You are what you eat (eczema and food)

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In my last post I had written briefly about the Eczema diet I had started for my daughter in October 2014. It is almost 6 months now and we have had some time to get used to her new diet. I have become very familiar with new foods (for me) like Spelt flour, quinoa, apple cider vinegar, Carob powder (alternative to cocoa) and have become well acquainted with foods like Sorghum (jowar), soya milk and beans, sweet potato, beetroot amongst others. More importantly, we have seen a gradual but definite improvement in her eczema under the combined influence of her immunosuppressive medication (Methotrexate) and her diet.

This is the first time in 3 years that she played a bit of Holi (a festival of colours in India) this year with safe, organic colours and it was delightful to see her so happy to take part in an activity which others can take for granted. There is one other thing that I want to point out in this regard. There have been a few of mild flare ups in the last 6 months- this has been partly due to introduction to new foods in her diet, sweating etc. But what stands out is the fact that usually tweaking the diet a bit for a short while helps to calm the flare up without the need for any additional medication like topical steroids etc every time. Now in fact, after a long time, Aiyana’s eczema is only on her neck and ankles and not all over the body. Her eczema is still a work in progress with a long way to go yet but each small step forward is a cause for celebration for all of us.

You are what you eat (so don’t be fast, easy, cheap or fake)

real food word cloud

Even though I am not a certified nutritionist or an expert and my family’s journey to control eczema through diet has just started, I want to share with you what I have learned so far. I hope that my story might encourage you to find out more about your own diet, lifestyle and its impact on your health and make changes if required. What I love most about using this path to treat my daughter’s eczema is that this is in my control  since I get to decide and control the quality of ingredients and nutrients which enter our systems. This is very different from giving medicines and trying out other treatments where there are various (and sometimes harsh) side effects, none of which are under our control.

One of the key learning for me this past couple of years has been the realisation that the foods that we eat have a far greater impact on our health and wellbeing than I could have ever imagined. I always knew that food gave us energy and was a necessary part of our lives but never knew or realised the critical role that it plays as far as our health is concerned. There is obviously no only one right diet for everyone. And we are talking about real food here and not which comes from a package. Our food habits have changed a lot in the past few generations and we have moved away quite a bit from natural, unprocessed and simple foods. In India though, the emphasis is still on fresh home-made foods for most of us on a daily basis. But packaged, processed, sugar laden foods have become a big part of urban Indian lifestyle as today and we have an increasing incidence of  lifestyle diseases like childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes amongst others.

Simply put, the food that we eat plays a vastly important role and has both negative and positive impact on the body depending on what foods we are consuming. Also, in addition to food there are several other important factors which affect our health. These are namely, the toxins and chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, how we live our lives, how much we exercise and what kind of support system we have in terms of family and friends. Of course, in spite of taking all precautions and leading a very healthy life one can still fall ill due to various reasons beyond our control.

Life gives us no guarantees of course! But isn’t it still better to make the most of what we have till such time we can instead of taking our health for granted?

One word of caution here though. My daughter suffered from a life threatening infection due to a major side effect of the drug azathioprine which was meant to control her eczema. But it was also antibiotics and the timely critical medical care which saved her life. So one needs to take a well thought out and balanced approach when deciding on medical care. There are times when one has to take whatever measures like surgery, treatments and medications that are required to fight an illness or a health situation. Other times if there is a chronic illness or condition which just doesn’t improve with medicines and surgery alone, one can look at a combination of holistic approach and medications. At all times one has to take a decision about the relevant and proper medical care depending on the circumstances. The type and combination of medical care and a well balanced diet will differ from individual to individual.

(Sources and further reading: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15639678

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3028965/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11229668)

Our relationship with food

Our relationship with food can be a bit tricky at times. Sometimes we use it as a crutch to help us through difficult times; other times it forms a part of our celebration apart from simply filling our stomach. We may also have strong feelings associated with it depending on our relationship with food. However, like many others I was not aware of the healing power that food has to offer. Simply put, we maybe able to control and in some cases reverse the effect of various disorders (especially chronic conditions) by making the necessary dietary changes. Hence, the food that we eat is a critical part of our healing process and we need to understand and respect that.

I am learning more about it everyday and I am slowly but steadily incorporating it into my entire family’s diet. However, diet alone may not have the desired impact for those with medical conditions since a combination of other factors like environmental toxins, stress, a leaky gut and infections usually affect the desired results.

There are various reasons why we do not hear about our diet as an part of our healing process (in addition to life saving medications and surgery whenever required) and this has been very well captured by Dr Terry Wahls (clinical professor of Medicine at the University of Iowa) in the article below-

http://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/doctor-didnt-learn-medical-school.html

Stories that inspire me

inspiration word in metal type

Dr Terry Wahls is just one of many who have successfully controlled (and in her case even reversed) their medical condition. She used a combination of dietary changes, excercise, supplements, electrical stimulation, meditation (for stress management) to successfully stop and also reverse the rapid progress of Multiple sclerosis (a neurodegenerative disease where the immune system attacks the Central Nervous system and has a whole host of symptoms which differ from individual to individual). The treatment that she followed is based on the principles of Functional Medicine.

She has published the details of her treatment and recovery in the science magazine Neuroscience 2011 and the link to the abstract is as given below-

http://www.abstractsonline.com/Plan/ViewAbstract.aspx?mID=2773&sKey=09785855-9734-496b-b682-d5b790e3eb46&cKey=4f661b9f-223e-44e7-89cd-c464d1222d6d&mKey=%7b8334BE29-8911-4991-8C31-32B32DD5E6C8%7d

You can also read about her at-
http://terrywahls.com/about/about-terry-wahls/

Another physician, Dr Amy Myers, has had a similar experience with her struggle with an autoimmune disorder involving the thyroid gland called Grave’s disease and where conventional medicine could not provide any solution. Dr Myers unsuccessfully underwent ablation surgery (permanently destroying the thyroid gland) before using Functional Medicine successfully to control her condition and has helped many others do the same without resorting to ablation/surgery unless absolutely required.

You can read her story here-

http://www.amymyersmd.com/2014/02/hyperthyroidism/

(Functional Medicine is a customised approach to medicine which differs from person to person and imbibes the best of science, research and innovative tools to treat the patient. It is completely patient focussed and takes into account the genetic factors, environmental and lifestyle influences of each individual before starting any treatment and thus does not treat the symptoms of a disease only. It strives to combine the best of conventional medicine and integrative medicine like nutrition, exercise, supplements etc)

Another person I would like to mention in this regard is another physician, Dr Naomi Rachel Yemen. She follows a completely different path to deal with her severe chronic condition called Crohn’s disease. She is a pediatrician by profession and is currently a Clinical Professor at the University of California for Medicine. However, the way she has dealt with her severe autoimmune disorder, Crohn’s disease, from 15 years of age for more than 50 years is what I wanted to share with you. Though her doctors had given her a life expectancy of only 40 years she has embraced life and has lived through a coma, eight surgeries, intensive therapy with powerful drugs and surgical removal of her large intestine. She has used a holistic mind/body approach in combination with other medications and surgeries in order to not only survive but also to deal with her intense suffering and chronic pain. In the process she has cofounded one of the first cancer support groups in the US and helped countless others who were otherwise medically beyond help. Over the years of dealing with her patients she has come believe in the power of healing from within often when there is no cure as in her own case. She has shared her thoughts in the link given below-

http://www.rachelremen.com/some-thoughts-on-healing/

You can read more about her life and the books she has written on her website-

http://www.rachelremen.com/about/

There are countless other such cases even though I have highlighted only a few examples in this article. What is common in all these cases and countless others is that it was ultimately something beyond conventional medicine which made all the difference to the quality of life even when there is no cure. One has to find what combination works best.

The long and winding road

cross road on hillside meadow in mountain at sunset

My daughter has been dealing with her condition for some time now and it is hard and a lot for an eight year old to deal with at times. However, we face the good days and the not so good days as a family and it helps her to get through the rough patches. I started writing this post thinking I would be focusing solely on her diet but ended up sharing with you much more. But I felt that it was important to tell you about the people who inspire me on this journey.

In this post I decided to share with you a few of those genuine and real life stories about people which have shown me that none of us are ever the only ones with these kind of problems. There are many others who have such serious, chronic medical conditions and deal with them in such healthy and non conventional ways. It is definitely worth knowing more about them and then finding out what works best for you. In my next post later this month I will write in more details about the actual diet that I am following for my daughter and its impact so far.

I also realise that while we have seen some improvement in her skin condition with the dietary changes and the medication she is currently on, it is not enough. I plan to take the help of a Functional Medicine practitioner and I am currently in the process of getting in touch with one in London. (I do not know much about the Functional Medicine practice in India and would need to find out more about it). I plan to get the requisite tests done for my daughter for determining the condition of her gut health through bacterial dysbiosis test (test for small intestine bacterial overgrowth), yeast infection, food intolerance test etc depending on the recommendations.

Gut health is considered to be of immense importance in Functional Medicine and is considered to be the cause of many allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue amongst a host of other medical conditions. Hence a good digestive system is very important for a healthy body and it may be severely or mildly but adversely impacted by various factors like stress, diet, overuse of medications, low-grade chronic infections like yeast, bacteria etc. There are tests to determine the gut health which would help me to focus on the areas that would need special attention for restoring the gut health for my daughter instead of trying out everything all at once. This is very important in order to remove the inflammatory foods, replace them with foods and ingredients required for restoring gut health, increase good bacteria in the system and repair the system by adding nutrients like Omega 3 etc.

The last time when we dealt with an experienced and well-known pediatric dermatologist in London, he recommended a course of treatment after carrying out the requisite tests which had disastrous consequences (I have captured this in my earlier blog post- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2013/10/27/the-tough-get-going-part-2/). This time around the treatment is based primarily on food and other natural ingredients which are in my control and have very limited side effects (if at all). Also, the past 6 months of following a specific and restricted diet (wheat free, dairy free , egg free amongst others) has given me the knowledge and confidence to handle major changes in the way we eat.

(Sources and further reading about gut health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15790845

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14522724)

It is not an easy journey for us as a family with restricted travel and social outings due to the dietary restrictions. But I try to make up for it at home in various ways with the help of my husband, other family members and friends. I now know that there are so many others like us who are on similar journeys of healing themselves with food and healthy lifestyles and I am truly inspired by them. We are in this together as a family and that gives each of us a lot of strength.

As a wise person once said ” Life is like a journey, so lets enjoy the ride!”

 

One thought on “You are what you eat (eczema and food)

  1. Pingback: “Not all those who wander are lost” (eczema and our ongoing journey) | Eczema- an Indian perspective

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