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Today, back pain can be considered as one of the most common of all physical complaints in the world. It is therefore one of the single most important factors in time lost from work and recreation – the condition should be addressed as soon as possible.
Back pain ranks as extremely high among the reasons for visits to various health care providers and has an effect on one’s finances as well as one’s lifestyle. Back pain is caused, broadly, by physical and psychological stress or by weak muscles.
We can survive for weeks without food, but no more than a few days without water. Sally-Ann Creed explains why we need to drink more of it.
A teaspoon of water a day is not enough to keep the body alive and a bathtub a day would kill it – but just the right amount of fresh water taken throughout the day is life giving, cleansing and absolutely vital for optimum health.
The itch of eczema can be mildly irritating but it can also be so maddening as to drive you to desperation. But do not despair as there are many natural ways to manage eczema and bring that itch under control.
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin, which may present with red, blotchy and itchy skin, with scaling and cracking and a rough and scaly appearance. Blisters may form, oozing fluid and leading to crusted and hard skin. Itching may become so severe as to cause sleep disturbance, agitation and depression.
ATOPIC DERMATITIS There are many types of eczema, of which atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common. AD affects up to 20% of children and up to 3% of adults. AD occurs as early as infancy or childhood (teething), and presents most often on the face, hands, feet, back of the knees and inner elbows. Recent data indicates that its prevalence is still increasing, especially in low-income countries.1 In South Africa some studies done among children of different age groups show one-year prevalence rates of 1 to 13.3%. Sixty percent of cases show spontaneous clearing by puberty; however, the condition may recur in adults.2 In a population-based study in the US, the chronicity of AD highlights that only 50% of children below the ages of seven years, and 60% in adulthood, had complete resolution.3
CAUSESGenes and the environmentAlthough the causes remain unclear, AD appears to occur as a result of predisposing genes, in combination with environmental stimuli. Recent studies suggest that there is a deficiency of a protein in the epidermis, the filaggrin gene, which offers a protective barrier,4 and keeps the outer layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum) hydrated. This deficiency breaks the skin barrier, causing loss of water and exposure to potential allergens. This results in dry and scaly skin, as well as inflammatory and allergic immune responses.5
Further studies suggest that there is a higher risk of children aged two to four years developing asthma and allergic rhinitis who have AD, due to sensitisation of IgE antibodies to common environmental allergens.3
DietMany studies have shown the link between diet and eczema, in which certain foods may either cause or exacerbate the condition. However most food allergies have been found to resolve in early childhood, or after dietary elimination, except for allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, which are likely to continue.6
ROOT CAUSESGenetic predisposition makes a person more vulnerable to developing eczema. Stress is a contributing factor, which causes repeated flare-ups if this is not well controlled. Hormonal changes in women occur post menopause, when there is a decrease in production of oestrogen. Among other actions, oestrogen is responsible for the production of collagen and skin oils, without which the result is dry and itchy skin.
Poor lifestyle choices, occupational hazards, as well as poor compliance to the prevention and management of eczema, will also affect the outcome of skin health. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies contribute to a weakened immune system, which further predisposes a person to developing eczematous skin reactions.
Triggers These may include: harsh chemicals, detergents, disinfectants, soaps, perfumes or preservatives, found in cosmetics or toiletries; nickel found in jewellery, watch straps or zips; wool/synthetic clothing, dust, pollen, smoke, pollution, mould, pet dander, dust mites and dandruff; skin infections, sweating, teething, and extreme changes in temperature and humidity.
Allergens Testing for allergies is recommended, so that the root cause can be identified early and avoided/treated.
Allergens are substances which cause an allergic reaction. The antigens cause an abnormally vigorous immune response, in which the immune system fights off a perceived threat that would otherwise be harmless to the body.
Food allergies are especially common, such as gluten (wheat, oats, rye and barley), peanuts, fish, cow’s milk, eggs and soy. An acute immune reaction occurs within a few minutes to three hours of ingesting the agent to which a person is allergic. The body responds by making the antibody, IgE, which releases chemicals that create inflammation, which can lead to tissue damage. Examples of an acute food allergic response include: eczema, hives, bronchitis, asthma, sneezing, coughing and excessive spitting up.
A food allergy involves an immune system response, whereas food intolerance occurs as a result of an inability to properly digest a substance in certain foods, which may be from an enzyme deficiency. When a person has gluten intolerance, there is a greater production of zonulin (a protein that dismantles junctions). Zonulin breaks down the lining of the gut, thereby also contributing to a leaky gut syndrome, which is a contributory factor for eczema.
MANAGING ECZEMAThere is no known cure for eczema, but management of symptoms includes creams to moisturise the skin, ultraviolet light, or medication to control the immune response. Topical antiseptic, antifungal, antibiotic or steroidal creams may be prescribed, and/or immunosuppressant drugs, such as antihistamines to control the itch. Studies suggest that certain types of nutrient supplementation with probiotics, prebiotics, fatty acids, or formula, may prevent or reduce the severity of eczema.7
Skin care Use a non-soap cleanser or dermatological bar, and wash your skin with your hands instead of a facecloth, as this is not only harsh on the skin, but it also harbours bacteria. Pat the skin dry, instead of rubbing, to protect the skin. If you are allergic to pollen, wash your hair at night to get rid of pollen on the hair, and use a mild dermatological shampoo.
Moisturise the skin immediately after hand washing or showering to keep it moist and supple. Shower with warm water at about 32°C (heat dries out the skin), and not for too long, as this will further dry out the skin. Rinse off the body immediately after swimming, and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, and use a high factor sun protective, waterproof lotion.
Calendula oil promotes skin healing, eliminates bacteria, and reduces inflammation. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a rare type of fat found only in coconut oil and mother’s breast milk. Lauric acid is converted into monolaurin, a compound that is highly toxic to viruses, bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms. It also deeply penetrates and moisturises the skin, while protecting it from environmental and free radical damage.
Environment, air and breathingGet plenty of fresh air and avoid polluted areas (car fumes, industrial exposure and tobacco smoke). Exercise the judicious use of air conditioners by not making the air too cold, which will dry out the skin. A humidifier adds moisture to the air, preventing dryness of the skin.
Reduce stressTake time out to relax. Do deep breathing exercises, get fresh air, do yoga, socialise with your friends, join a club, have a hobby, do not overwork, and get emotional support.
EliminationKeep the bowels functioning regularly, have gentle massages and cupping therapy. Drink plenty of fresh water, at least one and a half litres for children and two litres for adults.
Exercise Moderate exercise stimulates circulation and strengthens the immune system. Do not overdo exercising as increased sweating dries out the skin.
Rest and sleep Listen to gentle music before going to bed, while sipping on a cup of warm camomile tea. Get sufficient rest and sleep to recuperate the body, and to facilitate healing. Avoid heavy meals before retiring, as well as stimulants, such as alcohol or coffee. Avoid watching TV or working at the computer before sleeping, as this will keep the mind stimulated.
Diet Avoid a diet high in processed foods, with preservatives, added colourants and favouring, as this causes inflammatory reactions in the body.
Anti-inflammatory foodsParticular attention needs to be paid to diet, by substituting pro-inflammatory foods for anti-inflammatory ones. Eat plenty of raw and organic food, and avoid processed foods, caffeine, dairy, gluten, meat, sugar and alcohol, as much as is possible. Dark leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, and disease-fighting phytochemicals, than those with lighter-coloured leaves.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation. Nuts contain antioxidants, which assist the body to fight off and repair the damage caused by inflammation. Almonds are a good source of inflammation-fighting healthy fats, which are rich in fibre, calcium, and vitamin E. Walnuts have high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat.
SupplementsA probiotic supplement and cultured probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, natto, tempeh, kimchi and miso assist the body to restore friendly bacteria in the gut and fight against bad bacteria that cause inflammation.
Supplementation with essential fatty acids (omega-3 and -6), vitamin D3, vitamin B12, magnesium and zinc promotes a healthy immune system. Vitamins C and E help protect intestinal cells from oxidative and free radical stress, and vitamin C has anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant activity and antibiotic qualities. Flax seeds, chia seeds, cod liver and fish oils, evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil, borage oil and hemp oil are all also great sources.
CONCLUSIONAlthough eczema is physically, emotionally and socially discomforting, do not despair. Making healthy lifestyle choices and being aware of contributing factors can ensure a good quality of life.
A list of references is available from the Natural Medicine office. Tel: 021 880 1444
Healthy lifestyle choices will boost your immunity and promote skin health.
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