How I Healed Eczema Naturally
As a health coach, I’m often asked what got me so passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and looking after my gut. Did I just wake up one day, super excited for eating clean and rebuilding gut health? Yes and no! While I can say I’ve always had a bent for healthy living, my own personal experience with ill-health took me to a new whole level of learning + appreciation for this work.
So let’s dive in!
I want to share my story (I also made a video!) for anyone who is struggling with eczema, or has a loved one afflicted with that itchy skin! If you met me today, you’d never guess that 2 years ago I suffered with eczema. And not just a little patch here and there – the whole shebang! Itchy, swollen eyes, peeling lips and sore arms that kept me up scratching in the night. If you have bad eczema, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
At its worst, I was hiding at home as my face was so badly affected…and after trips to doctors and allergists I feared that my skin would never recover. It can be a confusing and upsetting place to be, with much of the advice available offering little hope. What I want you to know from my story is that there IS hope – and buckets of it!
But 2 years on, I can happily say that by discovering and treating the root cause of eczema, it’s now a thing of the past. It feels really good to type that, by the way!
In my experience, it’s as simple as this: you heal your gut, you heal your skin.
Forget skin lotions and miracle eczema creams (which merely treat symptoms). The gut is where it’s at. But before I dive into my specific gut healing protocol and experience, I’m going to share the events that led up to developing chronic eczema in my 20s and give you a better idea of my symptoms.
My Story – Events Prior to Developing Eczema
While my skin didn’t break out until early 2015, in hindsight it had been “in the making” for many years prior. In other words, while its onset was sudden, my eczema didn’t creep up overnight. Over the years, the conditions were brewing for the big breakout. Oh, the beauty of hindsight!
But let’s go back to the start.
Did I have eczema as a child? Yes (I put this down to being a caesarean baby!), but it wasn’t severe. A few minor breakouts here and there, which I eventually “grew out of”. By the time I hit my teens and twenties, I considered eczema to be a thing of the past.
Growing up, I was eating all the “foods”. Packaged snacks, wheat bread / cereals / crackers / everything. Although my family was health conscious, I did grow up in the 90s. It was all about the low fat, super-processed foods that were often high in sugar. And not a fermented food in sight!
Considering my diet in hindsight, I’m no longer surprised that I experienced painful cystic acne and unusual hormonal imbalances in my late teens. Something was out of balance, but I missed the signs. Instead, I promptly followed my doctors advice to iron out my wonky hormones with the birth control pill.
Moving into my early 20’s, let’s just say I did a lot of foolish things. No…nothing that bad, but I certainly took my health for granted! I believed that at this age, I was unbreakable. I also took broad spectrum antibiotics twice during this time. And from what I recall, I didn’t follow up with probiotics.
I met my (now) husband, graduated from university and jumped straight into a shiny corporate career. By all accounts, things appeared to be going great. Little did I know, I was entering into some of the most frustrating and difficult years of my life!
The thing about my career was…it was not a fit for me. I felt deeply inauthentic in what I did day-to-day, and spent much of my waking hours either depressed or angry. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, so I did nothing. After all, wasn’t this what success looked like? Besides, I was now newly engaged with a wedding to plan and an apartment to buy. I’d sort my career out later!
My Body’s Breaking Point
I’ve heard it said that the conditions for disease can be present in the body…like a room full of flammable material, but stress lights the match. In my case, this couldn’t have been more true.
By 24 I had become a very anxious person, but I ploughed on through with planning my “big day” and saving for a house deposit. While I should have been excited (and I was), I was also becoming plagued with anxious thoughts and irrational fears. I couldn’t watch the news! I was struggling to function throughout the day.
Still, I made it to my wedding day in one piece. My husband and I had a beautiful wedding and a long honeymoon, where I started to feel like me again. But when it came to an end, I felt crushed by the reality I was going back to at home. Of feeling so out of place in my day-to-day life.
But amidst our plans to move out into our own place, I continued to stick it out in my ill-fitting career and ignore my heart. After all, this was supposed to be an exciting time! Contracts, loans, mortgage repayments…it was exciting and stressful at the same time. By the time we moved into our place, my chest was often so tight with anxiety I could hardly breathe.
In early 2015, having lived in our own place for around 3 months, my body had basically had enough. Overnight, my skin started erupting in eczema and itchy hives covering my face, neck and arms. My lips were also cracked and continually peeling. I didn’t know what had hit me!
I took a picture of my face on my absolute worst day, and I’m glad I did. As you can see below…at this point I felt I couldn’t even leave my house. It’s a horrible photo but, I feel it’s important to share that my case was quite severe.
A Search For The Root Cause
I should mention that I had already become very health conscious by the time my eczema appeared. I had transitioned to a paleo diet, and had stocked my new home with natural cleaning and personal care products. So while the lead up to my health crisis looks clear to me in hindsight, at the time I was completely dumbfounded by what was happening.
My first suspects were chemicals in the new home (and hey, it may have played a part!), so I went out and bought an expensive home air filter. I also scrutinised all of my personal products for essential oils and other potentially irritating, albeit natural, ingredients. I went through many shampoos, with no luck. Things just seemed to get worse, and I struggled to go to work with my flakey, sore puffy face!
My next port of call was the allergy clinic. Perhaps I was reacting to a different pollen or plant nearby the new home? I had IgE (RAST) allergy testing which turned up no clues, and returned home with a prescription for strong topical steroids. I was told that eczema was an inherited and life long affliction related to the skin’s loss of barrier function, that could be suppressed indefinitely with steroid creams. That didn’t feel like reassurance to me!
The fact that I had lived for many years without eczema made me question the “life long” label for this condition. I kept searching for a holistic way of treating my skin, and wasted a fair amount of time looking at natural topical products to relieve my symptoms.
But after weeks of researching – and itching – I started to discover the link between gut and skin health. I started to suspect that my gut health was at the root of my eczema outbreaks. Still, it seemed somewhat of a long shot…after all I had no gut symptoms! And if it were true, no amount of natural skin salves were going to rescue my inflamed skin!
Leaky Gut + the Gut-Skin Connection
Intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” is a condition that you may have heard of before. To put it simply, it comes about when the tight junctions between cells lining our intestines become damaged, allowing particles to “leak” into the bloodstream via the gut. Foreign particles such as food particles, bacteria and their waste products (or “endotoxins”) trigger widespread inflammation in the body as the immune system mounts a response to the incoming “intruders”. At the same time, the liver has to work overtime to filter the blood and its detoxification pathways can become burdened (1).
If you take a look at our modern lifestyle alongside the common causes of leaky gut, you’ll understand why this is becoming such a widespread condition! Chronic stress, antibiotics, processed food and grain consumption all rank high as causes of a leaky and inflamed gut. Over the years, evidence has been mounting to support the the link between intestinal permeability, systemic inflammation and skin conditions such as eczema and acne (2).
The inflammation resulting from a leaky gut can manifest in many different ways and cause all sorts of symptoms. Some common symptoms of a leaky gut include:
- Bloating, gas
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- General / seasonal allergies
- Vitamin & mineral deficiencies
- Skin rashes.
I often saw “skin rashes” hovering somewhere low on the list (as I’ve recreated above), with the main focus being on digestive symptoms such as IBS. I want to make it really clear that I had no obvious gut symptoms, however my gut was indeed leaky!
With this information in hand, I visited my naturopath and had my IgG blood test for food sensitivities. And there we had it – immune sensitivities to all dairy proteins. We also implemented an elimination diet that uncovered sensitivities to natural food chemicals including salycilates and histamines (a subject for a whole other post!).
Despite eating a nutrient rich diet, I had also developed mineral deficiencies and was lacking B vitamins. These were two further indicators that my gut wasn’t functioning well to absorb nutrition from my food, with a lack of beneficial bacteria (which in fact produce B vitamins!).
My Gut Healing Approach
Uncovering poor gut health as the root cause of my eczema was the first big step in my healing journey. It was a daunting discovery to say the least, but at the same time it was empowering to know there was something I could do.
Over the following 12 months, my healing protocol involved:
- Introducing healthy bacteria and correcting dysbiosis
- Simplifying my diet and eliminating problematic foods
- Healing and sealing the gut lining through diet and supplementation
- Stress management and lifestyle modifications
- My “secret weapon” – helminth therapy.
If you’re an eczema sufferer reading this, you may also be interested to know that I used no particular skin lotions from this point forward! 1 tub of organic shea butter is all I used to protect my skin during breakouts.
#1 – Introducing healthy bacteria and correcting dysbiosis
For those of us with gut and skin trouble, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria (otherwise known as “dysbiosis”) is often a main contributor.
One of my first steps was to introduce a good quality probiotic into my daily routine, along with a beneficial yeast called saccharomyces boulardii which helps to displace overgrowth of candida yeast. This is a common overgrowth present in gut dysbiosis. FYI I was not able to introduce natural sources of probiotics such as fermented foods for the first 6 months due to histamine and salycilate reactions.
Current research shows that use of probiotics alone is simply not enough to improve populations of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that the human body actually can’t break down, but instead provides a food source for our gut microbes (3). They are found in many foods, and can also be supplemented with products like green banana and potato starch.
Related: How To Get Clearer Skin, Naturally
I will note that in my experience, introducing probiotics and prebiotics is a balancing act…with my mantra being “low and slow”. Both of these methods have the potential to trigger strong reactions, and should be approached with caution! For me, introducing probiotics too enthusiastically resulted in some uncomfortable symptoms that are commonly referred to as die-off or the healing crisis.
Die-off symptoms are thought to be caused by the release of metabolic byproducts when a large amount of pathogenic bacteria and / or yeasts are destroyed. For me, die-off certainly was a real thing, and expressed as a temporary worsening of my skin and awful night sweats.
Other common symptoms of die-off include:
- Flu like symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Aching joints
- IBS like symptoms.
While experiencing die-off symptoms often indicates a positive shift is in the process, keep in mind that it’s also sign your liver is under pressure. So be kind, and take it slow!
#2 – Simplifying my diet and eliminating problematic foods
For the first 6 months, I kept my diet extremely simple with a focus on easy-to-digest meals. This meant a lot of slow cooked stews and broths, and not a lot of raw food or veggies high in insoluble fibre. Yes – I skipped my broccoli!
If you’re familiar with our food philosophy, I think it also goes without saying that I maintained a strict gluten free diet all throughout the healing process (and will continue to do so). If you aren’t yet gluten free, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of making this step!
Related: 5 Reasons To Live Gluten Free
I also skipped dairy (given my IgG reactions), alcohol and coffee. To the extent possible, I limited foods rich in histamines and salycilates due to my reactions to those. This elimination phase was quite overwhelming, but thankfully over the months I was able to tolerate more and more foods without skin flare ups. I now eat a full paleo diet, and have zero skin flares.
For those curious, I also tried my hand at the Gut and Psychology (“GAPS”) intro diet for a couple of weeks. If you’re very committed and looking for a kick-start to healing the your gut, you can learn more about the GAPS diet here.
#3 – Healing and sealing the gut lining through diet and supplementation
In addition to eating lots of healing stews and – to be honest – plain food, I supplemented with the following:
- Bone broth
- Grass fed gelatin
- Digestive enzymes and Betaine HCL
- Magnesium (oral powder and epsom salt baths)
- Vitamin D
- B Vitamins
- Cod liver oil
- Fish oil
- DAO enzymes (for histamine intolerance)
- Milk thistle (for liver support).
For a printable copy of our top gut healing supplements, pick up the Gut Healing Supplements Guide.
#4 – Stress management and lifestyle modifications
In the gut healing journey, it’s all too easy to get sidetracked by all the dietary restrictions and probiotics. Before you know it, you’re a walking stress ball – and it doesn’t do your health any good!
If you find it difficult to relax or release control in your life, this is a skill you’ll need to learn in healing your gut. For me, this change in world view was much more challenging than simply popping a probiotic pill. It was part of the learning process that, in hindsight, made the whole experience worthwhile.
Aside from changing the way you see your world (uh…no mean feat there!), you may want to focus on cultivating a regular meditation or mindfulness practice. Do what feels right for you – whether that’s something fun, relaxing or contemplative. The key is to stop fretting about your health and your next meal!
It also goes without saying that sleep is huge when it comes to healing the gut and skin conditions. Getting a quality 7 – 8 hours should be your non-negotiable! You can read about our top 5 tips for a better night’s sleep here.
#5 – My “secret weapon” helminth therapy
In addition to the above, with the help of my naturopath I also added in helminth therapy. If you’re game, you may want to give this new therapy some consideration!
Helminth therapy involves introducing friendly fauna into the gut ecosystem to help restore it to its natural state. It may sound unsavoury, but throughout our evolutionary history we have coexisted with intestinal worms known as helminths. These benign helminths have the ability to modulate our immune system and help control inflammation in their host – an evolutionary mechanism thought to promote the survival of the host (and therefore the helminths too!). Recent studies are yielding some promising results for the use of helminth therapy in immune system and inflammatory disorders (4)
Now, before you start thinking tapeworm or hookworms, rest assured these are microscopic organisms which only survive in the body for a short time. I think of it as a probiotic that I take every three weeks. In my experience, by the 3 month mark I noticed significant improvements in my food sensitivities and eczema using helminth therapy. While I believe that I was already well on my way to repairing my gut using Steps 1 – 4, these little angels were a real secret weapon in getting me to 100% eczema free. I’ll also add that I have experienced little to no side effects (sometimes a little skin flare on the first day), and continue to take helminths as part of my probiotic regimen.
If you’re interested in learning more, the exact treatment I use involves Hymenolepis Diminuta Cysticercoids (“HDCs”) which is the larval stage of small helminths. They are available from Biome Restoration. P.s. If you’re in Australia, I’ve also heard that they will soon be manufactured on our shores (bringing down the cost). I will keep you posted!
My Results + Words of Encouragement!
It’s now been over 12 months since I started working intensively on my gut, and boy…I have come a long way. I am now completely free from my eczema symptoms, and I can put it all down to treating poor gut health as the root cause.
I want to leave you with an after photo…something to counteract the horror of my “rock bottom” before picture! This is a recent snap wearing light makeup, with no photo editing. This is how my skin now looks on a regular day (not just a good day). Yes – it’s possible to heal eczema naturally!
My results are, of course, my own. Everyone’s specific needs for healing differ! However, if you’re an eczema sufferer reading this post – I hope you’re feeling empowered to know that full healing is possible.
And if you’re on this path of gut healing already, just know that it’s rarely (if ever) a linear process. There are ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. It’s all part of the process, so hang in there and best of luck!
Want more? Let’s do this together!
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In other words… naturally glowing skin, balanced weight and vibrant health!
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