time a day or money involved to get the products just yet (but stay tuned for a few months from now). So in lieu of going fully into it, I’ve decided to try my own proxy way for a month or so.

My routine is as followed. Every morning I take a shower (still I do a fairly warm to hot shower though I know it’s not optimal for my skin… baby steps) and I use a natural bar of soap that’s sold at whole foods. I can’t remember the specific brand but it’s got calendula and chamomile in it.
After that I use cotton balls to apply a toner to my whole body. I’ve been using the Thayer brand that makes witch hazel infusions (I’ve tried lavender and am currently using a cucumber one) but now I am leaming towards making my own toners so I made a basil one yesterday (it’s got a little bit of witch hazel in it too). The recipe I used is here. My toner came out like this: Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 8.56.26 AM.png

Then I apply a moisturizer. Right now I have been alternating every now and then between Exederm and and MG217. Eventually I’ll get around to giving it a go at making my own, but I’ll do it after I try this for a month.

 

alternative/holistic medicine, distraction, eczema, exercise and activity, food and nutrition, my journey, pregnancy, skin care, women's health

“i’ll be back”, and here i am!

quote calligraphy under cup of lemon tea
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

I essentially disappeared off the face of the earth almost two months ago. Things got a little chaotic what with prepping for the baby, the baby shower, having the baby, and then learning about life post-pregnancy.

And in tandem with all that was going on, to be honest I was thinking of discontinuing this blog. My reason was I didn’t think I could continue to come up with content about living life with eczema if didn’t somehow entail my career being related to eczema- but I have since reconsidered and am back with a plethora of thoughts, stories, and research on this condition that I’ll be sharing over time.

I’ve got a lot of fun things in store including:

  • what it’s like to deal with eczema when you have a newborn
  • antibiotics and eczema
  • why it’s hard to know what factors cause or alleviate eczema (aka why humans are not perfect subjects)
  • my love of the sun (but does it love me back?)
  • challenges to try including 30 days yoga (getting moving, tackling isometric holds, and getting that tissue stretch in)
  • rebounding for lymph drainage
  • addiction to picking my skin- how to break it
  • herbs and herbalism… when you want a break from reactionary allopathic medicine and just want to grow some greens
  • Prime Physique Nutrition’s Conquerer Eczema Academy
  • and more!

But  in the meantime I’ll give a general status update on my life.

I had the baby! We named her Fiona and she was born June 18th. She’s now 5 weeks old and her favorite thing to do is sleep on top of me.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 12.32.25 PM.png

During the labor I was on antibiotics and postpartum I have been trying to keep my diet clean to stave off candida overgrowth, and have also been taking probiotic pills daily. I’ll talk more about that in my antibiotics post.

My current skin condition is interesting to say the least. Skin color-wise I was almost back to normal after Fiona’s birth, and appearance-wise too, though I still have wrinkly skin, and that got a bit worse after the birth. Lately my skin has been dry- but not the dry like ashy-so-put-on-some-lotion, and not the dry like I-am-a-snake-with-the-way-I-shed-so-much, but instead I’m at this weird dry where I have tough and rough skin that feels like I have developed an immature exoskeleton. It’s worse on my hands and feet, and then my legs and parts of my arms. I’ve somehow managed to keep it relatively at bay on my face and neck (which is so important because I’ve noticed when the skin gets bad there, my emotional health drops the quickest). I hate to admit it, but I have definitely been scratching and picking at this new annoying exoskeleton, which hasn’t been the best for appearance (or skin barrier) because I now have a lot of scabs and scar marks. I definitely need to work on not picking my skin. I am extremely thankful that my chest has been relatively unaffected, as I am breastfeeding Fiona and it would be exponential harder (and I would be more worried about her getting an infection from my skin) if I was flared there.

Anyway, that’s more or less the basics of where I’m at now. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for posts about the content I mentioned above!

alternative/holistic medicine, eczema, food and nutrition, my journey, sugar, women's health

the magic of medicinal ideologies

waterlily-pink-water-lily-water-plant-158465.jpeg

Something that has always fascinated me has been the underlying ideologies behind medicine of different regions/cultures, be it modern western science, naturopathic medicine (which can blend a lot of the holistic and western medicine practices), traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, or yoga.

As western medicine is the most familiar, I will talk about that briefly at the end.

The other day I went to a Qi Gong and Tai Chi school where I talked with one of the instructors about the concepts behind medical Qi Gong. We talked a little bit about my skin and the instructor mentioned how the skin and the liver are connected in the Chinese ideology and so if the skin is showing lots of signs of disease, there may be an issue with the liver’s digestion. She also mentioned that I would be a person expected to have an imbalance of yang over yin. Yin and yang are seen as complimentary energies that keep the body in balance, with yin being the cooler, more feminine energy, and yang being a hotter, more masculine one.

In regards to nutrition, when I was seeing an acupuncturist a few years ago, she also talked about the dietary components that might be causing my skin issues. She also believed that I had an imbalance of yin and yang, (in that again I had more yang), hence the inflammation. Her advice to me was to eat less spicy food, avoid sugars, and have more bitter herbs in my diet, as well as continuing the treatments I was getting from her in acupuncture, cupping, and massage.

The National Eczema Associate interviewed Dr. Xiu-Min Li (a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) who studies asthma and allergies (including AD) and went on to explain about traditional Chinese medicine and how it fits into the treatment of eczema. The article provides more insight into how TCM is starting to be incorporating into mainstream western medicine, with the goal of having an alternative to use before topical steroids. It would seem that many people currently turn to try traditional Chinese medicine when standard western medicine practices of topical/oral steroids and other topical medications don’t do the trick.

When I was doing my yoga teacher training a while back they talked about chakras. Chakras are energetic points of the subtle body and there are 7 of them that line the spinal column, and they each are meant to represent a basic level of human consciousness. According to what I learned during the training, when the third chakra (Manipura) is unbalanced, one can expect to see eczema and other stress-related skin conditions. This may be because the third chakra is connected to the detox related organs (like the liver) as well as the abdominals, obliques, etc.

Nutrition based in the Ayurvedic ideology talks about balancing the Pitta dosa (doshas are energies that control how we act, think, move, etc), and to do that they advise avoiding eggs, wheat, milk, nightshades, spicy foods, corn, shellfish, and overly sugary foods. Eczema is seen to be more of an excess of Pitta dosha, or more fire, hence trying to eliminate inflammatory foods.

Here’s an anecdotal story published by the National Eczema Association a while back about a family that turned to Ayurveda when the western medicine wasn’t helping their daughter’s eczema.

In regards to modern western medicine practices, a few comparison points are developing that reflect the more holistic ideals in the ideologies mentioned above. For example, added sugar is more or less nationally seen as being inflammatory, and many doctors will caution against having a diet that includes too much of it. There are also more practices such as taking bleach baths to help reduce infection risk and other treatments that can be done at home without a prescription that a western doctor will recommend now. And the recommendations around lotions and moisturizers (over the counter) are more prevalent, though the brands which are suggested still vary. Light therapy/phototherapy is also recommended to help increase vitamin D exposure, and more and more doctors are also advising getting moving more to help with healing, as well as different solutions to try at night to help with sleep- from stress relieving techniques like meditation or taking a bath at night, to antihistamines.

I personally however, have not yet had a doctor who engaged me in a conversation that got more specifically into nutrition (minus not eating a lot of sugar or junk food). I am not sure if it is out of their scope of practice, but it has not come up in 26 years of seeing doctors, which surprises me. Many doctors, as far as I can tell, still think eczema is not really related to food, but as I do have food allergies I was born with, I would probably be a prime candidate to test for new allergies. The rub there is that generally doctors will prescribe getting a patch test done- but you have to have cleared up skin for the test results to be more or less accurate, and you can’t be on steroids at the time (and I haven’t had clear enough skin in about 3 years).

There is also the holistic medicine movement we see that is not specifically tied to any of the above ideologies. It includes more of western herbalism, often crossed with different nutrition changes and protocols, like the autoimmune protocol, or the elimination diet, or other variations to help with what is called the “leaky gut” syndrome. There are tons of resources from bloggers, nutritionists, doctors, etc about how to go about a nutritional change to heal whatever ailments you are undergoing with food, and I’ve also noticed a lot of sufferers of eczema have gone into nutrition after having success controlling their conditions with their dietary changes (one example being Prime Physique Nutrition). There are also movements to changing the whole lifestyle to be more holistic (like making your own cleaning products as well as skin creams, moisturizers, body wash products. A lot of this new movement is grounded in taking control of your health, often after having tried working with doctors in modern western practices for long periods of time unsuccessfully.

A health resurgence in America has been in herbalism. Some famous members of the community include Rosemary Gladstar (author of Herbal Healing for Women), Susan Weed (author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year), Aviva Romm, Mark Blumenthal (founder of the American Botanical Council), Christopher Hobbs, and many, many others. [Of note, I am usually deep into researching about women’s health, hence the references above. Gladstar does have a book on men’s health called Herbal Healing for Men].

From Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (which I own) she briefly talks about her general advice as an herbalist for how women can keep balance in the bodies by doing “good living practices”, which she notes as having proper nutrition, ample enough rest, joyful exercise, self connection, and tonic herbs. Delving deeper into nutrition she says to eat foods close to their natural states (which also means eat what grows seasonally), pay attention to how you feel while eating and afterwards, eat organic when you can, and eat  alkalizing foods. She notes about the latter that a lot of the disorders women have thrive in acidic conditions (aka when we eat too many sweets and carbs).

Personally, I have found relief from the most extreme symptoms by modifying my diet (I usually avoid eating wheat products and sugar because I tend to over consume foods containing them), and by using products approved by the NEA that avoid parabens, alcohol, and other chemicals that can be irritants for people with eczema. Acupuncture did seem to help- though I can’t say it was in isolation, since I did get massaged each time (which is also known for helping eczema). I tend to only bathe in a diluted bleach bath when I feel like my skin is getting close to infection (not sure how to explain how I know when that point is), otherwise this winter I did take a lot of baths with either apple cider vinegar (works similarly to bleach) or epsom salt (tends to calm me down and works well for helping me get through the dry out phase of TSW faster). I generally avoid using topical steroids when I can because I have gone through withdrawals before, and because I don’t like the reliance on something that doesn’t fix my issue (usually starting on steroids means I have to stay on them because I flare back up as soon as I start a taper).

All in all it does feel like there are more overlaps occurring over time in these differing ideologies, and we are seeing them sort of blend together in effort to figure out how to deal with chronic non-fatal diseases such as eczema. Whether or not they work still mostly seems to comes down to a person-by-person basis.

 

REFERENCES

“Ayurvedic Medicine and Eczema.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/ayurvedic-medicine-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Berzin, Robin. “The Simple Elimination Diet that Could Change Your Life Forever.” Mind Body Green, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12540/the-simple-elimination-diet-that-could-change-your-life-forever.html. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine on Eczema.” Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2016/08/19/effects-traditional-chinese-medicine-eczema. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Ehrlich, Henry. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Eczema: An Interview with Xiu-Min Li, M.D.” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/traditional-chinese-medicine-and-eczema/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

Gottfried, Sara “Is the Autoimmune Protocol Necessary?” Sara Gottfried MD, https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/is-the-autoimmune-protocol-necessary/. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“The Three Doshas: The Keys to Your Individual Nature.” Eat Taste Heal, http://www.eattasteheal.com/ayurveda101/eth_bodytypes.htm. Accessed 14 May 2018.

“Yoga for Skin Diseases”, Yoga India, http://yoga-india.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Yoga-for-Skin-Diseases-Anna-Mayer.pdf. Accessed 14 May 2018.

 

Note: Some of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one and purchase an item, I will receive a small affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

eczema, exercise and activity, food and nutrition, my journey, pregnancy, women's health

where’s my glow? (pregnancy with eczema)

pexels-photo-132730.jpeg

Today I decided to dig a bit more into the world of eczema for us pregnant folk.

I started by watching a podcast done by Abby Lai (of Prime Physique Nutrition) in which she talked with Dr. Peter Lio (he’s done a few National Eczema Association webinars). Link to Abby’s podcast is here.

The major points were:

  • It’s not really understood why but about 1/2 of pregnant women have worsened symptoms and 1/2 have bettered symptoms. Dr. Lio likened it to how some women get nausea during pregnancy.
  • You can have a flare in one pregnancy, but not in the next. Also you can have changes in skin between trimesters.
  • Dr. Lio mentioned a few itching conditions that can occur during pregnancy such as cholestasis (when liver and gall bladder slow down their bile flow which causes a terrible itch), atopic eruption of pregnancy, PUPPP (or pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy which usually occurs during the 3rd trimester).

He and Abby then talked about treatments used during pregnancy including such as:

  • how topical steroids are okay but not most potent ones. The goal is to keep body surface area that you apply the topical steroids to relatively low (so not WHOLE body), because topical steroids go in blood if they are used long enough or over large surface areas.
  • light/phototherapy
  • Benadryl and other anti-histamines
  • wet wraps, icing, moisturizers (see my post on products I’ve tried here)
  • anti-itch creams in small amounts (such as camphor and menthol)
  • natural oils like coconut and sunflower seed oil (if not allergic)
  • dilute bleach baths (he also mentioned a recent paper shows it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-itch directly, as well as being antibacterial)
  • topical vitamin B 12 (water soluble) – pink magic

The takeaway advice he gave was don’t be afraid to use medicine so long as you have a doctor helping you.

 

I was having trouble finding full access studies but I did stumble across a PDF from the National Eczema Association about getting pregnancy, skin tips during pregnancy, and after pregnancy advice. It also talked about the likelihood of the baby getting eczema and things to hopefully prevent it.

The same study also mentioned that avoiding soap can also help decrease the disruption to the skin barrier.

In regards to when the mothers are postpartum, there can be challenges with breastfeeding if the mother develops eczema around the area. In that case, the study said low to moderate potency topical steroids can be used so long as they are washed off before the next breastfeeding.

 

(NEW) The National Eczema Association posted a new article May 2018 called Oh baby! Eczema from pregnancy to menopause that goes into more detail about why women may experience more incidences of eczema during pregnancy. It mentions how a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco (Dr. Jenny Murase) found that when a woman is pregnant, her body shifts from Th1-dominant to Th2-dominant immunity in order to protect the fetus (because Th1 attacks foreign material that get into our cells, aka it would attack the fetus since they have half of the father’s cells). Th2-dominant immunity means the mom’s body attacks allergens and whatnot that are flowing around outside her cells, protecting the fetus, but not helping when it comes to eczema. The blog post said that the shift from Th1 to Th2 is driven by the surge of estrogen. Perhaps that is also why women generally have higher rates of eczema than men? Unfortunately I couldn’t find the study that the NEA article cited so I can’t follow up with more, though I did find an abstract from Dr. Murase et al, that mentioned how psoriasis tends to improve during pregnancy correlating with those higher estrogen levels… so maybe one of the immunity-linked causes of eczema and psoriasis are opposite in origin?

My personal experience with being pregnant while having eczema has been that I have to be more mindful about how I treat my eczema relative to general lifestyle changes too. For example, no longer can I go and drink tons of kombucha (due to varying alcohol content and the light risk of bacteria), enjoy whatever random herbs I feel will help me heal, go jump into a hot yoga class unprepared (because getting dizzy affects another being besides myself), eat whatever fish I want whenever (I am a tuna fan and enjoy sushi when not pregnant), run and jump into a hot springs all willy nilly, etc. I have to be more mindful about sharing my body and not just jumping into whatever new protocol or thing I want to try out to help my skin. I can’t decide to just go on a particularly aggressive dietary change that involves caloric restrictions or drastic nutritional adjustments.

That being said, being pregnant has also had a lot of changes that might be helping my skin. In my first trimester I was very sugar and meat adverse, so I ended up eating a lot more veggies. Now in my third trimester I tend to crave veggies as a way to keep my guts feeling good, and to keep indigestion at bay. I also eat smaller meals more frequently, and don’t really accidentally binge eat big meals mindlessly, which is great because it means my body isn’t overtaxed in digestion (more time to heal the skin!). Pregnancy has me feeling a bit more tired (and much like with a flare, also avoiding high intensity activities), so I tend to stick to lower impact, longer duration activities like going for walks for miles or remembering to get in 100 modified push-ups a day.

Anyway, I’ll stop there and leave you with a current photo of me. I’m about 31 weeks pregnant now and you can see my arms and hands in particular are especially topically-challenged.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 11.11.01 AM.png

 

REFERENCES

Crane, Margaret W. Oh, baby! Eczema from pregnancy to menopause. National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/oh-baby-eczema/. Accessed 30 Apr 2018.

Lawton, Sandra. “Pregnancy and eczema”. Exchange, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=20&ved=0ahUKEwj3hO2D-9jaAhWmc98KHRNhAusQFgjGATAT&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.eczema.org%2Fdocuments%2F711&usg=AOvVaw2fS6lrX7fvyosOV1imHE4p. Accessed 30 Apr 2018.

Murase JE, Chan KK, Garite TJ, Cooper DM, Weinstein GD. Hormonal effect on psoriasis in pregnancy and post partum. Arch Dermatol. 2015 May;141(5):601-606.

Silverberg JI, Hanifin JM. Adult eczema prevalence and associations with asthma and other health demographic factors: a US population-based study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Nov;132(5):1132-1138.

 

Note: Some of the above links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one and purchase an item, I will receive a small affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

eczema, food and nutrition, sugar

skin deep it’s not so sweet: all about sugar

pexels-photo-867452.jpeg

[For background context: I am currently still interning with EChO-Eradicate Childhood Obesity Foundation, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching sugars].

Ask anyone- I love sweets. I’m pretty indiscriminate about what types (though I tend to prefer baked goods to pure candy). At either rate, one thing I have worried about over the years (and not necessarily due to any scientific reasoning) was that my previously very high sugar consumption as a child/teen had somehow contributed to my global body eczema flares now (despite not eating as much sugar these days). This has led me to be particularly interested in researching more about sugar, and it’s potential links with eczema.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty about sugar. The term sugar, much like the term bacteria, often gets a bad rep. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate (the others being polysaccharides and oligosaccharides), that is best defined as either monosaccharides or disaccharides (‘saccharide’ means ‘sugar’). Monosaccharides include simple sugars like glucose (dextrose), fructose (levulose), and galactose. Disaccharides includes sucrose (or what we know as table sugar) which is made of glucose and fructose, maltose (a sugar from grains made of 2 glucose molecules), and lactose (a sugar from milk and made of glucose and galactose). You may have heard fructose (the sugar that makes fruit sweet) getting a bad rap, and that’s because the way the brain processes fructose versus glucose differs. Studies done on rats show that when glucose was consumed, a “satiety” response eventually kicks in because glucose triggers the hormone insulin to be released, but when fructose was consumed, there wasn’t enough of an insulin response to cause the same feeling of satiation. What does this mean globally? Well, consuming fructose sugars may take longer for you to feel full or done eating, and so as a result you are more likely to eat/consume more of whatever food/drink it’s in before you feel done. But why are fruits okay to consume (in moderation)? Because they are packaged naturally with fiber and other nutrients and are not just added fructose (think like how many products, like sodas, often have/had high fructose corn syrup, or extra fructose in them but no fiber or other healthier aspects to balance them out).

It is also worth noting about polyols. Some sources consider this to be a type of sugar (such as the World Sugar Research Organization), while others say it is not a sugar, but it is a carbohydrate (Polyols Organization). Polyols can sometimes be called ‘sugar alcohols’ because their structure looks somewhat like a sugar molecule and somewhat like an alcohol molecule. Polyols include: erythritol, hydrogenated starch, hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. They are seen as a new alternative to sugar because they don’t spike blood glucose levels, and they generally have fewer calories per gram. Currently the warning with them is that they may make still be addictive and cause people to consume larger quantities of foods that contain them and/or start to dislike products that don’t have them. The adverse side effect listed by the FDA of excess consumption of polyols is usually related to digestive issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc). Anyway…

The function of sugar in our bodies is to produce energy. When we eat carbohydrates our body breaks it down into glucose and uses those molecules to do important functions like activating our muscles. However, the rates at which sugar affects our blood sugar levels varies. Simple carbohydrates (like sucrose, or table sugar) increases our blood glucose levels quickly, while complex carbs (whole grains, beans, etc) affect blood glucose levels more slowly. In this case we have another example of how slow and steady wins the health race- fast blood glucose level spikes means insulin is released quickly (insulin is used to help cells take in glucose), as a result, you’ll want more sugar again more quickly after eating a blood glucose spiking diet and also, diseases like diabetes and heart disease are related to blood glucose level spikes.

So why are some sugars considered worse than others? The term “added sugars” is a more recent addition to our nutrition world vocabulary and is used to talk about when products include sugars that are not naturally in food (such as when we add a table sugar to the cake batter we are making for a birthday). For example as mentioned before, fruits contain the sugar fructose, but it is considered a natural sugar because one, it is naturally created by the fruit, and two, because it is packaged in the fruit with a balance of fiber and other micronutrients. The problem is that a lot of our processed foods have more added sugar than we think, and dietary guidelines about how much sugar we should maximally eat in a day are being exceeded (according to the American Heart Association, women should eat no more than a total of 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men no more than 9 teaspoons). So if you had a seasonal tall (aka a small) Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall with 2% milk and no whipped cream, you consumed about 37 grams of added sugar, or 7.4 teaspoons, exceeding the max a women should have in a day and getting close to the men’s max as well, with one beverage.

But how does sugar impact skin? It affects it in a few ways: by causing inflammation, by aiding candida infections (people with eczema often have a higher risk of candida infections), via glycation, and by messing up our sleep.

When it comes to inflammation, the issue tends to be that sugar (fructose in particular) as its metabolized by the liver can cause free radicals to be made, which are known to cause inflammation. Inflammation results in cell damage, and with a condition such as eczema where your body is already in hyperdrive of attacking its own cells, increasing cell damage is the last thing you want. Interestingly enough, studies on rats have shown that strength training helps to control inflammation even with a high-fructose diet, but I’ll talk about exercise and activity in another post.

Candida albicans is a type of yeast (or fungus) that many healthy people carry orally, and can be non-pathogenic if there is not an overgrowth of it. When there is too much (or any other type of Candida yeast), the condition is called candidiasis. Though there are many reasons for why we’ve seen an increase in candida infections, some of the major culprits are increases in antibiotic use, use of topical or oral corticosteroids (or other local immune suppressors), as well as refined sugars changing our pH, and allowing for easier growth of this yeast. The problem with candidiasis is it can lead to bloodstream infections, and it can cause increased production of acetaldehyde, a chemical that breaks down DNA and impairs cellular repairs. Now it stands to say again that sugar isn’t the only cause for increased risk of candidiasis, but in tandem with taking corticosteroids and antibiotics, it doesn’t help.

Glycation (or more technically described as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs), are products created by a reaction called the Maillard/browning reaction- a reaction that occurs in normal metabolism, but if too many AGEs are made that’s when it becomes a problem because they can increase inflammation and oxidation stress in the body. Usually, AGEs are released by cooking animal-based foods at high heats, more so than by cooking fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc (unless the fruits/veggies/whole grains are made with added fats, in which case the dietary AGEs are also drastically increased). Increased AGEs can also impact collagen and elastin production (due to the oxidation effects), which would impair wound healing. So how does this relate to sugar? Well sugars such as fructose, in combination with some animal protein components heated together increases the dietary AGE production. A low dietary AGE intake, much like a low sugar diet, can help fix insulin sensitivity and improve wound healing (especially with the subsequent decrease of inflammation that occurs). But if your snack/sweet of choice are baked goods made with animal/protein-rich products and includes fructose, chances are you are upping your AGEs, therefore decreasing wound healing, increasing inflammation, and impairing insulin sensitivity.

And lastly, sleep. Simply put, if you eat a lot of sugar, your body has to spend more time trying to convert it into energy and/or store it as fat, and so if you are eating enough to have the ‘food coma’ effect at night, chances are you are slowing your body’s recuperating abilities as it spends the time trying to handle sugar, instead of focusing on general repairs (such as healing eczema rashes and cuts). When we ultimately hit the sugar crash point, our bodies produce cortisol, which results in a higher heart rate, and subsequently less good sleep. Ironically it’s a cyclical pattern. The more you lose good sleep, the more likely you may be to crave sweets!

So the takeaway? Sugar (and specifically added sugars) definitely don’t help eczema, especially when eaten in excess.

 

REFERENCES

Aubrey, Allison. “Sugar and Sleep: More Rest May Dull Your Sweet Tooth.” National Public Radio: The Salt, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/01/18/578604700/sugar-and-sleep-more-rest-may-dull-your-sweet-tooth. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.

Botezelli JD, Coope A, Ghezzi AC, Cambri LT, Moura LP, Scariot PPM, Gaspar RS, Mekary RA, Ropelle ER, Pauli JR. Strength Training Prevents Hyperinsulinemia, Insulin Resistance, and Inflammation Independent of Weight Loss in Fructose-Fed Animals. Scientific Reports. 2016 Aug 4;6(33106).

Gainze-Cirauqui ML, Nieminen MT, Novak Frazer L, Aguirre-Urizar JM, Moragues MD, Rautemaa R. Production of carcinogenic acetaldehyde by Candida albicans from patients with potentially malignant oral mucosal disorders. J Oral Pathol Med. 2013 Mar;42(3):243-249.

“Healthy Eating Tip of the Month: Does Sugar Feed Cancer?” University of Michigan, https://www.med.umich.edu/pfans/_pdf/hetm-2016/0416-sugarcancer.pdfAccessed 12 Apr 2018.

Lawson M, Jomova K, Poprac P, Kuča K, Musílek K, Valko M. Free Radical and Antioxidants in Human Disease. Nutritional Antioxidant Therapies: Treatments and Perspectives. 2018 Mar 11;283-305.

Ott C, Jacobs K, Haucke E, Santos AN, Grune T, Simm A. Role of advanced glycation end products in cellular signaling. Redox Biology. 2013 Dec 19;2():411-429.

Page KA, Chan OC, Arora J, Belfort-DeAguiar R, Dzuira J, Roehmholdt B, Cline GW, Naik S, Sinha R, Constable T, Sherwin RS. Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved with Appettite and Reward Pathways. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2;309(1):63-70.

Patil S, Rao, RS, Majumdar B, Anil S. Clinical Appearance of Oral Candida Infection and Therapeutic Strategies. Front. Microbiol. 2015 Dec 15.

“Sugar 101.” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugar-101#.Ws9onWbMzowAccessed 12 Apr 2018.

“Sugar Alcohols.” FDA, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/sugar-alcohol.html. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.

Uribarri K, Woodruff S, Goodman S, Cia W, Chen X, Pyzik R, Yong A, Striker GE, Vlassara H. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practiacl Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):911-916.e12.

“Your Questions Answered.” Polyols, https://polyols.org/frequently-asked-questions/. Accessed 12 Apr 2018.