On Monday I spent some time with a family where the mum and the 3.5 year old daughter suffer from eczema or atopic dermatitis to be more precise. They’ve been to various doctors, pediatricians and dermatologists primarily to find a solution or at least relief for the little girl, Emily. Her skin is dry and itchy, she has sore patches and open wounds that easily get infected with bacteria and she probably won’t be able to enjoy playing in the water this summer. Since eczema is a skin issue, the doctors looked at the skin and recommended special moisturising creams several times per day as well as topical steroids and antihistamine when necessary, unfortunately with very little long term effect. If you suffer from eczema or know anyone who does, this probably sounds familiar. Are hoping for improvement or waiting to grow out of it the only options?
Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin and inflammation is generally an immune system response to an attack on the body. More than two thirds of our immune system is located in the gut, so it puzzled me that no one had taken a look at what might be happening on the inside of the little girl or her mum.
To get a better idea of how our immune system works it’s important to understand that the inside of our gut is actually outside of our body. I know this might sound weird, just bear with me on this one. I also used to think that once I’ve put food in my mouth and swallowed it, it’s inside my body. But really it has only disappeared from sight. Food or rather small components of it enter our body when they get into the blood stream and this happens when they pass the wall of the small intestine. This wall is extremely thin and the gaps that let things cross over into the blood stream are supposed to be very tight so that only the good stuff can get through. If these gaps are not as tight as they are supposed to be, things that should never leave the digestive tract can start leaking into the blood stream. When this happens we speak about a leaky gut.
Now stuff like bad bacteria and even food particles that have not been broken down far enough can enter the blood stream. Our immune system doesn’t recognise them and since its job is to protect us, it starts attacking those foreign invaders. The more unrecognisable stuff is coming through the more challenge for the immune system, it now needs to start a war. With all the defending and killing going on non-stop, the immune system can even start attacking things that it would have previously seen as safe. All of a sudden a sandwich or a glass of milk for example can cause a serious problem.
This war doesn’t stay in one place, with leaky gut, the bad stuff can travel to the joints, muscles, internal organs, the skin and so forth. Where ever the bad stuff goes, immune cells will be attracted to keep fighting against the foreign invaders and as a result we get inflammation. Stress can aggravate the situation further. In the extreme this process can lead to autoimmune disease.
So in order to improve the situation for Emily we have looked at food, toxins, anti-inflammatory supplements and how to handle stressful situations in addition to feeding the skin from the outside. The family now has a plan how they can help their daughter and hopefully have her enjoy going to the pool next summer or maybe even this summer.
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