My Journey with Eczema
by Dr. Laura Korman, DC
I’ll never forget that cold, winter, January morning in Minnesota when I woke up and realized my patches of red, dry eczema had spread to my thighs. “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” I thought. Previously, it just affected the back of my hands and sometimes my elbows, which was embarrassing already.
“Perhaps this is a result of all the chocolate I’ve been eating?” I questioned. At that time, I was visiting my grandmother after my grandfather had passed away, and I was enjoying all the chocolate candies she has been given by well-wishers.
The year was 2000, and I had been plagued with eczema breakouts on and off for a few years. But this was the moment I chose to undergo some tests to determine what had actually caused the issue. All the topical creams I tried were just band-aid fixes, and I has frustrated from all of these unexplained flare-ups.
This was the start of a 10-year exploration into food sensitivities, leaky gut, vitamin deficiencies and autoimmunity, which allowed me to understand the true root cause of my eczema, as well as find solutions to manage and minimize the flare-ups. I am now able to use these years of research and personal experience to help hundreds of other patients suffering with similar skin and immune issues. Here is a summary of what l learned.
First of all, skin conditions are rarely a problem with the skin itself, but a sign of an imbalance deeper within the body. The word eczema is derived from the Greek word, “ekzein,” meaning, “to boil out.” It's characterized by itchy, red, dry, inflamed or oozing rash-like patches that can either be mild or quite persistent and debilitating.
Eczema affects over 31 million people in the United States alone, and it’s often aggravated by environmental factors such as food, toxins, chemicals, viruses, bacteria, mold or stress. Those with eczema have an overactive immune response that manifests as a chronic skin rash, but can also experience other inflammatory conditions such as allergies or asthma.
One of the most common causes for an eczema flare-up is food sensitivity. This is different from an allergy to food. A true allergic reaction is an acute response of the body that can include cramping, hives, rashes, tearing, respiratory distress or even anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening and usually occurs within minutes of exposure.
A sensitivity, however, is a delayed immune response that occurs 24 hours or longer after the consumption of a particular food. It can produce symptoms such as chronic skin disorders, rosacea, diarrhea, IBS, joint pain, muscle pain or migraine headaches. The most common foods associated with sensitivities are sugar, gluten, dairy, soy and eggs, but can also include many other foods such as grains, nightshade vegetables, legumes or even gums.
Testing for food allergies is usually done by placing a small amount of a food or environmental antigen underneath the skin and looking for a positive red swollen response of the skin. Accurate testing for food sensitivities is trickier. I have worked with many labs in the past 25 years and found most to deliver results with too many false positives or false negatives. I now work with Cyrex Labs because their tests are highly accurate and consistent, as well as based on the latest research and development.
Food sensitivities or allergies can occur in childhood when the immune system is still developing. But these issues can also appear for the first time in adulthood. Food sensitivities are commonly initiated due to a breakdown in the lining of the gut—this is called a leaky gut. The gut is only one cell thick, which means it can easily become inflamed or damaged from viruses, bacteria, toxins, processed foods, and acute or chronic stress.
Epstein-Barr Virus, which causes Mononucleosis (or “Mono”), can be a major contributor to a leaky gut. This virus allows large, partially undigested food proteins to be absorbed into the body. These protein fragments appear foreign to the immune system and cause an inflammation response in the body each time that particular food is consumed.
Epstein-Barr virus can become a chronic latent virus, with antibodies present in 90 percent of the population, and be reactivated in some individuals years after initial exposure. I was exposed to this virus in my twenties as a student at The University of Minnesota. I believe EBV was the initiator in my development of a leaky gut, as well as my subsequent sensitivities to gluten and other food sensitivities, finally resulting in eczema.
I later discovered I also had a Vitamin D deficiency, which is common in those with any kind of immune disorder. Vitamin D helps modulate or dampen an overactive immune response, and it is important to maintain blood levels at an optimal range of 60-80 ng/ml to bring balance to an overactive immune system. Other nutrient deficiencies that are common with eczema include omega-3 fats, glutathione and zinc.
The healthy diversification of bacteria in the guts can be destroyed by antibiotics, sugar, and processed or genetically modified foods, as well as the artificial sweetener, sucralose. A healthy immune system correlates with a healthy gut microbiome. Supplementation with high-quality probiotics is strongly advisable for children or adults suffering from eczema or any other skin or immune challenges.
When a leaky gut and food sensitivities persist over time, a person can become susceptible to an autoimmune condition. This is when the immune system mistakes self-tissue for foreign tissue and mounts a destructive process against a particular tissue or organ, such as the thyroid, skin, gut, joints, muscle, pancreas, nervous system or brain.
I was first diagnosed with antibodies against my thyroid about 15 years ago. I was able to avoid any destruction to my thyroid by identifying and eliminating food sensitivities to gluten and other foods, optimizing Vitamin D levels, and improving my digestion and microbiome health through diet and supplementation with digestive enzymes and probiotics.
I later learned that when a person has an autoimmune disease, they are more likely to develop a second or third autoimmune condition as well. Early testing for antibodies against self-tissue can be done to identify specific tissues or organs involved, then a subsequent prevention strategy can be implemented to curtail the onset of a destructive autoimmune process.
The medical approach to treating eczema often includes topical corticosteroids, moisturizing creams or immunosuppressant medications. As a functional medicine practitioner, I find it beneficial to use specific, accurate testing for vitamin deficiencies, leaky gut and environmental factors—such as foods, chemicals or toxins—as well as identifying antibodies to acute or latent viruses, bacteria or mold. This testing locates the root cause, which then allows for resolution or management of chronic skin or immune challenges such as eczema.
The treatment strategy involves a personalized approach to balancing the immune system with nutrition and lifestyle shifts to manage and minimize flare-ups, while preventing the development of other immune challenges or autoimmune disorders.
Dr. Laura Korman, DC, is the owner of Korman Relief and Wellness Center, located at 16954 Toledo Blade Blvd., Port Charlotte. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 941-629-6700 or visit DrLauraKorman.com.