Understanding The Eczema And Immune System Connection
Eczema is a skin condition caused in part by a hyperreactive immune system. This means that the immune system over response to a stimulus, which can be from something in the environment or something internal.
Many therapies for eczema seek to either reduce the stimuli or suppress the immune response. Food allergy and environmental allergen testing are performed on many people with eczema to identify triggers and then advise avoidance of those triggers.
Medications, commonly steroids, are given either topically or internally to suppress the immune hyper response. The recommendations in this article will focus on natural, non-invasive methods for balancing immune health without suppressing it.
Avoiding triggers makes sense initially but true healing will allow for reintroduction and better tolerance of immune stimuli in the long run.
Lifestyle Modification For Immune Balancing: Sleep, Exercise, And Diet
For immune balancing and skin health, first, focus on the basics.
Get adequate sleep, for most people, this is 7-8 hours per night, but more during times of illness, pregnancy, or growth. During sleep your body is producing different amounts of immune and repair cells than during the day, your immune system follows its own circadian rhythm.
Slow-wave sleep increases growth hormone and cell repair while decreasing stress hormone secretion. Unfortunately, one recent study in the journal Sleep Med Review, showed that more than half of children with eczema experienced sleep disturbances.
Healing the immune system and eczema by supporting sleep could simultaneously reduce the rate of sleep disturbance and further improve sleep quality.
Exercise has been extensively examined in relation to immune health.
Getting mild or moderate aerobic exercise can improve immune function, particularly improving the function of natural killer cells to target virus-infected cells and balancing immune cells called T cells, which play an important role in the hyperreactivity of eczema eruptions.
Exercise decreases resting levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases the release of endorphins, feel-good molecules. Toxins are released through sweat during exercise.
It is important to point out that some eczema sufferers have exacerbations of itching with heavy sweating. Plan on wearing appropriate clothing to vent moisture and regulate body temperature.
The last lifestyle factor is perhaps the most important.
Diet plays a crucial role in the development and intensity of eczema. Not only do food allergies contribute to the pathogenesis (progression) of eczema in children, but also many food additives, coloring, and preservatives are known immune irritants.
Much has been published recently regarding food additives and ADHD. One demonstrated mechanism of this has been an alteration in the breakdown of histamine. In eczema, that same histamine molecule plays a lead role in swelling, itching, and inflammation.
Nutrients For Immune Health
1. Vitamin A
It is needed for proper growth and function of the thymus, an immune gland located in the chest. It increases natural killer cell activity and regulates antibody response.
Natural killer cells are responsible for identifying and neutralizing virus-infected cells and rejecting tumors. This is crucial for eczema sufferers who have an increased risk of herpes virus and inappropriate antibody response.
Vitamin A is also essential for the proper repair of epithelial cells, the type of cell that makes up the surface of your skin. Liver, carrots, spinach, cantaloupe, and apricots are good sources of Vitamin A.
The dosing for supplemental use is 10,000 IU per day, but this intake is not safe for pregnant women as high doses of Vitamin A can cause birth defects.
2. Quercetin & other bioflavonoids
It can decrease the release of histamine from immune cells by inhibiting an enzyme called cAMP phosphodiesterase. Histamine is a molecule that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the body.
It can change your blood vessel wall permeability, letting in more immune cells and contributing to the hyper response characteristic of eczema.
- Histamine also provokes the itchiness experienced by nearly all eczema sufferers.
- Foods rich in quercetin flavonoids are apples, onions, green tea, and leafy green vegetables.
- Supplemental quercetin should be dosed at 250mg twice daily.
3. Zinc deficiency
It has been found more commonly in eczema sufferers than in the general population. Adequate zinc is required in the metabolism of essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 fats that are crucial to both immune and skin health.
Foods sources of zinc include animal protein, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Zinc supplementation should be 15mg daily, ideally in the picolinate form for best absorption and utilization.
Herbal Medicine For Immune Health
1. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Is an herb very popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its immune-supportive properties and adaptogenic properties?
Adaptogens help people adapt to stress by modulating the HPA axis, a hormone network within the body. Astragalus is especially appropriate for people with eczema for its immune benefits but also because decreasing stress can help prevent skin eruptions.
Astragalus has also been shown to decrease the recurrence of asthma in children, improving another condition of immune hyper-reactivity.
2. Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
Contains inulin, a phytochemical that activates a different pathway in the immune system called the alternate complement pathway.
This mechanism has been shown to be underutilized in persons with atopic dermatitis (eczema). Alternate complement pathway function is needed for killing bacteria, a problem especially important for eczema sufferers, as 90% will have the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus living on their skin.
Unfortunately, secondary infection of Staph aureus is not uncommon in eczema lesions.
3. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Root also contains inulin like burdock root so it can help with the killing of hazardous bacteria. Dandelion also decreases inflammation, a hallmark of eczematous skin conditions.
It is also an herb that supports liver health and detoxification which can reduce internal immune stimuli such as heavy metals or solvents. Reducing the body’s burden of toxins can decrease immune reactivity and subsequently reduce eczema eruptions.
Dandelion root also contains potent antioxidant functions, neutralizing harmful free radicals.