ECZEMA (Atopic Dermatitis)

Eczema is inflamed, sensitive, itching skin. "There is currently no cure for eczema," says the UK's National Eczema Society . That does not stop the medical profession from trying to treat it, of course, with emollients, tars, antihistamines, topical or oral steroids, immunomodulators, or any of a bevy of other drugs.

Atopic (inflammatory) eczema is the most common, dry, very itchy kind of eczema. But there is also allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, infantile seborrhoeic eczema (cradle cap), adult seborrhoeic eczema, varicose eczema, and discoid eczema.

Incidence of eczema is on the increase throughout the world. As Jerry Lee Lewis might put it, "There's a whole lot of scratching going on." According to the American Academy of Dermatology, currently one baby in ten has eczema. ( Think about it: 10% of babies have an incurable condition. Does that make sense? If you happen to be a dermatologist, it must certainly make dollars. If you are a parent, it should make you curious about natural alternatives.

One such curious mom was Yvonne. Her baby had a rash you would not believe. The infant's arms and legs, midriff and back were all red and sore, everywhere. It looked as someone had hand-dipped him in a vat of diaper rash.

"And the diaper is all I can put on him," Yvonne said. "Any kind of clothing seems to make him itch and itch. I can't even put a cotton sleeper on him at night."

When the baby wriggled, you could see that the rash was worse where the diaper contacted the skin.

"At first I thought it really was just diaper rash," Yvonne said, "But diaper rash doesn't go from the ankles to the shoulders, does it?"

"Not in my experience," I said. "What did your pediatrician say?"

"He said it's eczema all right. Then he started talking about trying out some medicines. I haven't yet decided if I want to use them. But this all-over itching thing is awful to see. Is there any natural remedy that might help?" she asked

"Some natural healing folks recommend a topical application of a solution of chamomile leaves or even onion juice. Personally, I think your best bet might be to feed your baby some yogurt."

Her eyebrows went up at that.

"But I breastfeed my baby," she said. "Why would he need yogurt?"

"Babies given yogurt are less likely to develop eczema," I said. "In fact, studies have found that pregnant women who eat yogurt, or a supplement of the beneficial microorganisms naturally in it, are less likely to have babies with eczema."

"How can that help an existing skin problem?" Yvonne asked.

"Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria are found in yogurt, along with other microorganisms known as probiotics. One theory has it that these beneficial bacteria help reduce a child's allergic response, quieting down its super-sensitivity to everything. We know that acidophilus and other good bacterial help strengthen the immune system and resistance to colds and such. They create a healthier intestinal environment by keeping pathogenic bacteria in check, and also improve digestion. Has you baby had any antibiotics?"

"Hmm." Yvonne thought for a moment. "Yes, he has. Two, actually three, rounds of antibiotics since birth. He's almost 7 months old now."

"That might have something to do with it, too," I said. "Antibiotics kill off good bacteria at least as well as they kill bad bacteria. Yogurt helps restore the digestive tract's normal population of the little critters. Instead of killing bacteria, we actually help them along. The process of encouraging a healthy population of microflora is called probiotics."

Yvonne got it the meaning immediately. "Anti-biotic: against life. Pro-biotic:, for life," she said. "Makes sense to try it, and I know yogurt has to be a lot safer than the steroid cream his pediatrician wants to put him on. How much yogurt would I have to give him?"

"Just a little, with every feeding. The best time to slip in a new food is when the little guy is hungry, right before you nurse him. Half a teaspoonful or so of good quality, plain yogurt is probably enough. At every feeding."

I heard from Yvonne in a few days.

"The eczema is gone," she said happily. "The yogurt really did the trick. I noticed the difference immediately, and by the look of things, so did my baby. Imagine that!"

Indeed. May we also imagine a world where doctors are less liberal with their antibiotic therapy, and use vitamin C instead? Interestingly enough, vitamin C may be a useful cure for eczema itself. For decades, there has been a series of Russian studies exploring this. A very promising University of Texas study was reported in 1989 specifying an effective eczema-reducing dose of 50-75 mg vitamin C per kg body weight per day. That is about 25-35 mg per pound, amounting to a few hundred milligrams a day for an infant, 1,000 or 2,000 mg/day for a child, or 5,000 to 6,000 mg/day for an adult. The study was double-blind and well controlled. (Severe atopic dermatitis responds to ascorbic acid. Med World News 1989; April 24:41.) The success may be due to vitamin C's antihistamine effect, to its anti-inflammatory effect, or to its immune-enhancing effect, or perhaps all of the above.

Many persons have experienced that good old fashioned sunlight often improves eczema. While everyone knows that overexposure to UVB rays is to be avoided, we may be going too far in ducking out from the sun. Both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A have been demonstrated to reduce the symptoms of eczema. As a child in my neighborhood, all us kids were kicked out of the house to play on a sunny day. Maybe we should, with moderation, do likewise today.

Additional related and relevant skin-healing suggestions will be found in my chapter on Psoriasis, along with a discussion of the special value of the essential fatty acids for the skin.


Severe atopic dermatitis responds to ascorbic acid. Med World News 1989; April 24:41.)

Kirjavainen PV, Arvola T, Salminen SJ, Isolauri E. Aberrant composition of gut microbiota of allergic infants: a target of bifidobacterial therapy at weaning? Gut. 2002 Jul;51(1):51-5.

Kalliomaki M, Salminen S, Arvilommi H, Kero P, Koskinen P, Isolauri E. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001 Apr 7;357(9262):1076-9.

Kalliomaki M, Salminen S, Poussa T, Arvilommi H, Isolauri E. Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2003 May 31;361(9372):1869-71.

Rautava S, Kalliomaki M, Isolauri E. Probiotics during pregnancy and breast-feeding might confer immunomodulatory protection against atopic disease in the infant. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2002 Jan;109(1):119-21.

Reynolds NJ, Franklin V, Gray JC, Diffey BL, Farr PM.Narrow-band ultraviolet B and broad-band ultraviolet A phototherapy in adult atopic eczema: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2001 Jun 23;357(9273):2012-6.

Copyright  C  2005, 2003 and prior years Andrew W. Saul. 

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )



Andrew W. Saul


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