I’ve often heard it said that while orthodox medicines essentially suppress the symptoms that come with illness and disease, naturally-oriented therapies are generally inclined to address their underlying cause. One branch of medicine in which these differing approaches seem aptly demonstrated is dermatology. Dermatologists have a vast array of medicaments in their armouries, most of which come in the form of chemicalised creams designed to have their healing effect directly within the skin. In natural medical circles, however, skin ailments are generally seen as an expression of some underlying imbalance within the body, and treatments are therefore often focused on improving inner health. While conventional medical treatments for dermatological disease are largely a superficial affair, naturally-oriented approaches tend to be more of an inside job.
One skin condition for which internal approaches often prove quite effective is eczema. Characterised by red, inflamed, sometimes itchy patches of skin, eczema often affects the face, hands, and the areas behind the knees and the insides of the elbows. Standard medical treatments for eczema revolve around steroid-based creams that help to quell inflammation, thereby soothing the skin. While such pragmatic therapy has its place, another approach might be to tackle the inflammation characteristic of eczema at its root. In this respect, nutritional therapy has much to offer: more than one study shows that a common trigger factor for eczema is actually food.
While the mechanism for food sensitivity is not known for sure, it seems that some individual’s bodies see specific foodstuffs as foreign invaders, and react to them accordingly. It is believed that the resultant adverse reaction can manifest in the skin as a variety of problems including non-specific rashes or eczema. In practice, I have seen the identification and elimination of problem foods work very well in combating eczema, and have even experienced the benefits for myself too. For many years I was plagued with eczema on my chest and under my arms. The elimination of just one food type from my diet saw my uncomfortable affliction fade without trace, never to return. While any food has the potential to give trigger eczema, common culprits include dairy products (these were my particular undoing) and wheat. However, food sensitivities are an individual affair, and testing can therefore be useful for pinpointing specific sensitivities. For those interested in learning more about food intolerance and how to test for it, I recommend Allergy Solutions by Suzannah Olivier published by Simon & Schuster (rrp �£6.99).
Another common underlying imbalance in eczema appears to be a deficiency in a specific dietary fat known as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Supplementation with GLA-rich evening primrose oil has been known to benefit some cases of eczema. Other types of fat that might help heal eczema are those of the omega-3 variety found naturally in oily fish and flaxseed oil. Omega-3 fats have a known anti-inflammatory effect, and may also help to combat dry skin ” another common feature in eczema. In practice, I often advise eczema sufferers to supplement with hemp seed oil as it contains both GLA and omega-3 fats. Supplementation with this natural product at a dose of 1 tablespoon (15 mls) per day often improves the condition of the skin and does seem to help control eczema in the long term. Daily hemp seed oil, perhaps coupled with dietary modification, often provides effective relief for eczema that is more than merely skin deep.