Written by: Lana Micallef, Founder of The Nutrient Project – BHSc Nut Nut Med
"I'm going to try my best to not make this blog post a rant, but I have my own story to share and I'm only too happy to.
I had eczema and psoriasis my whole life. Maybe I only had one without the other, because different dermatologists would call it different things, but all I know is that for most of my teenage life and earlier, I had problems with my skin. I considered myself not that unlucky when so many other people have "unexplainable conditions" that are so much worse. So, I continued with what I knew and what I was constantly being told - to treat the problem without considering the cause. Because apparently, there wasn't one.
The severity of my skin changed a lot at different times. As a child, it got infected quite a lot on my face and on the inside of my elbows. I'd constantly take antibiotics and use topical and oral steroids and they worked, but only for a short while until it came back again. Sometimes after two weeks, sometimes after two months. This happened until the age of 22, when I had it constantly, at all times, on many parts of my body. At first, I thought I was allergic to latex gloves as I was dental nursing at the time and had it so bad on my hands it used to crack, bleed and swell overnight to the point where I would bandage them throughout the day. I was taking antibiotics and oral steroids constantly to get the swelling down, but this time it didn't seem to be working. I went traveling and found my eczema spreading - now it was on my eyelids, around my temples and eyebrows, my scalp, my neck, my upper arms and worse on my hands. It got so bad on my hands that I lost two nails because the eczema around my fingers pushed them off.
By the age of 24 I was pretty much desperate, so I returned to a dermatologist in Australia who I saw for a few months and through the use of more steroid creams, tars and two courses of antibiotics, we managed to reduce the swelling to the point where I could work without gloves on. But needless to say, nothing changed permanently.
At this time, I had started studying Naturopathy and we covered autoimmune disease pretty early on in my course. I didn't even know what this was. I don't think I'd ever heard the term autoimmune disease before, so when psoriasis was the first condition we covered under this topic I was, well, let’s keep it diplomatic, shocked. I thought I knew everything there was to know about psoriasis. How is it possible that I was only learning now for the first time that I have an autoimmune disease and what that actually is? How is it possible that after seeing a dermatologist for over ten years, no-one ever told me that healing your digestive system and reducing systemic inflammation is the first step you need to take with skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema? How is it possible that I was being prescribed medications that compromise the healing processes that I needed to support to get rid of eczema?
Through the knowledge I obtained during my course and my extra researching, I removed inflammatory foods from my diet and introduced anti-inflammatory foods. I established and addressed my nutrient deficiencies (there were a lot) and planned a protocol that would repair the functions of my gut, which turns out, gets damaged from excessive antibiotic use. I ate a diet rich in antioxidants, Vitamin C, essential fatty acids, used probiotics to re-establish the bacterial environment of my gut, glutamine and glycine to strengthen and repair my stomach wall and slippery elm to soften and sooth the mucosal lining of my digestive system before eating. I looked into the health of my liver and kidneys which are extremely important to consider in skin conditions, as they are responsible for healthy elimination of toxins. I reduced my chemical load, eliminating all toxins that went on my skin. I researched which nutrients were indicated in inducing a restful sleep, something which I had struggled with for years. I learnt the importance of sleep in reducing inflammatory disorders and repair. I practised stress management techniques and lastly, I ensured all the vitamins and minerals (Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Selenium, just to name a few) required for immune modulation were available in abundance for my body to heal.
All these things combined with the complete elimination of processed foods and refined sugar resulted in the first consistent relief I had ever had from cracked, flaky and bleeding skin in a very, very long time. I have to say, I was both over the moon and angry. Over the moon that I had finally figured out a way to control my skin and that the method was not further damaging to my health, but furious that the treatments that had been prescribed to me for ten years were further compromising the state of my immune system. The system that had the disease in the first place.
One day I was brought to the attention of Red Skin Syndrome by a fellow practitioner. Red Skin Syndrome (RSS), also known as Topical Steroid Addiction (TSA) or Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW), is a debilitating condition that can arise from the use of topical steroids to treat a skin problem, such as eczema. RSS is characterized by red, itchy, burning skin that can appear after ceasing topical steroid treatments, or even between treatments. In RSS, topical steroids are effective for a period of time to treat the skin condition. As time passes, however, applying topical steroids results in a physical addiction. The original problem escalates as it spreads to other areas of the body. In the case of eczema, this “progression” is often mistaken for worsening eczema.
I wasn't sceptical at all, it made sense. Steroids are a drug and there are many drugs that are addictive to the human body even after little use. These substances cause physical addictions where your body changes to try and reach out for more of it. So I wasn't sceptical, but I was doubtful about the amount of people who use topical steroids would actually get addicted. Then I started doing some research. I found clinical trials on the rate of addiction to steroids, thousands of people who are going through a topical steroid withdrawal and doctors who have dedicated their whole medical careers to raising awareness on RSS.
One day I spent 5 hours scrolling through a facebook page reading all the stories and seeing photos of all these people going through a topical steroid withdrawal. RSS is REAL and it is nasty. It can take up to two years for your body to completely expel all its toxins from steroids and to stop experiencing withdrawal. For some, this means worse eczema then they have ever seen, while their body cries out for more steroids through burning sensations, whole body redness, cracking, peeling and blistering. The result? A dramatic reduction in eczema.
I had to make quite a dramatic change to my diet and it took around two years until I could slowly start introducing food groups back in. But everything is about perspective and priorities. Healing my body and being eczema free was more important to me at that time than not being able to eat pasta at my local Italian on a Friday night. Going to work bandage free was more important than Sunday afternoon bevvies. Now - I'm eczema and psoriasis free and I'm qualified and well researched to tell you why you can be too.
I don't have anything against dermatologists as individual people and I completely understand that they are just doing what they are being trained to do. No-one is at fault. But I urge the medical industry to stop ignoring nutrition as a causative factor to disease and misinforming people. As natural medicine practitioners, we have a lot to learn from the western medical model, there is no denying that. But the western medical model has so many gaps in their system that are constantly being filled by natural medicine that it's no wonder the nutrition and naturopathy industry is booming.
Heal your body from the inside out. I can't stress this enough. There is no skin cream that can fix a poor diet and that includes topical steroids. Repair the damage that has been caused. It will take time, but it's worth it. I have been treating myself with safe, non-invasive medicines for over three years now and I have never felt better in my life. Heal your body from the inside out. Go and see a nutritionist or naturopath who understands the link between inflammation and immunity and work together to remove inflammatory foods. Stop using toxic chemicals on your skin and let your body heal itself. This all comes back to treating your body the way it is meant to be treated. The human body is an incredible thing and it has millions of cells, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, organs and functions that are there to help us heal. We just need to support this healing system, not suppress it and it will do its job.
I urge anyone who is struggling with eczema or psoriasis to ask for help from someone who is qualified in nutrition. Please speak to me if you wish to have a consultation.
Please note: I am not recommending, advising or suggesting ceasing pharmaceutical treatment without the guidance of a health practitioner."
You can find out more about Lana, and be blown away by her wealth of knowledge, her passion and understanding of human health and nutrition. Her website is loaded with referenced articles, recipes and more..