Eczema Has Been a Recognized Skin Disease for Millennia

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

Eczema Has Been a Recognized Skin Disease for Millennia

Eczema or Dermatitis of the hand. Image credit: James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL ], via Wikimedia

(PharmacistBen) One of the most interesting aspects of the cells that make up the surface of the skin is their multi-functionality. While mostly known for their protective barrier properties, the living beings colloquially known as “skin cells” (and more technically as “keratinocytes” in honor of their most prolific extrusion, the fingernail like protein called keratin) are much more than a cellular shield. “Skin cells” are biochemical dynamos, each one producing, secreting and becoming ultimately a wide range of very functional chemicals.

“Skin cells” make vitamin D, they produce prodigious quantities of skin fats (lipids), and they are also the source of many hormone chemicals. Some, like cortisol, are involved in obvious skin functions like protection. Others, like the nervous system’s serotonin and dopamine, make the skin a type of brain appendage. Not to forget pheromones, which are involved in less obvious skin functions, like signaling, sexual attraction and fertility.

One of the less apparent roles of keratinocytes (“skin cells”) involves the production of inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins and cytokines. Although these chemicals are supposed help keep local invaders sequestered, they also can be produced and activated in a less specific way by systemic immune responses to foods or other ingested substances. When this occurs, regulation and control of skin cell production and development can be impaired. They can cause cells to grow in a messed up, chaotic, out-of-control fashion. This is at least partially the genesis of many skin health issues, including acne and psoriasis.

One of the more troubling inflammatory skin health issues is eczema, an itchy, unpleasant condition that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Here in the USA, a substantial proportion of the population suffers from the uncomfortable and sometimes unattractive symptoms of eczema. According to the American Eczema Association, one out of ten (nearly 32 million people) have the disease, which is characterized by defects in the development of the skin surface barrier. It’s most notably caused by the inflammation associated with the secretion of defensive prostaglandins and cytokines, stimulated by perceived threats, whether introduced to the skin internally from the food toxicity and digestive difficulties via the blood or occasionally by topical contact.

Although eczema has been a recognized skin disease for millennia, (ancient Egyptian recommendations recorded on papyrus suggest honey salves as a treatment), the medical model remains so mystified by how to address it, that most modern treatments available today (typically steroid creams) haven’t substantially changed in decades.

The inflammatory aspect of eczema makes it a classic type defensive skin disease. Inflammation is the calling card of the immune system, and eczematous skin is a sign that the body is protecting itself. This protective response is what we call inflammation, and it affects how skin cells grow and ultimately how surface barrier is formed. The end result is the raw, rashy symptomology of eczema.

While the dermatologist strategy for dealing with this distress and discomfort involves suppression of the defenses with steroid creams and ointments, at best this can only give temporary and symptomatic relief. The most effective, intelligent and non-medical way to address eczema is to eliminate the stimulus of the defensive response by first asking the logical question: what is the offending agent? Food and digestion are almost always involved, and yes, gluten is a possible suspect. But there’s no way of knowing what you are reacting to without linking skin flare-ups and digestive symptoms (like gas, constipation or heartburn) to specific foods.

Nutritional supplements can be helpful too. Essential fatty acids, fatty vitamins, especially A, (20, 000 iu daily), D (5000 iu daily), lots of sunshine exposure are important. While minerals like zinc picolinate (50mg daily) and selenium Monomethionine or chelate (400 mcg daily) can be helpful too. I hope that helps. Also, it’s important to keep in mind: It’s not just what you “take”, it’s also what you absorb. Digestive distress and malabsorbtion (especially fat mal-absorption) often accompany eczema as well as other skin conditions.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Skin Care

Inflammation Is Your Friend

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

The importance of the inflammatory process cannot be overstated. Inflammation is the fundamental mechanism of the body’s built-in homeostatic, chemistry-balancing system and a manifestation of immune system activity. The immune system is the body’s defense against “foreign invaders” and under normal circumstances, the inflammation process operates in a swift, efficient manner to sequester and ultimately prepare pathogens for destruction and removal.

InflammationThe cornerstone of mainstream medicine’s anti-inflammatory treatment program is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which effectively cancels this important healing process, and ignores the biochemical causes of the inflammation. Despite the well-documented dangers associated with the routine application of what should be a last-resort, short-term protocol, it is estimated that twenty million people currently use NSAIDs. As with most commonly accepted medical paradigms, this is a model that needs to be re-examined.

The effects of inflammation are obvious and everywhere. Swelling, pain and stiffness are an indication of chronic long-term inflammatory activation. Typically inflammatory disorders are named with the suffix “itis,” or “itus” such as arthritis, cellulitis, tendonitis or tinnitus. While NSAIDs may provide short-term relief, if the biochemical dysfunction that caused the inflammation is allowed to continue, symptoms will re-occur. Additional complications and further health problems are likely to manifest over the long term. The use of NSAIDs also ensures significant toxic side effects. Upper gastrointestinal tract and liver toxicity are a common result of the regular use of NSAIDs. As a result, consumption of NSAIDs poses a detoxification challenge to a digestive-immune system that is already compromised. Furthermore, the chronic, long-term use of NSAIDs are considered to a significant cause of drug-induced morbidity.

The first thing anyone who suffers from a chronic inflammation should do is review their intake of foods to identify those that are causing digestive symptoms. It’s rare that immune system activation does not involve some sort of infiltration by foods that are essentially toxic to our individual system. As a result, eliminating those foods that cause digestive symptoms such as heartburn, belching, abdominal cramps and loose stools is the only pragmatic approach to achieve a lasting cure for any inflammatory disorder. Next, specific nutritional supplementation can be used to heal the intestinal track and support the immune system. Probiotics are extremely helpful for the digestive system. Digestive enzymes taken with meals can also provide benefits. Vitamin E and essential fatty acids, especially omega-3s, are supportive. Lastly, the entire B-complex, especially vitamins B3 and B5, and vitamin C should be included.

Inflammation is not a condition that should be ignored and continually suppressed. It’s a sign that something inappropriate has entered the body, and the resulting inflammatory response is an essential part of the body’s healing and balancing chemistry. The proper approach to heal chronic inflammation is to remove its triggers and support the body as it accomplishes its homeostatic mandate. As always, pharmaceuticals that suppress the body’s biochemical processes are not effective as a replacement to elimination of the causes of adverse symptoms, and should only be used as a temporary, last resort.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health