Let me start with full disclosure here. I trained in western medicine here in the United States and then practiced in a traditional pediatrics practice for nearly 15 years. But I started having problems with the way western medicine had directed me to treat my patients, especially in regards to eczema.
I was taught that topical steroids are the first-line treatment for childhood eczema – until I saw several children with a horrifying topical steroid withdrawal syndrome. This is despite the fact that the most common cause of childhood eczema is food-related. I was so conflicted that I left western medicine to become an integrative pediatrician. This has allowed me to see the whole patient – their lifestyle, home life, diet, and the environment – and treat them by correcting the root causes of their illness. And I found that 90% of the time no medication was needed at all – just listening and counseling.
I think pediatricians these days are overworked, tired, frustrated and drowning in a system of government-mandated computer clicks – and many times it’s easier to write a prescription than to counsel a family for an hour. That was certainly true for me when I was given 10-20min per patient by the governing bodies. I also think that some physicians are so closed-minded to the possibility of natural options that they refuse to acknowledge that there is another way. Below I enumerate the 7 biggest mistakes I see western medicine continue to make with eczema treatment and their patients and continue to suffer.
Failure 1 – They refuse to acknowledge that gut health plays a major role in the development of eczema
I firmly believe gut health is the most important factor governing the development of eczema. Since we visualize eczema on our skin, we don’t appreciate that the problem actually starts from within. This is why food is the most common cause of eczema in children. The lining of our gut acts as a protective barrier to ingested food in a similar way our skin is a protective barrier to the environment -ie our skin mirrors our gut. So if our gut lining becomes sick, we see the manifestations on the skin. After treating thousands of eczema patients, I have found 90% improvement with dietary changes and gut healing protocol alone.
Failure 2 – An extensive dietary history is not a routine part of the patient Visit
When is the last time your physician spent 30 minutes going through your child’s diet with a fine-tooth comb? For most of you probably never. Not only is diet central to eczema, but if you haven’t noticed we have a major obesity epidemic in kids. We also know food is implicated in many other diseases in children including ADHD, asthma, anxiety, diabetes and many others.
“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
We spend 4 years in medical school dissecting each and every system of the human body. A significant portion of that time is spent studying how drugs interact with the body but painfully little time on topics like nutrition or environmental aspects of the disease. This is somewhat ironic given that patients and the country as a whole rely on the medical community for guidance on these topics. In a review of medical education, researchers found that only 27% of U.S. medical schools teach the recommended 25 hours of nutrition. On average, U.S. medical schools offer 19.6 hours of nutrition-related education across four years of medical education. This corresponds to less than 1% of the estimated total lecture hours. Moreover, the majority of this educational content relates to biochemistry, not diets or practical food-related decision-making.
Among entering medical students, 71% think nutrition is clinically important. Upon graduation, however, fewer than half believe that nutrition is clinically relevant. Once in practice, fewer than 14% of physicians believe they were adequately trained in nutritional counseling. So it’s possible your doc doesn’t want to talk about something they are undertrained on.
Failure 3 – The blatant overuse of antibiotics in pregnant mothers and children
You have probably heard this one in the media. But the headline you likely read is about the overuse of antibiotics leading to multi-drug resistant bacteria and more severe infections. But what gets lost in the shuffle are the negative effects the antibiotics are wreaking in our guts. Evolution has created an amazing interplay between humans and bacteria. More than half of the cells in our body aren’t human – they’re bacteria and they work in harmony with our bodies to aid digestion, regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria/fungus that cause disease, and produce vitamins including B vitamins such as B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K, which is needed for blood coagulation.
Fun Fact: “80% of ear infections resolve without antibiotics” – American Academy of Pediatrics
So when we take an antibiotic it kills the bacteria – good and bad. Evidence shows a direct link between recent antibiotic use and the development of eczema.
Failure 4 – The overuse of common medications such as Tylenol and Zantac
I have to admit here that I used to hand out Zantac like Halloween candy -to my patients, my kids, family. My husband used to joke that I would use Zantac to treat a limb amputation. Gotta love that Orthopaedic surgeon humor. Little did I know at that point that giving Zantac to babies for reflux significantly INCREASES their risk of developing eczema. I did not know of all the root causes of baby reflux and how effective natural remedies are.
And how about fevers? You call your pediatrician at night because your baby has a 102 fever – and of course, the first response is to give them Tylenol. Not only are fevers beneficial to the body to help it fight infections, but Tylenol is also increasing your risk of developing eczema. A double whammy. We are so damn medication happy in the United States that we throw drugs at problems before really understanding the implications or how the human body actually works. Thank you big pharma for spending billions on marketing and advertising – brainwashing completely.
Failure 5 – The use of topical steroids as first-line treatment for eczema
I would venture a guess that if you have taken your child to the standard pediatrics office for eczema you were given topical steroids. Steroids block the local immune response at the skin level and will typically give short-term relief of symptoms. But all you are doing is masking the underlying problem – a sick gut. And rather than treating the gut with changes to diet, environment and lifestyle we just keep slabbing on that wonderful steroid cream. Then we have a moment of clarity and decide we have been using steroids way too long so we stop them – and bam, Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). I have had the unfortunate experience of watching suffering families deal with TSW in their child – and there is really no way to treat it other than time and supportive care.
Now, this does not mean you can never use topical steroids. It means that Topical Steroids are not the solution for eczema, nor are they the first step. They are only a bandaid and sometimes we need a bandaid during the healing process. They have to be used judiciously and with the help of an integrative doctor who goes beyond the surface to heal the issues underneath to avoid complications.
Failure 6 – The continued and highly profitable development of powerful immune-crushing medications.
Medications like cyclosporine and Imuran have traditionally been used in organ transplant patients. For example, when we transplant a kidney into a child with kidney failure, we must completely shut down their immune system so they don’t attack the new organ. In a similar fashion, these medications have been used in eczema to stop the inflammatory reaction at the skin. But with the immune system crippled, patients are at severe risk of other infections and a simple cold can be life-threatening. In the time of Covid-19, this could be a death sentence.
Additionally, the newer drugs come with a hefty price tag. A new drug called Dupixent costs over $3,000 per dose with a yearly cost of over $37,000. You can buy a hell of a lot of fruits and vegetables for $37,000.
Failure 7 – Excessive use of C-Section deliveries
The United States has one of the highest c-section rates in the world – and we have the honor of offering the most expensive c-section rates – by far. Most people don’t associate c-section with the development of childhood diseases like eczema, but the link has been clearly established. There is a major benefit to a baby traveling through the birth canal to join the world – many of the benefits we don’t even completely understand. But much of it comes back to those vital bacteria we discussed earlier – the probiotics in our gut.
When the baby passes through the vaginal canal they are exposed to all sorts of beneficial bacteria that might make you squeamish. But I can’t stress enough how important those bacteria are. Check out my previous blog on one of the most important of those bacteria called B. Infantis. If the gut microbiome isn’t established early in life with the help of mother’s bacteria, they are set on a course of autoimmune chaos – like eczema, asthma, allergies, and ADHD.
C-sections save mother’s and baby’s lives! But they are overused for the purpose of convenience and as a consequence of too many inductions. Induction is when we give an expectant mother medications to speed labor along. Mother nature has a plan and it is often inconvenient to us humans, thus we rely on meds which often leads to C-Sections.
I think there are many wonderful doctors in western medicine and also terrific practitioners in the holistic space. Why should one have to discount the other to maintain credibility in their respective field? Both disciplines offer valuable resources to improve the health and wellness of people around the globe. I believe combining (or integrating) the best of both worlds provides the greatest benefits to patients – if we could all just set our biases aside. Remember, the word “doctor” comes from the latin word for “teacher” and if we remain true to our mission of INSPIRING, EMPOWERING, and EDUCATING families, everyone wins.
Yours in Good Health,