Monday, April 11, 2011

Calm the Cycle of Eczema With a Few Natural Treatments

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common condition and frequent complaint in primary care offices. It estimated to be prevalent in 1 percent of adults and 5 percent of children. The symptoms include dry, red, itchy and inflamed skin, most commonly on the face, hands, behind the knees and in the crook of the elbow.

Picture of tea bag
Tea bag

Scratching from itching can lead to decreased barrier function of skin, which makes the skin more susceptible to inflammation — a vicious cycle. Patients with eczema often have a personal history of atopy, which can include allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma. Eczema can be exacerbated by allergens such as pets, dust mites and pollen, as well as certain foods and stress.

Conventional treatments for eczema include emollient creams to protect the skin’s barrier function and steroid cream to decrease inflammation and itching. While steroid creams can be effective and have an important role to play in the treatment of eczema, they can lead to thinning of the skin as a long-term side effect.

Some natural treatments for eczema include the following:

  • Coconut oil: A recent double-blind study showed that virgin coconut oil helped decrease inflammation and itching while protecting the skin’s barrier function in patients with eczema. In addition, coconut oil reduced bacterial colonization of the skin common in eczema, which can help prevent infections of eczema lesions.
  • Essential fatty acids: Patients with eczema are thought to have a defect in essential fatty acid metabolism. Increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids such as cold water fish or fish oil can help decrease inflammation of the skin. Another type of essential fatty acid known as gamma linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil and borage oil, also has been shown in some studies to be helpful in the treatment of eczema.
  • Probiotics: Some studies have shown that probiotics can be helpful, especially in children with eczema.
  • Chamomile: Chamomile has a long historical use for skin ailments. One study showed that topical chamomile cream was as effective as a type of low-dose steroid cream for eczema. It can also be taken internally as a tea.
  • Stress reduction: Mind-body approaches such as biofeedback, hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques and meditation are effective tools for managing stress and can be a part of a treatment plan for eczema.

For more personalized recommendations, consult a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

— Danya Epstein, ND, a naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University. Call 206-834-4100 to schedule an appointment.

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