In the last post I covered a general overview of the role of our skin and also the nutrients it requires to be healthy. I wanted to expand on that with a couple of specific posts from 2014 on eczema and other common skin conditions.
Today I will look at the itchy and very debilitating eczema since this condition can be complex to get rid of. There are many different causes but usually there is a link to a family associated tendency towards Asthma, Hay fever and allergies. As you will see as we move through the post this genetic link goes back more than just a couple of generations.
For example in our recent history in my family there is a link to asthma. My grandmother died of the disease at only 52 in 1945 before there were effective treatments. My mother suffered from hay fever and was allergic to penicillin, aspirin and tetanus. I have those same allergies and also have suffered from skin problems from time to time. One of my sisters also suffered badly from asthma as a child and teenager although grew out of it unless exposed to certain contaminants. However, it is interesting and often useful to go back further and I am talking about 20,000 years!
In an earlier post on the blog I introduced my great, great grandmother many times removed called Helena – a fictional name for the bones of a woman discovered in a cave in Southern Europe who had lived approximately 20,000 years ago.
I submitted my DNA in 2001 to Oxford Ancestors after reading the fascinating book The Seven Daughters of Eve by Professor Bryan Sykes a human geneticist. Latest research more or less concludes that Helena (from Haplogroup H mitochondrial sequence) came from a people who had travelled from West Asia around 25,000 years ago and then moved through Europe as the ice age receded. It is estimated that 46% of all Europeans share this DNA sequencing and is therefore the most common. Since we submitted our DNA there have been several advances in technology and other connections discovered and the story has become even more fascinating.
I have mentioned this to illustrate that we are not just at risk from our toxic modern environment or our diet and lifestyle choices. There are elements associated with many of our illnesses that have a genetic component and later I will follow this link to skin problems.
The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis which results in a very dry, itchy red rash. Scratching it may cause some relief but leaves scars and thickening of the skin. It is more common in babies but they usually grow out of it by about 5 years old. Their immune systems are immature and may find it difficult to digest cow’s milk or eggs but of course may also be affected by a genetic link to asthma and allergies. This is also the case when skin problems continue into adulthood when exposed to an environmental allergen such as dust mites, pollen and animal dander.
Our bodies are programmed to handle toxins when we encounter them on an infrequent basis but when exposed daily or even a few times a week our liver and waste disposal system goes into overwhelm. Our skin is actually our largest waste organ not the liver. It is porous with a two way filtering system. Touch a contaminant and it will be absorbed instantly. Usually just to the first layer or two but if the toxin is strong enough then it will leach into your blood stream and create more difficulties for organs such as the liver which has the job of neutralizing and preparing contaminants for excretion.
However, when you regularly eat a food that you are genetically not designed to eat all the time, then you will begin to experience various symptoms, stomach upsets, vomiting and skin problems as the body uses its natural defence systems to get rid of it. Histamines are released and these will result in a streaming eyes and nose, hives or rashes. This is an intolerance but of course if it is a full blown allergy to the food, such as peanuts, it can cause a life threatening anaphylactic reaction.
Non-food related eczema
Before I look at the food related eczema I will just cover a likely genetic link to skin conditions. Research has found that some people have a lack of a particular protein in their skin called Filaggrin and this helps form and maintain the protective outer layer. If this outer layer is thinner than it should be, it will not provide adequate protection from external contaminants. For example detergents, dust mites, animal dander, and certain cloth types such as natural wools or synthetics that are rough to the touch. Dyes in clothing, labels that rub the skin, tight fitting garments, soaps and other cleansers, make-up, nickel in jewellery etc.
Unfortunately with that type of genetic skin formation there is little you can do but use avoidance tactics.
- This means using fragrance free and pH neutral washing powders, soap, shower gels, cosmetics and anything that is going to come into contact with your skin.
- Not wearing tight fitting undergarments and clothes.
- Ensuring that you keep your bed clothes and furniture well aired and washed frequently on a hot wash to eliminate dander and mites.
There is a great deal of information on the web if you do have this form of touch related eczema and it is well worth making some changes to relieve the symptoms. Also, if you are suffering from this form of skin condition with its genetic link it is likely that any children that you have may also have the problem so making the changes will benefit the whole family.
- Make sure that when handling any form of chemical cleaner or personal products such as hair dye that you wear non-latex gloves and always wash any exposed skin immediately with running water.
- Severe cold can trigger an increase in reactions and although sunlight with its vitamin D can benefit certain skin conditions you will find that hot, humid weather that causes sweat glands to work overtime can increase the severity of eczema and hives.
- If you smoke you are massively increasing the work load of your skin barrier as thousands of chemicals attack and infiltrate through to the bloodstream.
- If you suffer from any skin condition it is likely to be worsened by stress of any kind. The body is on alert in fight or flight mode and particularly when the stress is chronic or long term the continual release of hormones and chemicals into your bloodstream can increase reactions to both food and external toxins.
Back to food.
If you are prone to food related eczema then you should be looking at the nightshade family (Solanaceae). There are actually over 2000 species of plant that are used as food and also in some of the medicines we ingest which does not make it easier to pinpoint as a culprit for reactions such as eczema. If you have a sensitivity to nightshade you will be unable to digest them completely and this leads to a long list of symptoms including stomach upsets, constant bloating, painful joints and even depression.
Nightshade foods and eggs that might be the cause of eczema.
Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers of any kind, aubergine or eggplant, and certain berries such as Goji or cape gooseberries are high up on the suspect list as are eggs. The egg white more so than the yolk and whilst they are an amazing form of protein and nutrients, some people have to avoid all together or only eat once or twice a week.
The reason that I mention that you might be able to tolerate limited exposure to these foods is that your liver usually can clear down toxins within five days. It becomes overwhelmed however when you are eating some of these suspect foods every day. My two key supects are green peppers (they are not fully ripe) and aubergines. Tomatoes and potatoes do not cause me problems. Everyone has a unique chemical make up and genetic background so you may find you can tolerate different nightshades to other people.
Before you make a connection with your skin problems and stop eating these excellent sources of nutrients for ever, it is a good idea to keep a food diary for a week – eat normally and make a note of any skin changes that occur in that time. Two weeks is even better.
If you suffer from eczema or hives ring the foods that I mentioned above with a red pen and see how many times a week you are eating them. The culprit foods or food is going to be the one which you eat daily or more than three or four times a week. They will be easy to spot. See how many of the foods fall into the nightshade family or eggs. This does not just include boiled, scrambled or fried etc. but also dishes containing eggs. If eating cakes, biscuits or other processed baked goods double check the ingredients.
A final note on the genetic link to food intolerances.
Our DNA does not mutate quickly. 20,000 years is a mere drop in the ocean in DNA terms and if our ancestors were not exposed to certain foods such as wheat, nightshade family or dairy then our bodies may not be equipped to digest them efficiently and may even react to them as toxins.
Our diets have changed radically in the last 300 years since the introduction of refined sugars which is tough enough on our bodies, but we have also now have access to foods from around the world that our long line of grandparents would never have consumed. Most are easy to digest and offer wonderful health benefits but occasionally you will find one that your body, in its wisdom, considers to be poison and will let you know very quickly.
With the addition of refined sugars and the additives in industrially prepared foods our body is under increasing stress as it tries to deal with foods with even the slightest toxicity. I have found with clients over the years that when they go almost sugar free and only cook from scratch many of their intolerances and reactions, such as skin conditions clear up.
We usually say that mother knows best but in fact our bodies have that one nailed!
©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019
A little bit about me nutritionally.
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with over twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
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