Itchy, red, scaly, dry, weeping, painful … when our skin is showing signs of distress, what is it really trying to tell us?
Our skin provides a natural barrier to protect us from our external environment, so when symptoms show up on our skin, it is important to understand that our body is trying to tell us that perhaps somewhere else, something is not right. It is not just a reflection of the surface itself, but also of our internal environment.
Our skin has a big job to do. As the largest organ of the human body, it is a highly evolved semi-permeable barrier that helps us detoxify, regulates fluid balance and temperature, protects our vital organs, assists our immunity and helps us synthesise Vitamin D.
Common signs of skin dysfunctions include conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, hives, psoriasis and acne, to name but a few. Not only are these an embarrassing and distressful condition for the sufferer, but are also a “red flag” that perhaps something else is out of balance that is creating inflammation that is being expressed on the surface. It is not just “skin deep”.
Skin and your child – is it eczema?
Eczema can affect up to 10-20% of our children, and is a condition I commonly see in practice. So what is it, and can it be treated?
Does your baby or child have a red, hot, dry and itchy rash that usually affects either one or many areas of the body? It can also sometimes have fluid-filled bumps that can ooze. It commonly affects the face (especially at the beginning), back of legs, elbows, back of neck and can move to the trunk area.
Often we are told there is no cure, and creams and lotions are applied which can give symptomatic relief, but is not really addressing what is “driving” the condition. What is causing the inflammation? Perhaps there has been an environmental reason affecting the barrier breakdown making the skin more vulnerable, for example soaps and detergents. There is often a family history of hay fever, asthma and other allergies and this is an important consideration that needs to be addressed. Mum’s and dad’s family history is very important.
Naturopathically I believe there often is a pattern of where the condition of the skin reflects the condition of the gut. As the gut is such an important part of our immune system, and is our baby’s “first line of defence” against its environment, if it is compromised then often this is expressed externally on the skin. Evidence of this is supported by clinical research whereby infant eczema was significantly improved by the supplementation of specific probiotics (good bowel flora). Infantile atopic eczema is often the first sign of allergies and is associated with food hypersensitivities in a high percentage of cases.
Disrupted gut dysfunction can also lead to nutritional deficiencies that then contribute further to poor skin function, leading to increased risk of pathogens invading the body, compromising the immune system even more and then the cycle can continue.
It can be treated and it is important to take a holistic approach and not just see the “skin” as the problem, as there can be various factors that need to be addressed. A helpful tool is live blood analysis, using a darkfield microscope and a pin prick of blood which is viewed immediately in clinic, giving an assessment of possible nutritional deficiencies, immunological disorders and gut health. This test can be performed on anyone at any age.
As published in September 2011 ‘Kids on the Coast Magazine’. About the author; Cassi Cowlam is a graduate of the Australian College of Natural Medicine as well as the London College of Nutritional Medicine.
The information contained in this article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for individual professional medical advice from your physician or qualified health care provider.