Nutritional Questions

May 2014

Food Sensitivities and Dermatitis

It is generally acknowledge that between 10-25% of those with Atopic Dermatitis have food sensitivities. Additionally, some eczema is associated with celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and asthma. The most common trigger foods are chicken eggs, cow’s milk, shell fish, peanuts, wheat, nuts, rice, codfish, food additives and some fruit, alcohol and coffee.

Herbalist Paul Bergner published tips for evaluating the digestive system function in order to identify and eliminate food allergens and heal the digestive tract. It is necessary to use a Food/Mood Diary to identify foods eaten, moods, and symptoms. Some symptoms occur immediately, others over a period of days. While reviewing the Food/Mood Diary it is important to look for a Triangle pattern including 1) digestive symptoms, 2) predominant mood or energy symptoms, plus 3) complaints of musculoskeletal aches to autoimmune tissue disorders including inflammation. Symptoms such as upper gastrointestinal pain or abdominal bloating, without obvious causes, are the first indicator of digestive dis-ease. Steroidal drugs like prednisone can exacerbate the symptoms and damage to the gastro-intestinal tract. If the symptom triangle is present, it is necessary to test the body’s response to food elimination. If digestion, mood and autoimmune symptoms all improve after elimination of a food, it signals that the individual is constitutionally intolerant of the food.

To complicate the allergies further, Berger states that the food often causing the symptoms is consumed everyday and at most meals. These seem to be foods we cannot do without. Seemingly, we are addicted to them. Bergner links this to a possible sympathetic adrenal response to the presence of the irritant in the gut. Eating the food at regular intervals becomes woven into the systemic response to stress. Our bodies feel a surge of norepinephrine and adrenaline associated with the immune response these proteins trigger (Traditions in Western herbalism Conference materials). Do you have any known intolerances? Do you consume those foods anyway? The only conclusive way to identify food allergies is to do a full elimination and provocation diet. Liz Lipski’s Elimination/Provocation Diet provides a healthy outline to follow. This should include up to 40 days of elimination, eating only foods commonly known to be ‘hypo-allergenic’, with a gradual reintroduction of foods, one-at-a-time to identify allergy triggers. Take detailed notes using the Food/Mood Diary and review your findings to eliminate from your diet the foods, which give you a high allergic response. After a period of elimination and healing, it can be possible to introduce the trigger foods back into your diet. Probiotics Sean Donahue, herbalists, recommends including a probiotic supplements with a minimum of 15-20 billion live organisms to re-establish healthy gut flora. This is supported by a study on Probiotics and Immune Health by Yan F, Polk DB., that found probiotics ‘regulate the functions of systemic and mucosal immune cells and intestinal epithelial cells’. This supports the therapeutic use of probiotics in treating immune response-related diseases, such as allergy, eczema, and viral infection. The use of bitter herbs for toning and strengthening the digestive system is well documents in traditional medicine of both Europe and China. Bitter herbs also have a toning and strengthening effect on the whole nervous system and vitality of the human body. This can help us deal with stress and maintain our overall health. I have found that taking bitter herbs 15 minutes before meal, can stimulate the digestion and ease assimilation in those suffering from eczema. In his book, Foundations of Health, Healing with Herbs & Foods, Christopher Hobbs, Herbalist and Botanist explains that bitters work in three major ways. Bitter Herbs will 1) activate the gastric secretion of hydrochloric acid (HCL), 2) increase the tone and strength of the autonomic nervous system, and 3) activate the immune system. First, bitter herbs stimulate secretion of HCL in the stomach, and production of digestive enzymes such as bile from the gall bladder. Taken before meals, these bitters will stimulate digestive function preparing the body to digest the food that is coming. Effectively, bitters are improving blood circulation, nutrient absorption and elimination of waste. Additionally, bitters work to strengthen the autonomic nervous system, which controls digestive organ function. By supporting the function of the digestive organs, they become stronger and more capable of doing their job without the use of bitters. In supporting our nervous system function, we may also feel lowered anxiety and stress.

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