Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is one of the first signs of allergy during the early days of life and is said to be due to delayed development of the immune system. It affects between 10 percent to 20 percent of all infants.
Researchers recruited more than 150 pregnant women and randomly assigned them to receive a probiotic mixture or a placebo for the last two weeks of pregnancy. The infants subsequently received the supplements for their first year of life. Parental-reported eczema was 58 percent lower in the intervention group during the first three months of life.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is very common in infants and young children. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists it affects between 10 percent and 20 percent of all infants, resulting in red, itchy patches or rash on the skin.
However, eczema is “the itch that rashes,” meaning there’s really no rash until you start scratching the itchy area.
Fortunately, if you have a basic clue of how your body works, treating this is relatively simple. Unfortunately, in my experience many conventional practitioners are relatively clueless and many people wind up on expensive and potentially toxic solutions that don’t treat the underlying cause, instead making the rash much worse.
Eczema is more than just a skin problem, however, as it signals a problem with your immune system. In fact, eczema is said to be one of the first signs of allergy during the first days of life, and about three out of four children with eczema later go on to develop asthma or hay fever, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The incidence of eczema has been on the rise for years and one theory for the increase, which is known as the hygiene hypothesis, is that children are being exposed to a lower level of bacteria, which affects the development of their immune systems.
Indeed, a study published last year found that children with only a limited variety of bacteria in their intestines one week after birth are more likely to developed eczema by the age of 18 months.
It’s thought that giving an infant probiotics (good bacteria) helps to stave off eczema and other allergic diseases by beneficially altering the early colonization of bacteria in their gut, which may help the child’s immune system to develop and mature.
That probiotics are beneficial for preventing eczema in infants is not a new finding, but rather one that I’ve been reporting on since at least 2001.
More Support for Probiotics in the Prevention of Eczema
Similar to the new study noted above, in 2003 a study of over 100 children from families with a history of eczema also found a benefit from probiotic supplementation.
Half of their mothers took Lactobacillus GG, a type of bacteria found naturally in your gut, at the end of their pregnancies and for six months after giving birth. The other half took a placebo.
Children who had been exposed to the bacteria were 40 percent less likely to develop eczema by the age of 4 than the other group.
How is it that probiotics impact a baby’s gut health so significantly?
At birth the human gastrointestinal tract is sterile, but in the first months and years of life a rapid colonization of bacteria occurs until a stable indigenous gut microflora is established.
Babies that are given the best start nutritionally by being breastfed (the source of your first immune-building good bacteria) also tend to have intestinal microflora in which beneficial bacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria. So the first way you can encourage your newborn’s gut health to flourish is by breastfeeding.
However beyond that many babies can use a boost of good bacteria, particularly if they are being fed formula rather than breast milk or have taken antibiotics (which kill off both the good and bad bacteria in your baby’s gut).
The most benefit from probiotics, at least in terms of eczema, happens very early in life. After three months of life, the original study above found no difference in the incidence or severity of eczema between groups given probiotics or a placebo. What this means is it is essential that your baby receive plenty of beneficial bacteria in the first few months of life, and ideally starting before this, in utero.
Breastfeeding Very Helpful
Breast milk is loaded with nutrient growth factors that will support the growth of beneficial bacteria. It also has components that will inhibit the growth of bad bacteria and yeast.
So one of the most important foundational elements of building a healthy GI system for your child will be to breastfeed them.
Why Taking Probiotics During Pregnancy is Also a Smart Choice
Nearly everyone can benefit from optimizing the balance of good vs. bad bacteria in their gut using probiotics, but if you are pregnant or planning to be this is of utmost importance to you and your new baby.
First off, a new study found that probiotic supplements, taken during the first trimester of pregnancy and continued until you stop exclusive breastfeeding, can help you lose weight after your child’s birth.
And the benefits go well beyond this. Research shows giving pregnant women and newborns doses of good bacteria can:
• Again, protect babies from developing eczema in childhood
• Help prevent childhood allergies by training infants' immune systems to resist allergic reactions
• Help optimize your baby’s weight later in life
• Improve the symptoms of colic, decreasing average crying times by about 75 percent
• Reduce your risk of premature labor
How to Make Sure You and Your Baby Have Enough Good Bacteria
Establishing a healthy microflora in your gut involves taking in plenty of good bacteria while discouraging the growth of bad varieties.
One of the most important steps you can take to do this is to stop consuming sugary foods. Eating a healthy diet low in sugars, grains and processed foods will generally cause the good bacteria in your gut to flourish, and naturally build up a major defense against excessive amounts of bad bacteria that can damage your health.
In infants, meanwhile, the first source of immune-building good bacteria comes from breast milk, so breastfeed your baby exclusively for at least the first six months of life.
In adults and older children, you can also increase your body’s good bacteria by eating plenty of properly fermented foods such as natto, kefir and unpasteurized sauerkraut.
That said, the good bacteria in your gut are constantly under assault from factors like antibiotics, chlorinated water, pollution and antibacterial soap, so it’s a wise choice to “reseed” your body with good bacteria from time to time by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. In fact, probiotics are the only supplement we recommend for all new patients in my clinic (unless they’re already on one).
Are You or Your Baby Suffering From Eczema?
There are many natural solutions that can help stop the itch and resolve the underlying condition. To hear them first-hand you can watch my recent video on the topic.
Those of you with eczema know how irritating and uncomfortable the condition can be, so I want to address how to stop the itch first: simply apply a saltwater compress over the itchy area. You’ll want to use a high-quality natural salt, such as Himalayan salt. Simply make a solution with warm water, soak a compress, and apply the compress over the affected area. You’ll be amazed to find that the itching will virtually disappear!
Meanwhile, to help address the underlying causes:
• Keep your skin hydrated by taking high-quality organic unprocessed omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Skin creams are rarely the answer to really hydrate your skin. Rather you’ll want to hydrate your skin from the inside out by consuming high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats in your diet.Finally, please resist using the steroid creams usually prescribed for eczema treatment, because although they work initially you will tend to rapidly develop tolerance to them. These creams contain synthetic steroids, which are absorbed into your skin and can wreak serious havoc with your adrenal system.
Your best sources for omega-3s are animal-based fats like krill oil. I also find it helpful to include a bit of gamma linoleic acid, typically in the form of primrose oil, as this works remarkably well for eczema. Products like “krill for women” are good for both sexes for this condition as they contain both fatty acids.
If improvement isn’t noted then 2,000 to 3,000 mg of a daily high-quality pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower oil might be helpful.
• Avoid wheat and gluten and dairy. Food allergies play an enormous role in eczema. In my experience, the most common offending agent is wheat, or more specifically, gluten, followed by dairy.
• Get enough sun exposure. Vitamin D in the form of sun exposure can be a great help in dealing with eczema.
I produced a one-hour lecture that explains the health benefits of this long under-appreciated vitamin, so if you haven’t seen it already, I strongly recommend you take the time to watch this free video now.
Ideally, you’ll want to get your vitamin D from appropriate sunshine exposure because UVB radiation on your skin will not only metabolize vitamin D, but will also help restore ideal skin function. High amounts of UVB exposure directly on affected skin -- but not so much to cause sunburn! -- will greatly improve the quality of your skin.
However, if you can’t get sufficient amounts of sun during the winter months, a high-quality safe tanning bed can suffice. A safe tanning bed will provide the optimized forms of UVA and UVB wavelengths, without dangerous magnetic skin balance.
If neither of these options are available then you will want to provide your child with a vitamin D drop or spray. Just as in psoriasis though, the UVB exposure on the skin would be far better as that is the organ you are seeking to directly influence.