How I healed my daughter’s eczema (and leaky gut)

In my last post on my daughter’s eczema treatment, I had mentioned once again the Functional Medicine treatment that is helping her heal her eczema from within. In this post I am really happy to say that she is much better than before and her eczema is under control.

She is finally off her immunosuppressive medication after 5 long years of depending on systemic drugs to keep her eczema under control. She has been on prednisone (oral steroid), cyclosporine, azathioprine and methotrexate (at various points in time) to manage her very severe eczema for the past 5 years. For those of you who have been following my blog know that it has been a very long journey filled with a lot of ups and downs. When I started Functional Medicine treatment in 2015 I was convinced that it works but I knew that it would not be easy to implement the changes needed and the discipline that would be required. Countless others have been healed by this treatment for various chronic conditions including the seemingly “incurable” ones like Multiple Sclerosis (read Dr Terry Wahls recovery from a crippling MS here), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto (read Dr Isablella Wentz’s story here), Alzheimers (read up on Dr Dale Bredesen’s amazing work here).

The struggle is part of the story

 

It has been worth every second, minute and hour that I have spent on healing her gut from within when I see her soft and radiant skin today

It has been worth every second, minute and hour that I have spent on healing her gut from within when I see her soft and radiant skin today. It has been worth every tear that I have shed when times were difficult and I questioned myself on the path that I had chosen to follow. It has been worth the effort that I had to put in to make the changes in our diet and lifestyle as product availability was poor initially and I struggled with finding the recipes for a different way of eating (gluten and dairy free). It has been worth it when I hear in her voice the delight of sharing her lunch with her friends in school, where her friends look forward to having the very same (gluten and dairy free, unprocessed foods) foods that she used to once eat alone.

Healing a leaky gut

leaky gut symptoms

It was a precious day for me last Thursday as her Functional Medicine pointed out in my daughter’s latest test reports of how her gut has healed slowly from being “leaky” and how this has resulted in her eczema coming under control. Her stool (GI Map) analysis showed that the her gut lining had healed to the extent that the protein called Zonulin was no longer present in high quantities as previously tested over the last couple of years. In other words the tight junction of the gut lining had healed to the extent that it no longer allowed any undigested foods, toxins, bacteria or yeast into the bloodstream and activate the immune system. This had helped calm down her immune system which had helped bring her eczema under control and allowed her to be pulled off her immunosuppressive medication. There were a few things that still needed to be taken care of as had showed up in her urine metabolite ONE test but every single marker had nonetheless showed improvement.

What had worked for us was a combination of lifestyle change and the right nutrition for her. Healing the gut from within also forms a part of the ancient healing traditions of Ayurveda as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Some of the key things that we did that helped us to heal her eczema-

  • Remove trigger foods (like gluten, eggs and dairy), refined, processed and sugar laden foods (baked products, beverages etc) yeast, nightshades to name a few
  • Remove and reduce toxin exposure by switching to safe and eco friendly laundry and dishwashing detergents, personal care products (shampoo, lotion, cream etc)
  • Use therapeutic grade essential oils to manage and prevent infections and skin conditions; I later started using these for a variety of other ailments as a safe and effective preventive measure including minor burns, cuts, headaches etc
  • Add probiotics and fermented foods like kefir/sauerkraut to help increase the ratio of favourable bacteria in the gut against the harmful ones
  • Increase vegetable intake (through soups, juices and meals) as well as fruits (all colours)
  • Add supplements like Glutamine, licorice amongst others to help heal the gut lining
  • Add supplements like cucurmin, NAC, omega 3, phytonutrients etc to boost her antioxidant levels and lower overall inflammation in the body
  • Address the chronic stress of living with eczema with the help of books, emotional support and mindfulness
  • The whole family supported in making these changes without which we would not have been able to make this kind of difference

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

 

cross road on hillside meadow in mountain at sunset

Eczema remains a part of our life today inspite of what we have achieved. However, as I have mentioned in my earlier posts, it is only a part of who my daughter is and does not define her

Eczema remains a part of our life today inspite of what we have achieved. However, as I have mentioned in my earlier posts, it is only a part of who my daughter is and does not define her. And it is even more true today than ever before. It may remain a part her life but it is not something that she needs to be scared of. She will most likely need to be much more careful of her diet and lifestyle than many others but I believe this will give her a better insight and control over her own health which will actually help her in the years to come. While she has matured over the last few years due to her struggles, she has retained her innocence which gives her a freshness that children naturally possess. I can only hope that these years of learning and accepting the various changes in her young life will shape her into a compassionate, strong and beautiful young woman in the years to come.

As her mother, caregiver and a human being even I have come a long way since I started writing this blog about four years back. Today I would like to share some of the things that I have learned along the way.

  • Remember to always trust your own intuition and instinct where your child is concerned; there is no better advocate for your child than her mother (and father)
  • Try and work with doctors (and other healthcare practitioners) as partners so that you can work efficiently as a team; this is true for chronic conditions where treatment may take years to show any results
  • Food is medicine; nutrition plays a HUGE role in our health whether we realise it or not
  • I have learned not to compromise on the quality and safety of anything that we put in or on our body; buy the best quality and non toxic (if possible organic) produce and consumer care products
  • Taking care of your child’s emotional health is equally important and has a huge impact on their self esteem and confidence; we can unknowingly end up neglecting this aspect of our child’s health while focussing on their medical treatment
  • Self care should be regular part of the daily routine for the primary caregiver (usually the mother) of a child; without taking adequate care of yourself you simply cannot give the best of yourself to your child over a long period of time
  • It is important to include forgiveness as an integral part of your approach in taking care of your child; this is true both for your child as they may fail at times to adhere to the treatment plan and also for yourself as you may make mistakes even if it is unintentional
  • And last but not the least remember to enjoy all the good that is there in your life and treasure each moment with your child; their childhood can disappear in a flash if we are consumed only by trying to tide over the ‘bad times” till “good times” take over

I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength

There is so much that has happened in the past few years, so much that as a family that we have covered together and much that we have learnt along the way. While I wish my daughter did not have to go through what she did, it was something we had no control over at all. It took us a while to accept this fact and at the same time be thankful for all that we have. As this year comes to an end, I am grateful to have to come to this point in my life where I have so much to share and an opportunity to make a difference.

As this year comes to an end, I am grateful to have to come to this point in my life where I have so much to share and an opportunity to make a difference

I discovered my passion for helping others in need in the domain of healthcare and have set up my Health Coaching practice. This was done after completing my one year online course from the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. I also discovered my passion for writing and creating awareness for various health related topics like the ones mentioned below (links given below)

I have also started creating awareness by giving talks to small groups of people and my first presentation is on “Toxins- hiding in plain sight

Toxins- hiding in plain sight 29th nov

Nourish. Heal. Connect

Transparent copy with name

I am collaborating with Dr Amrita Talwar, who is also my daughter’s dermatologist, for a Health Coaching set up in her clinic in Mumbai. At the same time I also have my own practice where I have started seeing clients for various health conditions.

I focus on the following aspects of healthcare-

  • nutrition and hydration
  • exercise and movement
  • sleep and relaxation
  • social relationships and connections
  • mindfulness and stress management

Incase you are interested in knowing more about my practice, please get in touch with me at

Email: anindita@aninditarungta.com

Contact : +917738533913

Fb: @healthcoachinindia

Twitter: @aninditarungta

Heal

The Functional Medicine and Gut Health approach to managing chronic conditions including eczema

I have written briefly about Functional Medicine earlier in my posts. I have also mentioned how I have gradually moved towards it over the past couple of years through my research to find a less harmful way of managing my daughter’s extremely severe eczema. I  have shown her to a Functional Medicine practitioner in London this past July and got some tests done to determine her Gut Health. The tests show that she indeed has a “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability” issue. But before I get to that, in this post I would like to cover Functional Medicine and Gut Health in much more details and why we should all know more about it. (Of course just to be clear, I write as a parent who is trying out a Functional Medicine approach for her child and not as an expert or health professional).

A BESPOKE medical approach

We are all used to wearing clothes which fit us well and pay a premium if we need to for clothes which are customized for our body shape and size. But when it comes to health, we are used to an approach which is just the opposite. It is a “one size fits all” approach!

This has worked well in the past when we were dealing with infectious diseases like chicken pox, measles, cholera, small pox and others which have been brought under control which much-needed antibiotics and antifungal medicines. But a lot of the medical issues that we are facing today are due to not only our genetic predisposition, environment but also our lifestyle choices (food habits, diet and exercise) and stress. Hence, most of the times we do not realise that a lot of our chronic medical problems (autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, Grave’ disease and others like migraines, digestion issues, allergies, psoriasis etc) cannot be wished away by just popping a pill.

We will need to look beyond pills to deal with most chronic conditions. Luckily for us, there is an entire stream of medicine which is geared to do just that.

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine is an approach which is different from the conventional way that we use to deal with any kind of illness currently. Conventional medicine is of course necessary for dealing with acute illnesses which require immediate intervention either through medication or through surgery. So one needs to be very clear whether the health issue is an acute illness or a chronic one. Also, while conventional medicine focuses on symptom relief, Functional Medicine addresses the root cause of a problem. It has a patient centric approach that tries to find the root cause of any illness or condition by looking at each patient differently based on his/her lifestyle choices, food and dietary habit, genetic and environmental factors and other psychological factors like stress which has a tremendous bearing on a person’s well-being.

Functional Medicine is also science based and combines conventional medicine with a holistic approach by adding diet, supplements and stress management techniques etc which are not usually used in conventional medicine treatments. What is also important that it uses scientific methods like laboratory testing and latest diagnostic techniques to find out the root cause of any illness. Functional Medicine thus provides tools for the patient and the practitioner to customise and design a health management programme for each individual which is geared up to create health and not just to banish illness.

Ayurveda- a holistic approach towards diseases

Here I would like to mention briefly about our traditional treatment philosophy which is also patient centric and holistic in its approach towards diseases. In India, we have a tradition of healthcare called Ayurveda which translated in English literally means the “science of Life”. It focuses on how to prevent illness and how to address the root cause if it happens and is one of the earliest holistic treatments known to man. In that sense Ayurveda has a lot in common with Functional Medicine. But with the progress of Western medicine it has taken a kind of backseat in India over the years.

(I have written about our experience with Ayurveda in my earlier post- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/08/25/our-tryst-with-ayurveda-and-our-first-eczema-support-group-meeting-in-mumbai/).

Ayurvedic treatments are based on the principles of wholeness and balance. That is why the mind, body, spirit, emotional balance of a person as well as diet, lifestyle, stress is considered to be as important for treatment if not more than the actual medicine. It emphasises on treating the cause and not just the symptoms and hence looks to preserve a person’s well being and not just treat him. Unfortunately, due to various reasons (which is beyond the scope of this blog) ayurveda has come to relegated as an “alternative” medicine. This was all the more so due to a revolution in the history of medicine brought about by the discovery of antibiotics in the 20th century which has saved countless lives. But today we face a very different challenge which may need to be tackled quite differently.

Chronic illness- a growing phenomenon

As we all know the use of antibiotics has helped saved millions of lives since its discovery and has even helped eradicate diseases like smallpox etc. This new era of medicine honed its skills in targeting a particular agent which caused an infectious disease and then evolved to treat a particular symptom caused by a disease. This is the current approach of medicine towards all illnesses. But while acute medical issues have been dealt with very well by conventional medicine, chronic and lifestyle related issues are not faring as well. And the incidence of chronic illnesses are increasing exponentially led by the USA and followed by other countries all around the world.

(Sources: http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2011/global_forum_ncd_20110427/en/

http://www.cgdev.org/doc/expert%20pages/nugent/Nugent_Annals_article.pdf)

A chronic illness also does not go away on its own, indeed grows worse over time and usually has multiple causes. The medications usually only treat the symptoms which make recurring episodes a regular feature. This means leading a life visiting doctors, popping pills and putting up with many symptoms. This is even more problematic since ironically we are living longer lives than our previous generations.

Also a myth that has been associated with chronic diseases and developing countries like ours is that chronic diseases affect only the elderly and wealthy parts of a society and is prevalent primarily in developed countries. That notion no longer holds any truth. This problem is all the more compounded when you add in the economic costs associated with the growing burden of chronic noncommunicable diseases. We now not only have to deal with the rising healthcare costs associated with chronic illnesses over long periods of time, we also have to factor in the loss in income due to same.

In India, the incidence of  Type 2 diabetes is steadily reaching epic proportions especially in the urban areas. Autoimmune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis, eczema and others like heart diseases, migraines etc are also on the rise.

Some of the articles whose links are given below will give you some idea of the criticality of this situation globally and in India-

http://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/part1/en/

http://archive.oxha.org/initiatives/economics/chronic-disease-an-economic-perspective

Gut health and Functional Medicine

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Functional Medicine recognises that though the symptoms may be similar in two different individuals, the medical approach required to deal with them will usually be radically different. This is due to the fact that while the manifestations of the disease is similar in both individuals, the genetic makeup of both are different, environmental factors like exposure to toxins are different and their lifestyles will also be completely different.

In this post I am focussing on one major aspect of Functional Medicine which is being recognised as the root cause of most chronic conditions including autoimmune diseases. That aspect is our “gut health” (or lack of). The others include genetic predisposition, lifestyle and environmental factors concerning each individual.

We are slowly coming around to this very important fact that our microbiome (or the many thousands of types of bacteria and other microorganisms which reside in our gut or intestines) determines our health and causes many autoimmune and other disorders when compromised. We carry about 2 kilograms of these microbes in our gut consisting of roughly tens of trillions in numbers and a part of the microbiome is unique to each of us.

This intestinal mircoflora has various important functions such as

  • digestion and absorption of certain foods
  • aids in the production of some vitamins such as Vitamin B and K
  • it has a protective function in keeping toxins, allergens out and balancing  out the unfavourable microbes
  • forms a protective barrier as a part of our immune system

Our gut system becomes off-balance and our health suffers when there is too much of harmful, pathogenic microorganisms like bad bacteria, yeast and parasites and too less of the health promoting bacteria. As mentioned earlier, this leads to chronic illnesses which are far more serious than just indigestion and heartburn.

Our gut health can become adversely affected due to various reasons like

  • a high calorie, sugar laden, processed food, low fibre diet that promotes the wrong kind of microflora
  • high use of medications like antibiotics which disturb the balance between the good and the bad bacteria
  • undetected low grade food intolerance and allergies (gluten, eggs, dairy etc)
  • deficiencies in pancreatic enzymes leading to issues with digestion and absorption of foods
  • toxins like mold, chemicals, pollutants etc which affect the gut and thus the health adversely
  • and last but not the least stress

Another serious issue which can crop up due to poor gut health is intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome. The lining of the gut acts as a barrier by containing the undigested food, toxic wastes and harmful microbes and filtering out only the required nutrients after breaking down the food into vitamins and minerals. This incredibly useful gut immune system may develop tiny gaps in the intestinal wall and allow leakage of undigested food particles, microbes and metabolic wastes which the body would then recognise as foreign invaders. This is called the leaky gut syndrome and can cause one to become allergic to all kinds of foods since the immune system starts defending the body against what it perceives to be foreign invaders. The hyperactive immune system if left untreated over prolonged periods of time can create inflammation and may eventually manifest itself in the form of various chronic conditions. Depending on the symptoms the illness is then classified as digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome; migraines, chronic fatigue, arthritis, eczema and other autoimmune conditions.

(Sources for further reading-

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290747.php

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583600

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285122.php)

How is Functional Medicine really useful?

Abstract word cloud for Gut flora with related tags and terms

Given this backdrop Functional Medicine is poised to play an important role. By customising medical care based on the individual and not the symptoms of the illness, Functional Medicine is concerned with the problems afflicting the various organs and systems inside the body. As mentioned earlier it our intestinal (or gut) health which determines which nutrients are absorbed by our bodies and which toxins, mircobes and irritants are expelled. If anything happens to disturb this balance and affect our gut health adversely, it affects our health in myriad ways. (I have briefly touched upon this topic in my earlier post- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/06/12/not-all-those-who-wander-are-lost-eczema-and-our-ongoing-journey/). Functional Medicine focuses on this very important aspect of our health by trying to heal the gut health first and foremost in tackling chronic illnesses and autoimmune conditions.

Some of the basic changes that we can make to heal our gut would be

  • eat whole unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts seeds etc which are high in fibre, nutrients
  • limit intake of sugar and processed foods
  • cut out/limit foods which you are sensitive to (gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish)
  • take help to increase healthy bacteria in the gut and repair the instestinal wall (if damaged)

Functional Medicine also advocates the 4 R programme which acts as a framework based upon which we can make changes to improve and repair our gut health.

1. Remove- remove the allergens ( gluten, dairy, eggs, shellfish etc), inflammatory foods like sugar, processed foods and other irritants like alcohol, tobacco etc

2. Replace- replace the good stuff which are essential for good gut health like digestive enzymes and of course whole, unprocessed plant based foods, low sugar diet

3. Reinoculate- this step is all about restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut microflora.This is done by taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements (containing the benefical bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species).

4. Repair- the necessary ingredients have to be reintroduced for the gut to repair itself which includes supplements like zinc, omega 3 fatty acid and vitamins.

There are tests available for determining the gut health. I am not sure about the availability of these tests in India yet though there is a clinic in Kochi called Heal Wellness which claims to be the first IFM certified clinic in India. (I am also not aware of any further details other than that what they have provided on their website).

A few of these tests include intestinal permeability test through urine samples; nutritional evaluation tests which can determine nutritional deficiencies and hence help in supplementation and comprehensive stool tests to determine the microbiome health in the gut. There are Functional Medicine practitioners who are health professionals trained and certified by the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) who can help in determining which tests need to be carried out and the subsequent course of action.

The Institute of Functional Medicine is the main body for Functional Medicine and is based in Santa Fe, USA. It was cofounded by Dr Jeffrey Bland who is considered to be the father of Functional Medicine. He has also written several books on this subject and if you want to know more about chronic illnesses and why they happen; the role of Functional Medicine etc you can read his book ” The Disease Delusion“.

(You can read more about IFM here – https://www.functionalmedicine.org/AboutFM/History/)

Physician- heal thyself!

There are some well-known Functional Medicine practitioners who though trained initially in conventional medicine are now following Functional Medicine principles in their work. Some of them had a taste of Functional Medicine when they suffered from their own health issues. Where conventional medicine failed them, Functional Medicine was able to control and even reverse the chronic condition in one case. Now they are all following Functional Medicine approach in treating themselves and their patients. You can read about them here-

Dr Mark Hyman (https://www.functionalmedicine.org/AboutFM/ourteam/faculty/bios/hyman/)

Dr Robert Hedaya (https://www.functionalmedicine.org/AboutFM/ourteam/faculty/bios/Hedaya/)

Dr Gerard Mullin at John Hopkins Hospital (http://thefoodmd.com/about/)

Dr David Perlmutter (http://www.drperlmutter.com/)

Dr Mark Houston (https://www.functionalmedicine.org/AboutFM/ourteam/faculty/bios/Houston/)

Dr Amy Myers (http://www.amymyersmd.com/2013/01/heal-your-gut-heal-yourself/)

Dr Terry Wahls (http://terrywahls.com/about/about-terry-wahls/)

Our health in our hands

Fruits And Vegetables Diet Word

Our health is determined by a myriad factors but the basic ones are our diet; lifestyle; exercise and movement levels; stress related factors; our environment; personal relationships and our relationships within the community.

Also, my experience of dealing with my daughter’s severe eczema over the past few years has taught me that we need to take some responsibility for our own health instead of leaving it completely to our doctors. We also need to take care of our health not just when we fall ill but much much before.

That means taking care of our bodies and treating it as a friend rather than an adversary that needs to be either tamed (through various fad diets) and/or ignored (either intentionally or unintentionally) till such time an illness crops up. (Of course one can always fall ill even after taking adequate care but then like much else in life there are no guarantees here only possibilities) I would rather try to explore all the possibilities that life has to offer rather than have regrets due to a lack of effort, wouldn’t you?

The good news is that today we have access to information, knowledge and the experiences shared by other people on their own journey from sickness to health that we can all learn from. We can thus work along with our health professionals and use their expertise and knowledge to improve and maintain our own health. An example of a person coming to this realisation the hard way and which proved to be a major turning point in his life is the top tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic. You can read about his story in the book “Serve to Win”. One should however keep in mind that each of us is unique and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. You will have to patiently find out what works for you and your loved ones.

Take care of your body; it’s the only place you have to live

Take Care Of Your Body Quote

I started writing this post planning to simply introduce the Functional Medicine approach to dealing with chronic illnesses like eczema, diabetes, migraines etc based on my understanding. But I realised that I also needed to include a detailed background given the increasing incidence of these illnesses in our lifetime. I hope I have been able to share a bit of what I have understood about this issue that you may or may not have been aware of.

I started on this quest because of and for my daughter who suffers from severe eczema and which is being managed through strong immunosuppressive medications. My family and I have reached this stage through a lot of trial and error but always with the guidance of our doctors who have been with us every step of the way. We have already seen some results with the changes we have made in our daughter’s diet but we still have some way to go. We will be starting treatment based on Functional Medicine principles soon for her with the help of an IFM certified practitioner. We are taking an informed decision based on studies backed by science and evidence and which has helped so many others like her to cope with various chronic illnesses. Even if we can simply heal her gut to begin with will itself be a minor victory.

I share all this with you so that it may encourage you to find out a bit more for yourself if you need to. We often do not realise how much more can be done to improve the quality of our lives if we really wish to. As one wise person put it very simply, we have only one life and one body. Our health depends on what we do with it.

Green power!! (greener alternatives for laundry and cleaning products especially for eczema and sensitive skin)

I am publishing an updated my article on ecofriendly and natural alternatives for laundry and cleaning needs at home. It is a primer for those of you who are looking for eco friendly and natural alternatives for a cleaner and greener home.

Cleaning word cloud concept

I find that it is important for me to highlight the fact that there are harmless, natural, environment friendly laundry, dish washing, and cleaning alternatives which are available to us. In this particular post I have focused on the laundry and household cleaning agents that we use (In subsequent articles I would be focusing on the impact of our food habits and diet). While most of us do all that we can as far as moisturizers and bathing products are concerned for children who have eczema, some of us are not aware that the regular dish washing, cleaning and laundry products used in a household can also have a large and harmful effect on sensitive skin and allergy/eczema prone children (and adults). In India especially, eczema and other allergies are a recent phenomenon as compared to the West.

While I was happy using regular detergents and cleaning products for my household cleaning and laundry needs, I was particularly happy using highly fragrances and foaming cleaning/laundry detergents and thought that all products which were labelled as “child/baby friendly” and “gentle on the skin/clothes” actually were child friendly and gentle on the skin. But after a bit of research I was quite surprised to find that quite a few of the products that I had been using all my adult life were cumulatively doing more harm than good to my entire family and this was especially true for my daughter who has severe eczema. That is when I started looking for alternatives and was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are much better, natural, harmless and environment friendly options which might also be much more economical for regular use. Now, over the past couple of years in my quest to manage my daughter’s severe eczema, I have made a lot of changes in our lifestyle which includes skincare products, laundry products, dish washing products as well as other household cleaning products.

Natural Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

Since I am sharing my own personal experience in using these products, I have restricted this post to products which are available to Indian consumers only. Also, please note that I am going by the information provided by the manufacturers as far as the ingredients are concerned, certifications as mentioned and in some cases I have taken into account the product reviews by other users. 

 All that foams is not soap!

 Soaps and detergents are two different things but are often mistaken to be the same. While soaps are traditionally made from fats and oils and have been around for centuries, detergents are usually of synthetic origin and is a much more recent phenomenon. Detergents react less to minerals (found in hard water) than soap and hence is now the preferred choice for most.

soap-bubble-kidsstoppress

  • Sulphates are surfactants which are used in a wide range of products especially laundry and dishwashing detergents in order to reduce the surface tension of water thereby improving its ability to wet things and remove the dirt.
  • Other products where Sulphates are found are bathing products like shampoos, shower gels etc, toothpastes and even baby care products and it provides the “foam” that we are so used to.
  • Nowadays most of the skincare and laundry detergents usually contain the gentler Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) plus a host of other chemical fragrances and preservatives and not the much harsher surfactant Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS).
  • But even SLES is a chemical which is harmful for sensitive skin and it is just one of the many chemicals which are present in any cleaning/skincare/laundry products.
  • The other common chemicals are preservatives like Parabens (Methyl, propyl, isbotyl to name a few) and Methylisothiazolinone fragrances which are mostly made of synthetic chemicals and synthetic colours,  found in many baby and child care products.
  • Many organic and natural products have preservatives like Parabens and foaming agents like SLES unless stated otherwise. Hence it is imperative while buying any such product to check the ingredients listed carefully no matter what the label says in the front. The good thing is that there are detergents (laundry and cleaning purposes) which are available to us today which use natural ingredients and are also fragrance free.

Soapnuts- the underrated cleaning agent

 Soapnuts (or reetha as it is known in India) is actually not a nut but a dried berry or fruit which is highly effective in powder and liquid form and can be used to clean clothes, jewellery, dishes, hair and other household items. It is found mostly in India and Nepal and was used extensively in India to wash clothes and hair long before liquid detergents and shampoos took over.

 

Nutshells of soapnuts in a cotton bagThe saponin which is found in the fleshy part of the soapnut is a 100 % natural hypoallergenic surfactant which is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties as well.

  • Soapnuts can be used for cleaning pretty much anything and is the only cleaning product which is completely natural. Any other product which is labelled ‘natural’ will contain at least some chemicals like preservatives, fragrances amongst others.
  • The other important aspect of using soapnut is that it extremely convenient to use in washing machines (front and top loading) and dishwashers (in liquid form).
  • We use soapnuts regularly as the main cleaning agent for all our clothes and white vinegar and essential oils (lemon is my favourite) as a fabric conditioner and to remove grease and add natural fragrance to the laundry.

Other laundry products

 Apart from soapnuts products which are natural, biodegradable and convenient to use either by hand or in washing machines are as given below.

Power Laundry, Liquid Laundry and Bio Laundry Bar from the Rustic Art brand: The main ingredients in these products are soda ash, natural neem soap powder, glycerine (for liquid laundry), non edible oils (for soap bar) and natural lemon extract. I use these products for my bed linen, towels, soft furnishings and other heavy materials, delicate clothes and woollens (Liquid laundry) and I use the Laundry bar for the tough stains.

rustic_art_power_laundry-kidsstoppress

Bio-D from Dailydump.org: Bio-D is a bio detergent by dailydump.org (a brand of Bangalore-based PBK Waste Solutions Pvt Ltd) which is a biodegradable product made from palm oil. I have been using it as an alternative to the Bio Laundry bar from Rustic Art for the past year or so for the clothes which are handwashed.

Another product which is relatively new and is available in India is Kyra Natural Detergent Powder which is made of organic soapnuts. I plan to use this in the near future.

Home clean home

 There are various household non toxic and environment friendly cleaning products which are available to us. One can use basic kitchen items like white vinegar, baking soda and lemon to make cleaning products. I have used a combination of these from time to time to clean my kitchen pretty effectively. ONe of my favourite recipe for a multipurpose cleaner is as given below-

All-Purpose Cleaner recipe from goodgirlgonegreen.com

3 parts filtered water

1 part vinegar

1-2 tsp lemon juice

5-7 drops of lemon essential oil

Source:http://www.goodgirlgonegreen.com/7-diy-cleaning-recipes-using-vinegar/#sthash.dwxieNSg.dpuf

(You can check out more useful articles on homemade and non toxic cleaners from the following websites-

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/tips/a24885/make-at-home-cleaners/

http://www.thenewhomemaker.com/cleanorg/vinegar.html)

Natural cleaner. Vinegar, baking soda, salt, lemon

But for those who want a more convenient off the shelf option there are other products available as well in India. These products are made using natural ingredients like essential oils, plant extracts which are thus biodegradable, non toxic and eco friendly as well. I regularly use the products listed below for my cleaning purposes:

  • Just Mop Spray- Multipurpose Household Cleaner and Just Mop- Herbal Surface Cleaner from the brand Herbal Strategi
  • Floor and bathroom cleaners from the brand SOIL
  • Floor cleaner from the brand Safe O Shine

Harmless dish washing alternatives

Dish washing detergents also use foaming agents, synthetic fragrances and other chemicals to make them extremely effective in cleaning grease and dirt. But if you are really interested in making a change for greener alternatives, there are other options available.

One option is to make a dishwashing liquid from basic items like washing soda, citric acid and vinegar like the recipe mentioned below from the blog myhealthygreenfamily.com (source: myhealthygreenfamily.com/blog/wordpress/homemade-borax-free-dishwasher-detergent-with-secret-ingredient/) which also can be used in the dishwasher

1 cup washing soda (old recipe used  baking soda)

1/4 c. citric acid

1/4 c. coarse salt

10-15 drops of citrus essential oil (Optional.  Orange, grapefruit, or lemon essential oils have great cleaning as well as antibacterial properties.)

Distilled white vinegar (in the rinse aid compartment)

Mix first 3 ingredients well in an air tight container. Add essential oil.  Mix again.  Fill your rinse aid compartment with undiluted white distilled vinegar.

Use 1 tsp. detergent for average loads.
Use 1 tbsp. detergent for extra greasy, dirty loads

White distilled vinegar can be thus be used along with lemon essential oil as a rinse aid thus eliminating the need for any artificial rinse aid products.

Another option is to buy a scrub made of the combination of soapnuts, shikaki (dried fruits of the Acacia tree native to Asia) and lemon peel which is a completely natural, non toxic and ecofriendly option for dish-washing by hand like the one by dailydump.org.

Availability and delivery in India

I have been able to find out about all the products mentioned earlier through a lot of research on this topic over the past few years. I have also managed to source these products in a few cases through the manufacturer’s own websites but more often than not through the various websites advocating a green, eco friendly and healthier way of life. These are websites which list organic foods, clothing, personal care, cleaning and other products.

Some of my favourite websites (with quick delivery and good service) are as listed below ( in no particular order):

  • DailyDump.org : A comprehensive website which promotes green, eco friendly and sustainable lifestyle through composting and non toxic products for home and garden. This website has the Vanastree soapnut and shikaki scrub (manufactured by Dailydump) that I use for my dishwashing needs and the Bio- D biodegradable detergent for laundry purposes. They also have their own brand of soap-nuts (108 Soapy Nuts).
  • NaturalmantraGreenngood and naturallyyours.in: These are comprehensive websites which list organic foods, supplements, natural home care, personal care products etc and is very convenient to buy laundry and household cleaning products from. I use all of these websites from time to time for my house cleaning, laundry and other household and organic grocery requirements.

I have compiled some of the easy and convenient ways in which you can use non toxic, natural alternatives for your household cleaning, laundry and dishwashing needs and their availability. I hope that this will encourage you to make your home a greener, eco friendly place for your family and friends.

Please feel free to get in touch with me for any queries or if you have any suggestions on this topic.

“Not all those who wander are lost” (eczema and our ongoing journey)

There are many of you who have been following us on our journey as we deal with our daughter’s severe eczema over the years. There have been many ups and downs; times filled with a seemingly never ending despair and other times where we see the silver lining that is hidden behind the dark clouds. We have many nights of sleeplessness, days and nights filled with endless itching and bouts of crying when it gets too much sometimes. There is also THE question which comes up once in a while, “Why me?” I have no real answer to her question which would satisfy her need to know.

But I do know this! 

Through all  these times we have experienced many precious moments filled with small pleasures, much love and loads of fun. We have learned how to appreciate all that we have by focussing on all the good things in our life rather than all that we do not have. This helps to put things in perspective and never fails to bring a smile to our faces. We have also learned to accept that our life and our daily routine is usually quite different from others and we have made peace with it. We simply have different requirements than most other families when we travel, eat out and socialise amongst other things.

We have come to realise over a period of time that this is our new “normal”. Whatever normal family life we had envisioned for ourselves when we had our first child fell by the way side when our daughter’s eczema became a huge part of our lives. We have simply changed the definition of leading a “normal” life and now use one which works for us! 

Our life has thus changed drastically over the past few years in terms of lifestyle, food habits and priorities. I have been sharing these changes with you through my blog for almost two years now. In this post, I have shared the actual changes that we have made to our food habits over the past 9 months or so.

Our diet today based on eczema safe foods

 

I had mentioned in my post last month (https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/) that I would write about her diet in details in my next post and here I am!

It has been roughly about 6 months since I started to follow a very specific diet to control my daughter’s eczema based on the book “The Eczema Diet” by an Australian nutritionist, Ms Karen Fischer. The initial 3 months have been the toughest so far with restrictions on the number of fruits, vegetables and spices amongst other things. I did however prepare her mentally over a period of time prior to starting her on the diet to make this transition as smooth as possible. This is a huge change in lifestyle since food comprises a big part of our lives and this change needs to be handled well especially for a child. Once my daughter understood why we were making these changes and how it had benefited others like her suffering from eczema, she became a willing participant. 

These restrictions are to repair my daughter’s system from within by restricting the intake of the various naturally occurring chemicals (salicylates, sulphites and MSG), allergens, anti nutrients and restore acid alkaline content in the body. Eczema unfriendly food groups like ,wheat, dairy, eggs, sugar etc were all removed even though initially I did give her low gluten foods like spelt flour, rye and barley (no wheat). Eventually over the past few months her diet has been gluten and dairy free, she mostly has organic grains and produce, no refined sugars are added (only much less acid producing maple syrup and golden syrup in low quantities is allowed) and mostly free of preservative/chemical/colouring free (the only exception is the occasional rice pasta).

Simultaneously the acid-alkaline balance in her body is being restored through a higher intake of alkalising foods like moong bean sprouts, celery, beetroot, carrots etc on a daily basis and taking only those acid-forming foods like legumes/wholegrains/chicken etc which are good for skin or are nutritious in other ways. Restoring this acid-alkaline balance is very important because our diets nowadays tend to be filled with mostly acid forming with foods like bread (containing yeast); sugar in processed foods like breakfast cereals, bakery items apart from beverages (fruit juices, sodas etc); corn and corn based foods; cheese just to name a few. While going to an extremely alkaline diet is not recommended, our body needs a healthy and balanced diet to maintain healthy kidney function and prevent weakened bones, muscle wasting and of course the itchiness which is prevalent in those with eczema.

(Further reading resources: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5165/Alkaline-Acidic-Foods-Chart-The-pH-Spectrum.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/)

The diet is divided into 2 phases- Phase I and Phase II and I have written about them in my earlier post-

https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/12/29/our-new-eczema-diet-and-a-heart-full-of-gratitude/

Phase I–  The phase I recipes were very basic and initially I followed most of the recipes given in the book. But I had to adapt some of the recipes a bit to suit our Indian taste and add a few of my own in order to ensure that I could give her some variety even with all the restrictions. She was allowed only garlic and parsley as far as spices and herbs were concerned which proved to be the toughest part about following the diet since Indian food is filled with all kinds of spices. The other difficult part was cutting out all (100%) processed foods and eating only homemade food. Some of the foods that my daughter enjoyed in the first phase were baked fish (pomfret) with garlic in white sauce made of soy milk and brown rice flour; baked chicken in garlic and in a similar sauce; mutton/chicken biryani (or lightly flavoured mutton/chicken in a kind of rice pilaf) with only garlic and broth as the main flavour.

While initially it was difficult for her to forego a lot of her favourite foods (pizza, Maggi noodles, baked items like doughnuts, cupcakes, biscuits and candies to name just a few), over a period of time she has accepted it as a way of life and has made peace with it. In response, her skin condition improved visibly and her itching reduced to an extent. But I should also mention here that since she was started on a new immunosuppressive medication (Methotrexate), the changes would be due to both her medication and diet. But while medication would have helped to suppress and control her eczema, her skin tone has gone back to what it was 2 years back and all the weight that she had put on due to oral steroids simply fell off. I attribute these two significant changes to the changes in her diet.

Phase II – The second phase has been much easier to follow as compared to phase I. Also the fact that I have honed my skills as a baker and chef has helped immensely. I can honestly vouch for the fact that necessity is the mother of invention! All the restrictions that circumstances have placed upon my daughter and as a result on our family have helped me to innovate and become a better cook/baker than I would possibly have ever been otherwise.

Our family is eating a larger variety of healthy foods than ever before with minimal processed foods (so bye-bye preservatives, sugar, chemicals, refined and simple carbohydrates, junk foods) and loads of heart healthy, skin friendly fruits, vegetables and protein (mostly fish and chicken) with natural/organic ingredients. The fallout of all this is that both my husband and I have shed some of our excess weight naturally as a result of incorporating green and healthy juices/smoothies, healthy snacks etc into our own diet.

(You can read more here- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/12/29/our-new-eczema-diet-and-a-heart-full-of-gratitude/)

SInce I had to restrict my daughter’s diet to ones with very specific ingredients, I started making a lot of the desserts/foods like crackers, cookies, doughnuts, cakes etc with eczema safe ingredients at home. Over the last 6 months I have added a lot of variety in terms of foods like jowar, brown rice and brown rice flour, flour, quinoa, sweet potato, sprouts (all kinds), vegetable juices and smoothies. Quite a few of these changes have been for the entire family.

There are however “The Itchy Dozen” foods according to the book which are healthy for most people but do not usually suit those with eczema and is best avoided. Some of these foods that I now avoid giving my daughter are tomato, corn, grapes, dried fruits, deli meats (sausages, ham etc) since all these foods are high in amines, sulphites and MSG (in varying proportions and various combinations). You can read more about these foods at the link given below-

http://www.eczemalife.com/pages/top-12-eczema-itchy-foods-to-avoid

A few suggestion for meals and snacks

Making snacks which are tasty and at the same time eczema safe has been a big challenge but I have managed to adapt and find alternatives which work for us. Working with Indian staples like puffed rice or murmura, flattened rice or poha, lentils and pulses like moong daal, red chana, kabuli chana some of the food items I started making are mentioned below-

  • bhel (a dry mix of puffed rice, potatoes, carrots, coriander leaves, cucumber with citric acid and a touch of cumin)
  • potato/sweet potato tikkas with/without mutton kheema/minced spiced with ginger, coriander, whole cumin (mashed potato croquettes shallow fried in the pan)
  • Moong daal chilla (or crepes with moong daal soaked overnight and then made into a batter) with onions, coriander accompanied by mint and coriander chutney
  • hummus dip(chickpeas, garlic and citric acid with a bit of cumin) and vegetables like carrots or cucumber
  • popped jowar (a delicious alternative to popcorn) is a favourite for both my children and is made pretty much the same wasy as pop corn

Some of the main courses that my daughter enjoys apart from our regular Indian meals are-

  • veggie and rice pasta with loads of garlic and mixed herbs (no cheese) with/without chicken
  • Brown rice and moong daal dosa with potatoes (I am not giving her any fermented products yet)
  • mixed veggies and rice flavoured with broth and a few whole spices (bay leaf, cinnamon and cardamom) with/without chicken
  • I make various soups with eczema safe and skin friendly vegetables like beetroot, sweet potato, carrots, and others like chicken and veggies soup, chicken and pasta soup, mutton stew (occasionally)
  • brown rice noodles (occasionally) with veggies

You can be as creative as you want but the key thing here is to plan ahead. Also, keep in mind that eating healthy does not mean eating only a few foods and having dull or unappetizing foods. Since I have been forced to look outside my comfort zone of eating/preparing the same foods all these years, it has actually opened my eyes to the amazing variety and richness of foods that is available to everyone if one knows where to look.

The availability of different varieties of foods (quinoa, gluten free flours, golden syrup, organic produce, kinds of microgreens and salads, gluten free milk like almond and soya to name a few) both offline through Godrej Nature’s Basket and Foodhall stores in Mumbai and online (gourmetco.in, foodesto.com, naturallyyours.in) have really helped us a lot.  

It’s not a diet, it’s called Eating Healthy

As our daughter now says, she is not following any particular diet as of now but simply eating “healthy”.This is true not only for her but for the entire family. Of course it is not always very simple or easy to eat healthy especially while travelling or eating out even though our daughter’s eating out now is extremely restricted for obvious reasons. But now I realise that after more than 9 months of changing our food habits at home, my husband and I tend to think twice before we order the next cake, sugary drink or buy a packaged food. What started off as a necessity to manage our daughter’s eczema has become a habit for us. It became easier for us to accept and change our food habits once we realised the critical importance of diet in managing chronic illnesses like eczema (I have written about this in my earlier post- https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/).

Also, even though I have expanded her diet and modified it to suit our Indian tastes over a period of time, the book “The Eczema Diet” is what first made me consider food and diet as a tool for managing eczema. I have now come across and follow various other blogs and websites which are dedicated to managing various kinds of chronic conditions through food and dietary changes, reduction in stress levels, yoga and other forms of mind- body excercise etc.

As mentioned in my post (https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2015/04/08/you-are-what-you-eat-eczema-and-food/) we will be getting some tests done in London with the help of a Functional Medicine practitioner for “gut health” permeability. Gut health is determined by a healthy variety and a community of about 100 trillion microbial cells in our digestive tract and impacts our physiological, nutritional, metabolic well-being including our immune system. It is now considered to be one of the leading causes of all kinds of chronic illnesses like coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema (now considered to be an auto immune disease), Graves disease, Hashimotos just to name a few and it’s importance is best explained by the image below. I will be wrtiting more on these once we get tests done next month and have more clarity on the same.

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You can do your own research on this and use this knowledge to make an informed decision about the making food and diet an important part of the treatment for your child or anyone suffering from autoimmune disorders/chronic conditions.

(Image source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065426/figure/F1/)

(Further reading: http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/october2014/10062014autoinflammatory.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667473/)

Not all those who wander are lost

And so it is with us. Our journey is long and is filled with twists and turns and Atopic Dermatitis seems to be our constant travelling companion whether we like it or not. So over a period of time, we have learned to gracefully accept these circumstances to make our journey more comfortable and even memorable. This is true even though all the while we are constantly trying to manage our daughter’s eczema in ways which are less harmful to her in the long run. Whether we realise it or not, sometimes it is the journey which teaches us a lot about our destination….

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are what you eat (eczema and food)

menu icons

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!”

 

Our new eczema diet and a heart full of gratitude

It has been some time since I have put up a post. There have been a couple of developments at my end due to which I have been a bit tied up. The first and the most important one is that the combination of the new immunosuppressive medication, Methotrexate, and her new diet seem to be working for my daughter. I will be writing more on this particular diet later in this post.

The second one is that the support group for eczema that I started a few months back has been slowly gathering steam at a pace that I am comfortable with.

And last but not the least, I also want to express my gratitude and share with you this time the amazing team of doctors in Mumbai behind Aiyana’s medical treatment over the years all of whom have helped us in their own ways to deal with her severe eczema.

Diet and its impact on various disorders

diet

I had been reading about how diet affects one’s body in various ways and is especially important when dealing with autoimmune disorders and chronic conditions like eczema. Doctors do not really recommend any dietary changes unless allergy tests prove to be positive for various foods. However, I found that there more than a few genuine cases where people suffering from severe autoimmune and other disorders like Hashimoto, Lupus, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as eczema have found relief from the symptoms due to dietary changes and have managed to go off medication completely over time.

It took me more than 6 months to come to this point of view after reading about the life altering experiences of these people and then figure out a diet which I was willing to try out on my daughter. The life stories of some of the people who influenced my decision to try out diet as an option for my daughter are captured in their blogs whose links are as given below-

http://deliciouslyella.com/philosophy/about/– This blog is by Ella who has Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, a relatively rare and painful illness with no known cure and she managed to go off her medications completely after about 18 months of changing her diet

http://www.naturallysassy.co.uk/about– This blog is by Saskia, a ballet dancer with chronic eczema since childhood and who has completely gotten rid of her eczema by altering her diet

http://www.choosingraw.com/about/– This blog is by Gena who has battled with anorexia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and who now successfully uses a mix of raw and cooked vegan diet to keep herself healthy

http://www.amymyersmd.com/about/my-story/– The last link belongs to a website by Dr Amy Myers, a doctor of functional medicine suffering from Hashimoto’s ( a chronic and painful condition of the thyroid gland with no known cure) who has brought her severe thyroid condition under control after changing her diet/nutrition and life through meditation, yoga, supplements amongst others.

(Functional medicine integrates traditional Western medical practices with what is sometimes considered “alternative” or “integrative” medicine, creating a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques.)

Source: https://www.functionalmedicine.org/

The Eczema Diet

Eczema-Diet-2nd-Ed-Front-Cover-192x300

In my post https://eczema-anindianperspective.com/2014/09/23/products-and-resources-which-help-to-manage-eczema/, I had very briefly mentioned that I was planning to start my daughter on a diet for eczema based on the book “The Eczema Diet” by the Australian nutritionist, Ms Karen Fischer. Her daughter had severe eczema as well when she was a 2-year-old and with changes in her diet, Karen managed to control the eczema successfully. She has since written this book based on her own experience with her daughter and the feedback over the years from her patients who have successfully brought their eczema under control using this diet.

This diet is practical and comprehensive with information on products and backed by research; it has menus and recipes for babies, children and adults. It also has non diet information like skin care products and general recommendations for eczema. The objective of this diet is to temporarily take out all the eczema unfriendly foods from the diet and add all foods which are highly nutritious and eczema safe.

There are 2 stages to this diet- Stage 1 and Stage 2 .

Stage 1 is primarily to heal the gut by avoiding foods with any kind of artificial chemicals and limiting naturally occurring eczema unfriendly chemicals (like MSG or salicylates) ; allergens (eggs, wheat or dairy products); anti nutrients (phytic acid, sugar, processed foods) and acid forming and other foods which increase itchiness (oranges, corn, tomato, dairy, grapes, dried fruits). This diet thus helps restore the acid alkaline balance in the body.

Stage 2 is an extension of the first stage where the food groups are gradually expanded by adding back different food groups in moderation ( no processed foods, artificial colourings, preservatives etc) depending on the improvement in the skin condition. The diet also has recommendations on supplements like vitamins, probiotic, glycine, flaxseed (Omega 3) amongst others which are very important in helping the body cope with eczema since the child might not be consuming adequate quantities of the same from food.

I started this diet for my daughter after going through it thoroughly and arranging for most of the eczema safe ingredients as there are quite a few changes in ingredients that we usually use at home. Infact, it took me almost a month to assimilate all the information, answer the different questionnaires and make notes and list down the essential foods and recipes as a part of my preparation before starting this diet.  It’s been about 2 months since I have started this diet for my daughter.

Since it is pretty restrictive in the first stage, I took my time to prepare my daughter mentally for what was to come in the following months by telling her about the diet. I also made her read excerpts from the book about other children who have benefited from this diet and have seen their eczema either disappear almost completely or finally come under control. Only when I was sure that she was ready for this change and that I had prepared adequately for this diet did I finally start the diet for her.

The recipes and menu

recipes

Over the past couple of months I have tried out various recipes from this book as well as developed and modified some recipes from this book using eczema safe ingredients. This is to ensure that Aiyana not only followed this diet completely with no exceptions but also had a wide variety of options to keep her from feeling deprived of all the store-bought and other foods that we are all so used to having nowadays. The good part about doing all this apart from the health benefits for my daughter is that my entire family now has much less processed foods, negligible amount of junk foods, healthier organic and fresh foods, homemade preparations of bakery and other  foods with no sugar and preservatives.

This has not been easy especially since I have had to cut out sugar, dairy, wheat, eggs and all processed foods, all spices ( apart from garlic and salt) out of her diet and give her a  very limited variety of fruits and vegetables. These last couple of months I have extremely been busy with this diet trying out the book’s recipes and new recipes almost on a daily basis since I have had to modify some of them to suit her needs and our Indian palette. This has been made more difficult since the recipes in the book are for meant to suit an European palette while we are used to our Indian spices and foods. What has helped me is my past experience with gluten-free cooking for my daughter in 2012 ( I have covered my experience in the post- “Eczema and diet” ) and my determination to ensure that I find a way to manage my daughter’s health in a more natural way in the long run.

The book can now be purchased both as a paperback and kindle version online at amazon.in.

When there’s a will there is a way

 inspire-31What encourages me is that Aiyana’s skin condition has improved in the last couple of months. Here I should also add that we had to start her new immunosuppressive medication around the same time as the diet and that the new medicine also takes 3 to 4 weeks to show results. But with my experience of giving her the third immunosuppressive medication (Cyclsosporine, Azathioprine, Methotrexate) I can say with conviction that the only medicine which has truly worked for her and made her skin completely smooth and normal all over has been oral steroid in high doses. The other medications have either just about helped keep her eczema under control (Cyclosporine) or brought about bone marrow suppression (Azathioprine); I have covered the effects of Azathioprine and our traumatic experience in my earlier post “…the tough get going (Part 2)“.

Hence, I am really happy to see that after starting her on this diet her face is totally clear of any rashes and has finally got back that healthy glow that had disappeared under the effect of all the strong medicines being given to her. I am willing to continue the hard work required to carry on with this diet and keep her motivated to follow the same for the next few months at least. I will keep you posted on further developments about my daughter’s skin condition in relation to this diet in my future posts.

 A heart full of gratitude

thank you

As the year comes to an end, I stop to count my blessings for all the good things in my life and my heart is filled with gratitude for all those doctors who have been with us in my family’s difficult journey in the past few years. In this post I would like to thank the amazing set of doctors behind Aiyana in her fight against eczema. I have briefly mentioned them in my earlier posts as well but have never mentioned their names which I do now with their consent.

 

 

Dr Shashi Merchant is Aiyana’s pediatrician from Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, and has known her since birth and held her as a newborn baby. She has been a pillar of strength and is unwavering in her support and care for my daughter. She gave us hope when we needed it the most in the darkest of moments when Aiyana was fighting for her life in the hospital last year. We are all lucky to have had her on our side in this journey.

Dr Amrita Talwar is Aiyana’s main dermatologist for the past 4 to 5 years now and has done much more and beyond than required as her role as a doctor. Without her help and guidance about the myriad aspects of dealing with eczema (including the essential but non medical ones) life would have been significantly more difficult for us. I have her to thank for encouraging me to write about our experience and starting this blog and for pushing me and helping me to start the Eczema Support Group.

Dr Manish Shah is a leading senior pediatric dermatologist and is the dermatologist whom we consult regarding her immunosuppressive medications and narrow band UVB treatment. He gives us advice when required and gives us much-needed guidance about giving these strong medications as well as dealing with and minimising the harsh side effects. We are very grateful to have him as Aiyana’s consultant dermatologist.

Dr Mahesh Balsekar is another well-known pediatrician in South Mumbai with Breach Candy Hospital. He is the one who diagnosed and admitted Aiyana to the hospital in time last year (Dr Merchant was on holiday at that time) which ultimately saved her life. Dr Balsekar thus gave her and the doctors at Breach Candy Hospital a chance of fighting her life threatening infection. My heart swells with gratitude for Dr Balsekar for keeping our family intact and saving my daughter’s life.

We are also grateful to the entire pediatric division of Breach Candy Hospital, haemotolgists Dr Antia and Dr Agarwal and the entire support staff at the hospital for playing a very important role in our daughter’s stay at the hospital last year.

A new year, a new beginning

new year

And so another year ends and a new one is about to begin soon. May the new year be filled with joy, laughter and good health. But may you also find the strength to overcome whatever obstacles lie in your path and remember to enjoy every precious moment with your friends and family.

From my family to yours

A Happy 2015! 

 

You can only fill the glass of another….if your pitcher is full ( a note to the parents of children with eczema)

Seasons greetings for the new year!!  A new beginning…a new year filled with HOPE

It has been a while since I last put up a post. I have been traveling a bit and have also been a bit tied up with my younger brother’s upcoming wedding later this month. Having said that, I have missed penning down my thoughts since I have come to realise that there is a certain therapeutic value in sharing one’s joys and sorrows with other like minded people. It definitely makes the load one carries a lot lighter.

There are a lot of parents out there like me who are struggling to take care of their child and who are sometimes overwhelmed mentally and physically. And irrespective of whatever the medical problem is, I know only too well how helpless one feels to see your child suffering. But oh what a feeling it is to see one’s child get better and see the innocent smile on her face once again! I was lucky to have been given a second chance with my daughter last year and I do appreciate this gift, a lot of other parents are not as lucky.

So far so good- an update

The good news is that my daughter’s eczema (Atopic Dermatitis in her case, there are different kinds as I have discussed in my earlier posts) has been kept well under control for the past couple of months under the immunosuppressive drug, Cyclosporin. So the influence of oral steroids (prednisolone) has been waning and the sudden spike in her cholesterol levels last month (one of its side effects) has now receded. However, these kind of powerful drugs can usually only be given for a limited period of time and that also under strict monitoring via regular blood tests. Blood tests are thus a regular feature in our house and I have managed to have a gentle mannered phlebotomist who makes the process as painless as possible.

We will have a medical review coming up in a few months time when it will be seen whether the medication can slowly be phased out or another drug has to be introduced, but that’s a worry for another day. Till then I intend to keep trying to figure out if there is another way to help get Aiyana’s eczema under control.

Taking care of oneself

A lot of times, we as parents get so busy taking care of our children, we forget to take care of ourselves. This is especially true for those whose children have chronic health issues. But it is really important that you as a parent (parents are usually the primary caregivers in the case of their children) take care of your own physical and mental health at the same time. This is of course easier said than done and close to impossible in times of crises, but should be definitely taken seriously at most other times. If we have to be our child’s source of constant strength and love during difficult times, it is all the more important not to neglect ourselves.

It doesn’t get easier, you just get better

And I know exactly what I am talking about. My 6 year old daughter was in the ICU for 3 weeks last June out of which the first 2 weeks were critical. There was only one place I wanted to be and that was by her side everyday. My husband was partly in the hospital and partly taking care of our 3 year old son at home and our family and friends were our source of strength and support during that difficult phase. However, I was the one keeping vigil by her bedside every night since I needed to do it for her as well as for myself. I was extremely stressed and upset and hardly got more than a few hours of undisturbed sleep at a time amidst all the flickering lights and constant beeping of the monitors in the ICU. But somehow I kept going night after night with just a few hours of rest the next morning.

I now realise that my regular schedule of exercise in the past few years played a major role in enabling me to continue to be there for my daughter for those 3 weeks without any break. Regular exercise in any form is  a must to build stamina and ensure you are in good health to provide the best care for your loved ones.

The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it

This is true especially in times of crises when there is not even enough time to breathe properly. However, that is precisely the time when you have to remain as calm as humanly possible to make the best possible decisions in the interest of your child and provide the best support possible. The time when our children need us the most is usually the time when a parent is under tremendous stress and reels under the responsibility that comes with being a parent.

When I used to see the small form of my daughter lying in the ICU bed, the weight of the responsibilities of being her mother were the heaviest. I did not have the luxury of breaking down at any point in time. It was only my passion for reading which helped me relax and destress myself for a few minutes at a time each day. I used to read sitting next to her at night just to take my mind of all our problems and uncertainties even if just for a short while. There were of course times when my mind used to be crowded with all the negative possibilities and a feeling of helplessness, but relaxing even for a short while at night helped me prepare myself for the next day. It helped me to cope with the same problems just a wee bit better, but sometimes that itself makes a lot of difference.

Find your own way of relaxing, it is not only worth it but also essential for a caregiver.

I cant promise

 I can’t promise to solve all your problems, but I can promise you won’t have to face them alone

This is my promise to Aiyana and one I know that I will always strive to keep. A lot of times it is not possible for a parent to make our child’s suffering go away, but we can make sure that our children are not alone in their fight against eczema. Eczema differs from a lot of other medical problems in the way it affects a child’s physical appearance, nutrition, lifestyle, sleep and can be triggered by a host of factors like humidity, external irritants like house dust, perfumes, detergents, stress amongst others. This makes it difficult to control this condition in many cases and hence needs much more than just the medicine prescribed by the doctor unlike in other childhood diseases like chicken pox, measles etc.

The process of controlling and improving eczema can be quite labour intensive apart from being disruptive to one’s normal way of life but needs to be done nonetheless. A lot of long term lifestyle changes (including food related ones) may be required apart from a time-consuming skin and bath care routine for the child on a daily basis ( I have discussed both in my earlier posts- “Eczema- a change in lifestyle” and “Bath time! ( And skin care routine for eczema)”). Of course, the hardest part of being a parent is watching a child go through something like this and not being able to fix it for them…and just like me I know you are doing all you can.

“I may not be perfect, but when I look at my children I know that I got something in my life perfectly right” 

How true! Sometimes, in chronic and severe medical conditions like Atopic Dermatitis the condition makes itself blatantly visible. It manifests itself in the form of rashes, thickened and dark skin and in severe cases, weepy patches and lesions. It is easy for a child to become a target of ridicule and taunt like my daughter has been subjected to and it can have a negative effect on a parent as well. But to each of us blessed with a child, we know that our child is perfect in our eyes and will be loved no matter what their physical appearance (on which our society places such an importance).

So I hold my head up high and I am teaching my daughter do the same every day, for the rest of her life. I encourage my daughter to lead a normal life and hold her hands on those days her self-confidence falters.

At the end of the day, love is learning how to take excellent care of yourself so that you can take phenomenal care of the ones you love.