It's True: Improving My Gut Health Cleared My Eczema
Chelsea Miller is a model, fitness junkie, and outspoken advocate for changing the way we talk about health and curvy bodies. She writes about working out, health, her skincare obsessions, and more on her blog, Watch Her Glow, and we’re thrilled to have her as a contributor for THE/THIRTY. This month, she tells us how a fateful trip to the doctor and one small change helped cure her eczema for good.
Growing up, my body was covered in scaly, itchy, dry skin. It was not a pretty sight, and even during 37°C summers, I was wearing long sleeves and jeans to cover it up. My parents eventually took me to a doctor who diagnosed me with eczema, and I was prescribed a steroid cream. The cream certainly helped, but what I know now as an adult is that we were only masking the symptoms that were caused by an underlying problem.
The Tipping Point
Some people say you grow out of eczema, but that wasn’t the case for me. For about half the year, I would suffer from scaly, itchy, and dry skin on my hands and feet. I used to just try and deal with it, but this year was the worst it had been in nearly 15 years; I had to have makeup applied to my feet on a few occasions on professional jobs. I always felt the need to explain my rash to makeup artists or nail technicians or anyone who happened to catch sight of it. I felt like I needed to tell them it wasn’t contagious! Not only was it embarrassing, but also the itching was so intense that it was waking me in the middle of the night and keeping me awake for hours at a time. The added stress and lack of sleep certainly weren’t helping my situation, so I began my journey to finally get to the root cause of my eczema.
Where to start
I knew going to a traditional doctor would mean another topical cream, so I decided to seek out a naturopath. What I learned from my naturopath is that though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is a form of inflammation which is the body’s response to a perceived threat. Skin issues also tend to stem from your gut health. So we approached the problem in three ways.
First, she prescribed me homeopathic drops to treat any possible overgrowths in the gut and also suggested a probiotic and triphala to help with regularity. The second action was to do an elimination diet to identify any possible food intolerances. Lastly, we added some daily supplements (to support skin health), vitamin D, an omega-3, and more healthy fats such as coconut oil and avocado to my daily diet. To address the symptoms (the intense itch), I did Epsom salt soaks before bed and acupuncture. (Side note: My acupuncturist actually worked to help with my gut health as well as directly treating me for the itching.) Both of these things seemed to help almost immediately.
Eating whole foods and avoiding sugar on its own will help improve the health of anyone’s gut, but we also needed to combat any food intolerances that may have been throwing the balance of my gut off. In came the elimination diet, which was definitely the most difficult part of the process. I ate only beans, lentils, sprouted grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts for two whole months, and it was over the holidays to make matters worse. (At the time, I was vegetarian as well, so this was highly restrictive.) Initially, I experienced a lot of bloat and gas, but that eventually went back to normal. It started to get easier to stay on track, but not having sugar was killer! About a month into the diet, I was ready to give up because I had little to no improvement to my eczema. After emailing my doctor telling her I wanted to give up, I refocused my energy and pushed through. She said that it would take a bit longer to get everything out of my system. Luckily, at about five weeks, I finally started to notice an improvement.
I can eat again!
Hallelujah! It was time to add foods back into my diet to test my body’s reaction to them. And man, was I having a hankering for eggs. This was a long process but also one of the most important parts. I could add one food at a time in its purest form, but then I had to wait three whole days before I could add another and keep an eye out for any sort of reaction. What I found is that I personally have an intolerance to highly processed foods that are high in sugar, as well as gluten and corn products. I didn’t have an extreme reaction, but I would break out in a slight rash with itching. This told me that these foods caused inflammation in my gut which triggered a reaction on my skin in the form of a rash. I had some cookies, and my skin immediately broke out on both my hands and feet, and it took a couple of weeks to clear back up. So I realised I needed to decide what was more important to me: a healthy gut and clear, healthy skin or a moment of pleasure with a cookie. And not to say that I won’t have a cookie! But I pay attention to the ingredients, and I try to keep the list short and, if possible, make them myself.
One surprising benefit
I’m going to give a little TMI here… I have never been a regular bathroom-goer. I can finally say that I am pretty consistent since going through this entire ordeal. This process taught me to pay closer attention to the signals my body was trying to send me but also helped to improve my overall health by working on my gut. I didn’t realise how often I felt bloated or uncomfortable after I ate until after I did the elimination diet, and I am now more in tune with the messages my body sends me.
Have you tried fixing your diet to cure your eczema? What has worked for you? Tell us below!