In 2016 my family moved to New Zealand as my husband was attempting to “find himself” in the midst of an unsatisfying surgical career. Unfortunately, my New Zealand medical license was delayed and I found myself alone at home most days, in a foreign country, with no friends and nothing to do – utterly lost. To stave off boredom, I dragged my family to jump off bridges with me in Queenstown or paragliding off cliffs.
To save my sanity, I began making 1 Minute Pediatrics Videos for Instagram to entertain my 200 followers. After a Sunday trip to our wonderful farmer’s market in windy Wellington, New Zealand, I was unpacking my impressive haul of vegetables and decided on my next video. I would spend 1 minute describing all the diseases that could be treated/modified with vegetables.
I excitedly explained my new video project to my husband, he rolled his eyes commenting “that sounds exhilarating” – ok, not everyone gets as excited about vegetables as I do. So I started researching for my video and came upon a post by a renowned integrative physician, Dr Mark Hyman, on 7 Strategies to Eliminate Eczema. The first thing he talked about was “leaky gut” – and I’m thinking leaky what? What the heck is a leaky gut? Little did I know my worldview was about to change!
My Aha Moment about the Gut
I was introduced to the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) which taught me to get to the root cause of problems rather than relying on surface solutions. Fast forward 5 years and I have now treated over 1,000 eczema patients with a gut first approach and have been amazed at the results! Let me explain what I learned.
Leaky gut, also called “increased intestinal permeability”, is the result of damage to our gut lining. Our gut is lined with a protective layer of cells called enterocytes, whose job it is to regulate what food gets absorbed and what gets passed on to the toilet. For many reasons including poor diet, medications, stress, and exposures in the womb, an abnormal space between these cells develops.
Leaking through these spaces creates a low-grade inflammation in reaction to food particles (deemed foreign by your immune system) that literally leak through your gut wall. This causes food sensitivities, especially to gluten and dairy, which are the biggest food causes of eczema. Other chemicals found in high processed foods also “leak” through our defenses increasing the activity of our immune system.
Leaky Gut Affects More than just skin
Leaky gut also triggers many other health problems including fatigue, brain fog, headaches, depression, allergies, sinus problems, irritable bowel, reflux, joint pain, skin diseases such as acne and eczema, autoimmune diseases, and more. Inflammation also causes weight gain which is triggered by insulin resistance, food sensitivities, and food allergies.
Although you may be reading this for your child’s eczema, are you experiencing the above symptoms? Mom and dad, you may also have a leaky gut even though you don’t have eczema as your primary issue. Most people don’t associate the above symptoms like depression or headaches with their gut health, and definitely don’t see any connection between their gut and immunity.
2/3 of our immune systems reside in our guts
But two-thirds of our immune systems reside in our guts, so if our gut is out whack so is our immune system. So even though it seems like some topical detergent or clothing has caused eczema, it’s really the result of an immune system that is hyperactive. The skin is the body’s largest elimination organ so it’s not surprising that it comes under assault when toxins careen through the bloodstream. A skin rash or eczema is a sign that the body is trying to slough out these toxins.
Conventional medicine has focused on suppressing the immune system, while integrative medicine attempts to find the “root cause” of the overactive immune system. But conventional medicine is coming around….
In a recent article by a peds dermatologist written for a national eczema site, the author actually opens the door to leaky gut as a cause of eczema – for conventional medicine, this is a major breakthrough. One of the tests helping convince the masses with objective data is the Lactulose/Mannitol test. This test works by giving patients a sugary drink containing both lactulose and mannitol sugars. Neither of these sugars can be broken down in our gut, but they have an important difference. Lactulose only gets into our system through the leaky channels in a sick gut, while mannitol is absorbed through the normal cells.
The Proof is in the PEE
So in a normal, healthy, “nonleaky” gut, only the mannitol should be absorbed. But in a leaky gut, the lactulose will gain access as well. Both sugars are then peed out since they can’t be broken down. If we measure urine, we can then compare the ratios of these two sugars to determine how much “leaking” is occurring.
Evidence of leaky gut has been shown in children suffering from eczema, and also noted in cow’s milk allergy infants. Additionally, correcting the leaky gut via dietary change and probiotics has been shown to correct the ratio and improve eczema in many patients. Truly healing a sick gut can take months to years and involves more than just diet and probiotics. Additionally, I think there are clearly variant types of eczema, thus some respond more to diet while some may be more related to histamines or some other cause. The bottom line is to get help – you don’t have to navigate this alone.
Over the last 5 years, I have learned that for most kids (and adults for that matter) a happy gut equals happy skin. If you want to learn how to heal your gut or your child’s, check out my online Eczema Transformation Program.
Yours in Good Health,
Drs. Ana-Maria and John Temple