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The Oil That May Help Your Help Eczema
A number of medicinal oils are recommended for eczema patients to help reduce itching and inflammation as well as prevent the skin from getting dry and scaly. However, none is more effective for eczema than cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D. It is also a major supplement in the GAPS protocol and an especially effective supplement for healing the gut and the skin. What makes cod liver oil special? What is GAPS? How can omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D help eczema? Read on to find out.
by Brad Chase
The causes of eczema extend beyond the colonization of the skin by pathogenic bacteria. Studies show that the state of the gut flora can also determine the risk of atopic eczema. Specifically, a healthy gut flora in early childhood has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of eczema and allergic diseases.
The importance of the gut flora to human health is central to the collection of medical conditions known as GAPS.
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome or sometimes known as Gut and Physiology Syndrome) is a term first coined by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
Because the body’s immune system is concentrated around the gut, autoimmune diseases as well as chronic diseases caused by impaired innate immunity often originate from the gut. GAPS links the gastrointestinal system to the nervous system and immune system.
Therefore, GAPS proposes a link between the state of the gut flora and diseases like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyslexia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other neurological disorders.
Other diseases with GAPS involvement include diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, eczema, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The GAPS protocol is recommended to help treat these disorders. GAPS can help heal damaged gastrointestinal mucosa, restore healthy gut flora and remove toxins from the body.
Although the GAPS protocol regards diet as the core of the program, supplements are also needed to help speed up the healing of the damaged gastrointestinal lining and restore the gut flora.
However, only a few essential supplements are recommended during the GAPS program. This is done to prevent further irritation of the gastrointestinal mucosa by supplements. Most of the nutritional supplements (essential fatty acids, vitamins A and D) recommended in the GAPs protocol can be sourced from cod liver oil, fish oil and nut oil.
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Essential fatty acids make an important component of the GAPS protocol. There are 2 major types of essential fatty acids: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
Maintaining a healthy ratio of both fatty acids is important for relieving inflammation and improving cardiovascular health and the nervous system. Studies have also confirmed that essential fatty acids play important roles in the development and treatment of eczema.
Therefore, good sources of essential fatty acids are included in GAPS diet. Excellent sources of essential fatty acids included in GAPS supplementation include certain seed and nut oils, fish oil and cod liver oil.
Cod liver oil is especially important because it is also an excellent source of vitamins A and D.
These are the 2 most important vitamins in GAPS supplementation. A number of studies have also proven that supplementation with these vitamins are effective in the treatment of eczema.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential, unsaturated fatty acids. In the body, they are used to synthesize a family of compounds known as eicosanoids.
Studies show that these 2 types of fatty acids compete with each other. However, a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids is important for general health.
For example, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids (relative to omega-3 fatty acids) can raise the risks of chronic diseases with inflammatory component. Therefore, excessive consumption of food sources of omega-6 fatty acids is associated with arthritis, asthma, heart diseases and cancers.
Specifically, increased production of derivatives of omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammation in the body.
Arachidonic acid, an important omega-6 fatty acid, is used to synthesize pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Other pro-inflammatory compounds produced from omega-6 fatty acids include leukotrienes and thromboxanes.
In contrast, the metabolites produced from omega-3 fatty acids are less inflammatory and more anti-inflammatory.
For example, the anti-inflammatory property of the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), was shown to be partly due to its ability to reduce the production of the leukotriene, LTB4.
Epidemiological studies show that people who consume more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids are healthier. In fact, the prevalence of chronic diseases in developed countries has been confirmed to be due to the climbing ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids in modern diet.
In typical Western diets, the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio ranges from 10:1 to 30:1.
This is not only too high but quite unhealthy. In contrast, health experts advocate consuming more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio to strive for should be at least 1:2.
The GAPS diet and supplementation recommended for treating eczema provide more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids.
Besides the omega-3 fatty acids, cod liver oil can also provide vitamins A and D. In fact, the amount of these vitamins in cod liver oil exceeds the daily recommended dietary intake. Therefore, cod liver oil can serve as fully replace dietary and supplement sources of vitamins A and D supplements in the GAPS protocol.
Do these vitamins help eczema patients? The results of multiple studies confirm that they do.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal, Pediatric Dermatology, a group of researchers determined that the plasma level of vitamin D is directly linked to the severity of atopic eczema.
For the study, the researchers recruited 74 children with eczema. By conducting skin tests, they determined the levels of allergic sensitization in the children. With this test, they were able to group the study participants according to the severity of their eczema.
Then by measuring the vitamin D levels of these children, the researchers discovered that those with the lowest vitamin D levels had the most severe form of eczema.
Vitamins A and D are effective for treating eczema because of their positive effects on the immune system.
In fact, topical vitamin A metabolites are commonly used to treat skin diseases such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. In addition, the signs of vitamin A deficiency overlap with the symptoms of eczema. Shared symptoms between the skin disease and the vitamin deficiency include dry, scaly skin as well as inflamed, reddened skin and itching.
Vitamin D, on the other hand, is an excellent immune system booster just as it possess anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, vitamin D can help put the immune system in “attack mode” so that it wipes out the harmful pathogens colonizing the skin and gut while reducing inflammation.
In addition, vitamin D has a direct antimicrobial property that can help fight these pathogens.
The benefits of fish oil for reducing the risk of eczema in infants was confirmed in a 2009 clinical trial in Sweden.
In that study, the researchers found that pregnant women who took fish oil capsules reduced the risk of passing on eczema to their infants. In fact, children from these women were 3 times less likely to have childhood eczema.
This conclusion was further confirmed by an Australian study published in the British Medical Journal in 2012.
The original study was known as Docosahexaenoic Acid to Optimize Mother Infant Outcome (DOMINO) trial. It involved over 700 pregnant women whose fetuses had high risks of allergic disease.
Half of these women received 900 mg of omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily from the week 21 of gestation until birth while the other half was given a vegetable oil supplement with no omega-3 content.
The results of the study showed that while omega-3 supplementation of the mothers did not reduce the risk of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-associated allergies in the infants in their first year of life, omega-3 did reduce the risks of atopic eczema and food allergy.
The researchers recommended that fatty fish or fish oil supplements should be routinely recommended for pregnant women to help them increase their omega-3 fatty acid intake and reduce the risk of eczema in the infants.
The researchers believed that the omega-3 given to these pregnant women reached the fetus and helped stabilize cell membranes.
This effect on the fetus reduced inflammation and, therefore, helped reduce the risks of eczema and allergies.
A 2009 study published in the journal, Acta Paediatrica, expanded on the scope of the last study by not only determining the benefits of omega-3 supplements during pregnancy but also during breastfeeding in the first year.
For this study, the researchers recruited 145 pregnant women with histories of allergy or with husbands or previous children with allergies. They were then divided into 2 groups.
While the first group received placebo, the second group received daily doses of 1.1 g of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 1.6 g of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This supplementation was started in week 25 of gestation and continued up to the 4th month of breastfeeding.
The results of the study showed that maternal supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the prevalence of food allergies in the infants as well as the incidence of IgE-related eczema during the first year of life.
This study showed that early and continued supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of eczema even in children with family history of allergic diseases.
In addition, this study confirmed that the omega-3 fatty acids taken by mothers can be shared with their fetuses as well as through breast milk.
A 2008 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that supplementation with the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, can help relieve atopic eczema.
The researchers recruited 53 adults suffering from atopic eczema for this study. They were then given either 5.4 g of DHA or saturated fatty acids daily for 8 weeks. The study participants were accessed at weeks 0, 4, 8 and 20 and then scored with the SCORAD (severity scoring of atopic dermatitis) index.
The results of the study showed that
This study is significant for a number of reasons. First, it confirms once more that omega-3 fatty acids can indeed improve atopic eczema and that their benefits are not restricted to infants.
This means that while early supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids is important, it is never too late to use these essential fatty acids in the treatment of eczema.
Secondly, this study is one of the few ones in which DHA and not EPA or a combination of EPA and DHA was used.
While some health experts argue that EPA is the better omega-3 fatty acid, this study clearly shows that DHA can also significantly reduce inflammation and improve atopic eczema.
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