Ask most parents of eczema babies or children and I'm very sure they will tell you they had a gut instinct was that something was just not agreeing with their child's digestive system.
For us, it was an almost complete refusal of every type of formula we tried, resulting in distressing feeding times where bottles were often pushed violently from us and across the room - by a six month old baby nonetheless! Turns out, our baby had a cow milk protein intolerance and his sensitive system just couldn't digest it (which he was obviously trying to tell us) and resulted not only in severe eczema, but also in hours upon hours of terrible upset, unsettledness and lack of sleep after every single feed.
So, I became a bit excited when I stumbled across this particular piece of recently published research which evaluated the gut bacterial composition of children with eczema compared to healthy children at age 6 months and 18 months:
Previous research studies have only ever indicated associations between intestinal microbiota (living organisms within the gut) and atopic diseases like eczema by investigating the composition of microbiota before the developement of eczema or other diseases rather than looking at children who already have it.
This study therefore uncovered new evidence that children who suffered eczema in early childhood presented with a diverse and adult-type range of microbiota in their systems, compared to non-eczema suffering children, showing that this type of intestinal microbiota diversity may contribute to the onset of eczema.
How can we prevent or cure these types of microbiota imbalances which are obviously making our children sick to their stomach quite literally and enabling diseases to present in the form of eczema?
According to the research study, the answer lies in the importance of early microbiota characterization and in potential dietary modification. These factors are influenced by diet, inclusion of probiotics and of course drugs like antibiotics.
The link between antibiotics and the changes these can inflict on microbiota are well documented in studies like The Impact of Antibiotics on the Gut Microbiota as Revealed by High Throughput DNA Sequencing.
Again this speaks to my 'mummy gut instinct' which often had me wondering if the antibiotics I needed to take for Whooping Cough at the very end of my pregnancy and then again straight after labour may have indeed contributed to both of our immune related conditions since then (mine being post-natally triggered Rheumatoid Arthritis and my baby with eczema that had me searching pharmacy shelves for magical creams when he was only 2 weeks old!).
Some suggestions for turning around the microbiota imbalances that might be causing your child's eczema
Dr Mark Hyman, MD suggests following these five simple steps to begin rebalancing gut flora from his article 5 Steps to Kill Hidden Bad Bugs in Your Gut that Make You Sick:
- Eat a fiber–rich, whole foods diet—it should be rich in beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—all of which feed good bugs.
- Limit sugar, processed foods, animal fats, and animal protein—these provide food for unhealthy bugs.
- Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers, and anti-inflammatories—they change gut flora for the worse.
- Take probiotics daily—these healthy, friendly flora can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation and allergy.
- Consider specialized testing—such as organic acid testing, stool testing (new tests can look at the DNA of the bacteria in your gut), and others to help assess your gut function. You will likely have to work with a functional medicine practitioner to effective test and treat imbalances in your gut.
Licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine Chris Kresser has shared his 9 Steps to Perfect Health and identified the #5 step of healing of the gut and digestive system.
His approach spoke to me because it recognises that even if you've been exposed to the factors he lists which cause upset in gut flora, there are still steps you can take and changes you can implement to your life or to that of your child to help restore the balance which includes:
- Remove all food toxins from your diet
- Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
- Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
- Take steps to manage your stress (or the stress of your child)
In hindsight, I wished we'd listened to our gut instinct about the obvious gut related symptoms our baby was displaying a lot earlier than we eventually did and am pleased to now discover research which backs a lot of the 'gut feelings' up.
Please share this post and information with anyone else you might be struggling to manage their baby or toddler's eczema and it might help put another small piece of the puzzle together for someone else too!