I’ve had horrible eczema (an autoimmune problem that causes rough patches of itchy, blistery skin) ever since I was a kid. How horrible? Well, the last two out of three times I’ve been hospitalized were due to an eczema-caused bacterial infection. (The third time was due to getting hit by a bus. So I’m not, as a rule, super hospital-prone.)
Eczema has made my life miserable on dozens of occasions. One of my first epic travel adventures (driving 11,000 miles from Arizona to Alaska and back with my then-girlfriend after graduating college) was made almost completely wretched thanks to an eczema outbreak on my LIPS that lasted more than a month.
During the most recent outbreak, which happened about a year ago, I could literally do nothing besides stand next to my bed and lean my forehead on the mattress for eight hours. (And cry, obviously. I cried a lot.) If any more of my skin touched any surface, I was in complete agony.
Over the years, I’ve tried almost everything to cure my eczema. I visited a dozen dermatologists (who always gave me a tube of anti-itch cream and called it a day). I gave up alcohol. I drank a shit-ton of chicken broth. I paid a lot of money for a naturopath consultation. I tried visualization. I tried oatmeal baths and epsom salts and FUCKING COLD SHOWERS and then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I was told to wrap myself in a cold wet sheet and stay wrapped in that for 20 minutes, shivering and shaking like the saddest burrito.
None of this did anything to make my eczema go away (or even to relieve the relentless itchiness most of the time). What did was this:
I took a probiotic once a day.
That’s it. It took about a week for me to see the effects, but once it did, the change was dramatic and incontrovertible.
I’d heard about probiotics, of course (I live in the Bay Area, where the kale is plentiful and the kombucha is on tap), but I thought they were too expensive and, frankly, I did not at all make the connection between what was going on in my gut and what was going on in my skin.
One day, Kelsey led me to her friend Toni Sicola’s blog, Cultivated Wellbeing. (She has tons of great resources on health and wellness in general, btw.) Toni wrote a post about how healing her gut (with probiotics, bone broth, and cod liver oil) helped her eliminate a lifelong problem with acne. I don’t suffer from acne, but I figured I would nevertheless try going to the source—my gut—to heal my skin issues. It’s easy to forget that our skin is one of the easiest and most visible predictors of what is going on inside our bodies.
I bought a bottle of Renew Life* Ultimate Flora, which happened to be on sale at Whole Foods (I think it was around $35. It’s usually a bit more expensive than that for a two-month supply of 60 capsules. You can get it cheaper on the website, but I am lazy and often just drive to Whole Foods to get mine). Within a few days I had all but stopped itching, except for two small spots on my back (which come and go depending on how much booze I’m drinking and whether I’m eating much shitty, processed food). But for the most part, my eczema is gone.
Even if you don’t have from eczema, if you suffer from any of the following symptoms, it’s possible that you could alleviate some or all of them by healing your gut:
- Gas, bloating, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Yeast infections (if your mom ever told you to put yogurt up your snatch to help a yeast infection, she had good reason to do so)
- Other autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
- Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Acne or rosacea
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, or ADHD
- Candida overgrowth
- Food allergies or food intolerances
In the ensuing months, I’ve cut back to a probiotic capsule every other day to save a few bucks, and have added in fermented foods (Kelsey loves sauer kraut, so we basically eat some with every meal). If you’re not fond of pickled cabbage (for some weird reason), you can also try yogurt, kefir, cortido (the excellent, fiery cabbage stuff that goes on top of pupusas), ginger beer, kimchi, kombucha, or miso—most all of which is available at major grocery stores.
For a fascinating, and possibly exhausting, guide to the wonders of your GI tract, I also highly recommend reading The Good Gut by Erica and Justin Sonnenburg.
All that said, I’m not a health specialist or doctor or nutritionist. I’m speaking only of my experience—it’s entirely possible other remedies may work or not work for you. But a good deal of research appears to back this up: The more good bacteria in your gut, the stronger your immune system is, and the harder it is for your body to attack itself and make you miserable.
Eating fermented foods/taking probiotics has been my only salvation, and has improved my life 1,000 percent. Now if I could just kick my beer and Totino’s Party Pizza habit, I’d be set.
*I’m not in any way affiliated with Renew Life, nor am I getting paid to endorse it. I am simply sharing my experience in the hopes that it might help others who suffer from eczema.