What you see is what you ate!
Updated: Mar 12, 2023
A few years ago a mother contacted me about her pre-school aged daughter's "serious skin issues". She told me her daughter scratched her neck, back and arms all day long. She said she tried all the lotions out there for dry skin and eczema and nothing was helping. She asked if I thought this could be related to her diet and any help I could provide would be greatly appreciated. It was no surprise to me that the products she tried did not work. Most nutritionists would agree that all diseases begin in the gut. A lot of the over-the-counter topical solutions don't work especially when there is an internal issue. Remember, roughly 20% of what your skin looks like is what you put on it. The other 80% is what you put in it and how you feed it. So I told her to give me an idea of what her daughter was eating on a regular basis. I have to say I was shocked that any parent would admit to what she was feeding her child but not terribly surprised at her food choices given the endless barrage of marketing campaigns aimed at young children's palates and to their parents who are usually too tired to argue.
This mother told me her daughter ate hot dogs, Rice Krispie treats, chicken nuggets, meatballs, lots of yogurt, strawberries, cereal, popsicles, chips, a lot of junk food/candy and she thought all of this had to be contributing to her daughter's endless scratching. I agreed! There was definitely a connection between what the child was eating and the irritation she was experiencing with her skin. For most people with eczema-like conditions, dairy and gluten products are HUGE aggravators. And let's not forget the excess (refined) sugar from all the commercially processed foods which contributes to major inflammation. But these foods tend to worsen her condition because of the imbalance of the amount and diversity of the healthy bacteria in her intestinal tract. How do I know she had an imbalance? Her skin was screaming it! Our skin provides a road map to what's really going on inside our bodies and the mysteries of the body are revealed through the skin. This poor little girl had severe digestive issues and toxic overload leading to the inflammation and the itchy skin. The only real food she ate was strawberries and given her condition and the fact that fruit has sugar (albeit natural) they were not helping her.
The challenge with treating young children is they have no idea what is going on. They don't understand that their "microbiome" is compromised and chicken nuggets only make it worse. So I really couldn't give my usual laundry list of remedies to try and it's challenging to get children to follow a strict diet. But, since children don't buy the food or prepare the meals, parents should learn to exert their authority and set the rules for what their kids eat. I did suggest her mother do a mini elimination diet- removing the yogurt (which I was pretty sure was just dessert in disguise) and gluten-based products like the nuggets and the meatballs (most are made with fillers that include bread). Also, limiting/eliminating the junk and packaged foods, as the excess sugar and chemical toxins from the food additives/preservatives can irritate her skin (and gut) further. In extreme cases I may suggest limiting all grain-based products to give some relief. Grain based diets tend to upset digestive issues and make symptoms worse. I recommended she try the elimination for at least 2 weeks to give her daughter's body a chance to begin the healing process, then slowly reintroduce foods (one at a time) to see if she has a reaction. It was equally important to introduce healthier foods into the child's diet. Most unprocessed fruits and vegetables would certainly be better than junk food or candy especially berries and green leafy vegetables. Flaxseed meal is a good thing to sneak into her food. It is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, and is extremely beneficial for relieving the symptoms of eczema and other skin irritations. Eating a diet rich in essential fatty acids like walnuts can help calm inflammation and treat dry skin. Other gut healing foods include fermented and cultured foods like natural yogurt (which provide probiotics or "good" bacteria to support healthy digestion), bone broths (chicken soup for adults), spices like ginger, turmeric, and garlic, and healthy fats like avocados and coconut oil. Topically, I also recommended using (filtered) coconut oil on the skin. It is anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral, and can help calm the itching and irritation associated with eczema. Lastly, don't forget good old-fashioned sunshine. The sun helps our skin make Vitamin D which supports wound healing and reduces inflammation and autoimmunity. But sunscreens with a SPF of more than 15, blocks 100% of Vitamin D production in the skin. So, if you use it, it's best to get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure before 10am when UV rays are not as intense, then apply sunscreen.