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Traditional Chinese Medicine for Eczema

Monday, 3 March 2008

Acupuncture, Herbs, and Dietary Changes Remove Toxic Heat and Soothe Inflammation

A dictionary might define the word eczema as derived from ancient Greek, meaning “to erupt” or “boil over,” but for anyone suffering from the condition the meaning is much more than that. Eczema is an ailment that can disrupt an entire lifestyle.

The condition, sometimes called dermatitis, is characterized by an inflammatory condition of the skin. This causes redness, itching and vesicular lesions that become scaly, crusted, or hardened. It isn’t pleasant to look at. Nor is it easy to live with.

The incidence of eczema has increased dramatically during recent decades, and current estimates are that eczema will affect 12-25% of children and 10-25% of adults worldwide.

Imagine what it would be like if the “seven-year itch” were more than a figure of speech; if you literally had to live with years of constant physical itching. That is what life was like for a teenage patient of mine. For years this young man had lived with his skin problem. Restless itching and lack of sleep had affected his self-esteem and schoolwork. He had gained weight, become depressed, and when he arrived at my clinic some six months ago he and his parents were in a state of desperation.

Eczema strikes patients of all ages and sexes. This young patient was typical of many I have seen over the years. He had consulted doctors and tried numerous prescription drugs and ointments, but his condition persisted. His skin was now hardened and discoloured and the natural inner balance of his body was obviously out of whack.

What is Eczema?

There are three basic types of eczema: Contact eczema – caused by an allergic reaction to external irritants. Atopic eczema – occurring primarily in patients with a family history of ailments such as asthma. And Generalized eczema – which is widespread over the skin. The young patient I refer to here suffered from atopic eczema, which is the most common type and often referred to as dermatitis or allergic eczema. Many patients who have this type may also suffer from asthma or hay fever, or they may have relatives who have these conditions.

I believe that the growing number of toxins in our environment contributes greatly to the growing epidemic of inflammatory skin conditions. When these toxins accumulate in the spleen they weaken the function of the immune system. The body then expels the toxins through the skin and the result is skin problems such as eczema.

Western Medicine Treatment of Eczema

Mainstream medicine generally depends on drugs for the treatment of eczema. While often effective, this approach only temporally alleviates the symptoms, and it ignores the underlying causes of the disease. In addition, the drugs often have negative side effects. The FDA recently warned about two popular eczema medications, pimecrolimus and tacrolimus (generally known as Elidel and Protopic respectively). Both drugs suppress the immune system and – although the jury is still out on this – they could contribute to cancer.

According to Chinese medical theory eczema is influenced by three essential factors: wind, heat and dampness. These influences may be external, as evidenced by the fact that many patients feel their condition worsens during damp weather. Or, the influence may be inside the body, emanating from the spleen, the stomach, or the lungs. This is why some patients also have digestive and/or breathing problems.

“We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance.” – Paul Boese

TCM Treatment for Eczema

The underlying theory of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is that the body should be in a perfect state of physical and emotional balance to reach harmony with the outside world. When the balance is upset, disease results. In the case of my young eczema patient it was obvious after an examination of his pulse and the colour and texture of his tongue, that the cause of his problem was excessive dampness in his stomach causing indigestion. In addition, the drugs he had been taking to control his condition had, over time, contributed to the accumulation of excess of toxins in his body.

Following time-honoured TCM principles I use two key methods to restore balance: acupuncture and herbal therapy. Acupuncture involves the insertion of sterilized fine steel needles at specific points in the body in order to stimulate the function of internal organs.

Three body meridians are essential to the treatment of eczema – the lung, spleen and liver meridians. These three organs have direct influence on the skin. The choice of acupoints in the spleen meridian is of primary importance for eczema patients and it takes a qualified practitioner to identify them correctly. In the hands of an expert the procedure isn’t painful and most patients gain immediate relief from itching.

The TCM treatment of eczema aims for more than temporary relief. The ultimate goal is 100% cure.

In the Chinese medical system there are some 10,000 herbs that are used for medicinal purposes. About 1,000 of these are used in daily practice. The selection of herbs is highly sophisticated and it takes knowledge and experience to make the optimal choice for each particular patient. Rarely does one prescribe the same herbs for different patients. This is true even if patients suffer the same disease.

Blood plays a defensive role by delivering nutrients and removing metabolic wastes, toxins and pathogens from the body. In the case of chronic eczema, I have observed that the patient’s blood is deficient and the immune function is weak. This problem is not difficult to solve. Herbs with properties of cleansing and enriching are safe, effective and economical. They may taste bitter but when taken as prescribed they can be highly effective.

As well, patients should detoxify their system regularly with herbs that are readily available in supermarkets and herb stores, such as:

• Coix Seed – a grain with anti-bacterial, anti-cancer properties.

• Mung Bean – to help expel heavy metals and pesticides from the system. Boil until the beans split, and eat as a warm dish.

• Honeysuckle Flowers and Dandelion – helps remove toxins from the lung and stomach. (Cooked or raw.)

• Portulaca – helps cleanse the intestines

A healthy lifestyle is of utmost importance to prevent re-occurrence of eczema. Anything that aggravates the symptoms should be avoided. This includes food allergens; although food allergies are a very individual matter, common irritants may include wheat, corn, dairy, soy, peanuts, eggs, beef, and lamb. As well, patients should avoid skin irritants such as wool and lanolin. Exposure to environmental triggers can also worsen symptoms, as can exposure to water, changes in temperature, sweat and stress. Dry skin often makes the condition worse. When washing or bathing, patients should keep water contact as brief as possible and use a minimal amount of soap. After bathing it is important to apply a high quality lubricating cream to trap any moisture while the skin is still damp.

Other rules include:

• Do not smoke or drink alcohol, coffee or soft drinks.

• Limit your sugar intake and avoid junk food.

• Eat lots of fresh vegetables and whole foods.

• Drink plenty of water.

• Exercise daily and get outside for fresh air.

If patients take shared responsibility for their well-being, eczema can be cured. After six months of regular treatment my young male patient had finally returned to good health. He is an example of the hope that TCM offers for all sufferers of eczema. By following a well-designed program of treatment and adhering to dietary recommendations, patients can permanently live life without the constant itch.

Article source:

About the author:
Jian Ping (Jenny) Shi received her Doctorate in Acupuncture from the renowned Chinese Traditional Medical College in Hubei and a master of science (Pharmacology) degree from Tongji Medical University in China. She certified in pharmacology at the University of Illinois and has extensive teaching and research credits including projects sponsored by the U.N. World Health Organization. Dr. Shi has been in practice for more than twenty years and now runs her own clinic in Toronto. For an appointment please call (416) 707-7552.

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