Everyday Remedies for Eczema: natural ways to stop the itch and discomfort

eczema handOf all the subjects I’ve tackled on Mommy’s ER, I’ve been reluctant to blog about eczema, in spite of the fact that eczema sufferers, especially young ones, have always made up a large portion of my practice. It saddens me that it is so debilitating, for everyone in the family, and many times the solutions are multi-pronged, and very personal, making it a big subject to tackle.

Still, there are some natural remedies for eczema that most sufferers agree eases the itching, scaling and oozing, so I start there with most children and grownups who enter my clinic. I’ll share these with you now, in hopes that if you or your child has eczema, that it brings relief, and hope.

1) Use a food/activity log. Start logging your food and activities each day. At the end of the day, rank your eczema on a scale of 1-10 (1 being nonexistent, 10 being the worst, itchiest, reddest, it has ever been). food I start here with every client, even mamas of breastfeeding clients, because here is where personal patterns emerge. For one young client, dairy products increased the inflammation significantly. For another little boy, days he went swimming in a chlorinated pool made it worse. Finally for a third, the days he spent rolling around on the floor with grandma and grandpa’s dogs had an effect. Allergens – environmental especially, but sometimes food as well, can play a role in the severity of eczema. The log can help parents and children to start making connections that allow for informed choices. In the food arena, watch especially for correlations with highly allergenic foods such as citrus, chocolate, dairy, eggs and wheat.

2) Vitamin C may be good for nearly everything, but in particular, its natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects make it beneficial for eczema. In children over 2 years old, try 250mg at least twice a day. (In children under two, start with 50-100mg and work up if digestion is not impacted). (Note: be careful to not give vitamin C in the form of citrus, unless you are certain your child has no sensitivities).

3) Get a good probiotic. Probiotics have been proven to be clinically effective at preventing eczema in infants and children who may be predisposed genetically. Probiotics have also been shown to reduce symptoms of eczema in infants and children with sensitivities to food allergens. Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium Lactis are all varieties that have appeared effective in the studies. A good broad-spectrum brand especially formulated for children should help. You can even try dropping an open capsule or two in your child’s bathwater (especially with young children). This is not, however, a good solution for children with auto-immune disorders or pancreatitis, except under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.

4) Burdock root, either ground into a paste and applied topically, or taken as a tincture or tea, is known among western and eastern herbalists for it’s blood-purifying capabilities. burdock-root-shavings A natural antiseptic, it can help to both detoxify and heal the skin. In children under 10 years old, I recommend it topically. In children over 10, take it internally as well, 1-2 times a day as directed for at least a month. Herbalists often combine burdock with red clover and nettle (nettle can cause a stomach upset in some children, if this happens, you can either add ginger, or remove it entirely from your child’s eczema ‘tea’.) Burdock root can also be cut thinly and steamed or sauteed with carrots, at any age, once your child is eating solid foods. The beta-carotene in the carrots is also great for skin conditions.

5) If your child has dry eczema, try a natural lotion with calendula, or make your own with olive oil or hypoallergenic lotion and calendula essential oil (up to 7 drops per cup of oil or lotion). Rescue Remedy in ointment form can also be applied directly to patches of dry eczema. Herbal creams made with licorice have also been shown to have a positive effect on eczema.

6) Bathe your child — in warm, not hot water, and with alternatives to soap. Lots of people report diluted bleach baths reduce eczema. To me, the toxic detriments of bleach would make this a very last resort. Instead, try mineral sea salt baths. These salts are full of beneficial minerals, moisturize, and act antiseptically to cleanse the sensitive wounds and fragile skin at eczema sites. This is even safe for infants. You can also try oatmeal baths — 1 cup of oatmeal wrapped in cheesecloth can be placed in bathwater, and even placed on eczema patches as a compress for quick relief.

7) Rooibos tea is a caffeine-free tea that is chalk full of antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolic acids, all beneficial. In particular, rooibos contains aspalathin, an antioxidant that, to my knowledge is unique to rooibos. Anecdotal reports of success have come by placing 2-3 rooibos tea bags in the bath to reduce eczema symptoms. Or take it internally as a tea.

8) Check in with a qualified Chinese herbalist. I know — this is my first love — but it also can be incredibly effective. Two studies out of Great Britain showed a Chinese formula known as Luo’s Mixture to be effective even in cases of severe, resistant eczema. It is suspected that herbs suppress inflammatory responses and mildly suppress inappropriate immune response. The beauty of Chinese herbs is that they are customizable for your child’s particular condition. The bad news is — they can taste pretty unpleasant. It’s worth persisting, my son will now take them easily — more easily in fact than any over-the-counter remedy we’ve ever resorted to giving him.

9) Finally, and this is especially difficult and especially important in small children — do whatever you can to help your little one avoid scratching. Keep their nails short, and, in infants, it is even worth it to invest in pajamas with hand covers (to keep baby from scratching at night). As relieving as it is in the moment, scratching can cause skin cells to produce more quickly, and patches of eczema to widen. Encourage compresses instead – such as oatmeal in cheesecloth, rooibos tea bags, or just a wet washcloth – to provide immediate relief.

All of these are results from which clients and friends have reported success (and my clients eczema has tended to be quite severe). I am very open to other possibilities and your own success stories in this arena. And please, if you choose to journal, share what you find! Lets keep this a forum where we can share our successes with this condition. My hope is that we can find a way to take eczema from difficult and debilitating to, at worst, a minor inconvenience.

5 Ways to Get your Kids to Eat Their Greens

 We’ve talked about why they should. We’ve shared a couple recipes on how they can. But there are 2 recipes and 365 days in a year. And, as we tour the amusement parks of Southern California this week, about a million food stands that don’t have a leafy green in the mix anywhere… Here are my five favorite ways to incorporate leafy greens into the fabric of our meals and our lives. In reality, it’s often easier to inspire kids than getting grownups to do it (no posing required in the pics, I promise:)).

1. Talk to your Kids about it. In our blog on why kids should eat their greens, I talk about the inspiration for this series — a conversation with my son that highlighted to me where I’ve failed as an educator and a mom… I never told him why to eat his greens. I modeled it and I provided it, but without the vital addition of information and dialogue, the greens on his plate ranged from yummy addition to his meal to the symbol of mama oppression — one more rule to follow in a world of rules — ‘just try them.’ Keep the conversation age-appropriate and honest. aidaneatingsaladWith the explanation that they help him to feel healthy, have energy, and grow, he eats them with relish. It actually empowers him to feel like he’s doing something good for his growing body, something that helps him run faster, play better, enjoy activities more. And the process of empowering him may be fundamentally more important than any food group.

2. Balance the Bitter. Sometimes the flavor of greens can be a bit bitter for young palates. Try chard, spinach and lacinato kale for something a little milder – mustard and dandelion aren’t great starter greens. Another way to rectify the bitterness of greens is to accessorize…Not into following recipes? Throw some peanut butter or almond butter together with a little bit of maple syrup and olive oil. It balances the bitter (and everything tastes better with nut butter!). Another option: steam your greens with a handful of currants and maybe some shredded carrot. This added sweetness delivers a little treat with each bite.

3. Juice it. Either juiced or blended (Mommy’s ER recipe HERE) whole in a high-powered blender, most kids we know will drink kale, cucumber, parsley, celery, spinach or all of the above when turned into a refreshing drink. blended-greens The trick here is to keep a sweet, watery fruit in the mix — such as green apple, or coconut water. [The pic is of my older son drinking The Green Basic at The Plant in San Francisco: kale, apple, celery, parsley, lemon — with enough apple to keep it sweet, the celery and parsley make it mild and refreshing]. We just stopped at Bliss Cafe in San Luis Obispo that mixed up kale in a Vitamix with banana, green apple, protein powder and water. I couldn’t get my smoothie back from my son, honestly.

4. Eat Them Yourself. Everything I read and experience reminds me that, as parents, we lead by example. This point was driven home to me with uncomfortable clarity the other day when my son, in an uncustomarily bad mood announced that the reason was that he hadn’t been able to ‘work out’ that morning (where has he heard this before???) They are sponges, we all know this, and not just for the bad stuff. I may have gorged on PopTarts and Oreos at first as a Freshman in college, but after a startling 10 pounds, I was back to eating the balanced way my parents had modeled for me.

5. Keep it Consistent. Habits don’t change overnight. I’ve heard that it takes 3 exposures to anything to decide we really like it (whether its music or marketing). Advertisers use this to their advantage, why not parents? If your child is used to skipping the green veggies in favor of other fare, keep the message positive, but keep them coming. If one prep doesn’t work, try another. I’ve always thanked my father for respecting my inherent childhood dislike of lima beans and zucchini. He just presented me with other options — keeping me feeling healthy and empowered around my food choices. I carry that feeling with me as a grownup, and use it to guide the Mommy’s ER messages. Your child will learn from you how to eat and prepare greens, even she or he doesn’t take to them immediately. Sometimes, kids will eat the salad but not the cooked greens or vice versa. Allowing them to have their preferences keeps the association with veggies positive and nourishing. Allowing them to help you in the garden growing their own makes it even more appealing…I’m no green thumb, so that’s a different blog entirely – one that my husband or Maddie — or you, dear reader — will have to write.

Introducing Solid Foods: The Beginning

It’s 1:20 in the morning, and I’ve just finished making 5 batches of abelskivers for my 2nd grade son’s Danish festival tomorrow – as in, Denmark, not the pastry (and 6 batches if you count the batch my husband polished off single-handedly). I’m not Danish, so there was quite a learning curve. Ugh. Did I say that? I meant…yum.

I’m thinking this means I’m done with all mama-related responsibilities for a while and it’s time to settle in for a bath and a cup of tea before bed — and then I realize that I’ve only fulfilled my food-related duties toward boy #1 — and boy #2’s needs are a lot more difficult than Danish pancakes. First of all, there’s the 2am feeding — which I love, I don’t mind it at all, but then there’s the 4 o’clock and the 6 o’clock lately too, which is new. The boy is HUNGRY.

He’s also angry, or at least super-duper ornery, every time I sit down to eat anything, snack, dinner, whatever. He grabs for it, he fusses. Also new. And he’s one week away from six months old. Generally, babies hit a growth spurt around 6-7 months, that may not coincidentally coincide with pediatricians’ recommendation to begin the introduction of solids around this time. I don’t ever think there’s a rush on this, but… ever heard the expression, “don’t watch the calendar – watch the baby?” You’d never know it to look at my chubby cherub, but it’s just about time, and he’s telling me so.

babyfoodWhere to begin? I’ve compiled my five most essential pointers for starting baby on solid foods, plus a sixth pointer you’ll thank me for, I promise. And stay tuned for Recipe Weekend, which will almost certainly include recipes for baby’s first solids in the near future. That or homemade handsoap, inspired by my current case of post-Danish-pancake dishpan hands.

1. Commit to making your own food for baby — at least some of the time. I’ve decided to make my own food this time around — in spite of the fact that the abelskivers have darn near worn me out for the week, and I’m no lover of the kitchen. I’m going to brave it anyway for a number of reasons. First off, I’m a control freak — not universally, I hope — but certainly when it comes to what ingredients start my baby’s eating experience. This is going to be a lifelong relationship, and I want it started on a strong foundation, especially for a pristine, still developing digestive system. I want organic, fresh and seasonal. It has more fiber, higher vitamin and mineral content, and less additives than even the best jarred foods on the market. This makes sense to me. The first thing I’d recommend to a mama whose baby gets constipated after starting solids (provided the baby is six months old and starting with easy-to-digest starter foods) is to try making a batch or two at home and see what happens. Anecdotally speaking, homemade can clear things up faster than many moms can imagine.

The second reason is taste. There are a number of organic baby food options on the market now, and in a pinch I’ve always been grateful, but the taste of jar food just can’t compete in texture or flavor to fresh food. The relationship to food that emerges from these first ‘meals’ is an incredibly formative one. I want natural tastes that will support baby’s constitution by being not only simple, but seasonal. There’s a reason nature gives us root veggies in the winter, and summer squash in the summer. We need denser, heavier foods when the weather gets cool, and lighter, more hydrating options when the weather is warm. I want to honor that for baby as much as I honor it for the rest of the family.

Worried that making your own is too difficult or time-consuming? So am I, but with the Baby Beaba my mom-in-law gifted me — stay tuned for future blogs — and these great websites as references, (please, let my baby food look as pretty as this!), I’m feeling empowered.

2. Decide what baby’s first foods will be — and learn the Rule of 4. Is your baby 6 months of age or younger? Look to avocados, bananas, summer squash, green beans, sweet potato, acorn squash, apple, and pear as appropriate starter foods. You can also start with rice, barley, or oatmeal, as these grains tend to be the least allergenic, but my personal preference is to start with avocado. avocado It is nutrient-dense, mild-tasting, and chock full of the monounsaturated fats baby needs for a growing brain and body. It isn’t overly sweet, which is good acclimation for baby’s tastebuds – while breastmilk is sweet, its nice to acclimate baby’s tastebuds to other flavors. Avocado is also appropriate to eat raw — avocados and bananas are really the only foods that fit this bill in the beginning — which keeps me out of the kitchen temporarily. Again, I’m packing the diaper bag at 1am after my Danish baking spree, so I’d rather just throw in an avocado, a bowl, and a spoon to mush it up. And the Rule of 4: wait at least 4 days after introducing one food to introduce another. This allows you to see how baby responds to the new food – can they digest it? Do they like it? Does it cause mouth rash, fussiness, constipation? These are signs that baby may be allergic or simply not ready yet for this food. It’s important to start slow in the beginning. (Want a handy chart to keep track of it all? Check out this wonderful resource and this solid food chart grouped according to food groups.)

3. Stay Committed to Nursing or Formula. After the first taste of solids for baby, I know it’s tempting to give them the variety we’d want for ourselves (and give ourselves a break from pumping – anyone else out there feel this way?), but breast milk –or formula — is still baby’s mainstay in terms of optimal nutrition for the first year. Breastmilk or high-quality formula provides them with absolutely everything they need for brain and body growth, solid foods are meant to be the icing on the cake, so to speak. So in your solids enthusiasm, remember to nurse baby first, before feeding them. Their stomachs are the size of their little fists after all, so fill it with what they need before anything else. My son may be reaching for our plates, but when offered the breast as an alternative, he never complains. 🙂

4. Introduce Solids, but Not Liquids. I didn’t know this starting out, but if you’re nursing, babies get absolutely all the hydration they need from your breastmilk. In fact, water in excess of 2-3oz (even swallowed pool water), can throw off their little bodies’ sodium balance, causing a condition called water intoxication. Irritability, drowsiness, confusion, even seizures can ensue. Babies‘ kidneys aren’t fully matured, and will dump necessary sodium along with the excess water. The rules are a little different for formula-fed babies, but the essence is the same — unless advised otherwise by your pediatrician, no water on the side. And definitely no dairy — at least, not until after the first year. Milk hinders the absorption of iron, which is very important for baby, with high levels of protein and sodium is incredibly difficult to digest, and additionally is a very common allergen, especially in immature systems. (While I wish that more options were available in formula, formulas that use dairy as a base have predigested proteins, making it far easier and more appropriate for baby.)

5. Watch Baby’s Cues. Just like “don’t watch the calendar, watch the baby,” stay attuned to baby’s signs as you embark on this culinary adventure. A meal may be no more than 1-3 Tablespoons, sometimes even less in the beginning. This is perfectly natural for that tiny fist-size tummy. This is also the perfect opportunity to support baby in learning lifelong lessons in portion control. How many of us stop eating when we’re no longer hungry? In the beginning, that’s our instinct, and some pediatric experts believe that this innate ability to monitor our own hunger and satiety carries through even into our adulthood. If baby is turning his or her head away when the food approaches, or closes lips tight, or cries/fusses to get out of his high chair, take pains to listen up. Mealtime is probably over.

6. An optional 6th hint you’ll thank me for: Don’t forget the bibs. Or your older son may entreat you to drive all the way home again for fear that baby is going to ruin his matching shirt. And you’ll find yourself wondering if Soapnuts are going to cut it on what looks like a full avocado smeared onto the outfit. Really, just don’t do it.