We began our journey to heal eczema by removing toxins from our environment and our body care.
Then we took things up a notch by removing the trigger foods that can contribute to eczema.
Both of those are important steps to reclaim our health. I commend you for everything you have done so far, however big or small those steps have been.
Learning a new way to eat (or to clean house or to care for our bodies) can be daunting. But as we stretch and grow we invite a new level of health into our lives. So keep at it! You are making progress on so many levels.
And now it is time to heal our gut.
Oh, yes. Now we’re getting to the core of the issue.
Because our bodies are only as healthy as the bacteria that live in our bellies.
Gut flora, the bacteria and yeast that live in our digestive systems, is vital to good health.
Healthy bacteria begins to populate our gut during and after birth, with bacteria from the mother’s body and from the environment – as well as the abundance found in breastmilk – taking up residence in our bodies. As we grow up we continue to take on healthy gut flora through the foods we eat and the environment in which we live.
However, the health of our gut flora is often compromised. Sometimes from the start.
Both cesarean birth (because the baby does not pass through the bacteria-rich birth canal) and formula feeding (because formula lacks the healthy bacteria found in mother’s milk) can delay a child’s acquisition of healthy gut flora. The same is true for overzealous use of sanitizers, antibacterial cleaners, and antibiotic medications.
Add to that the modern western diet, chlorinated drinking water, antibiotics in our food, and even birth control pills and we have a formula for compromised health at any age.
And when the gut is compromised you often see it in the skin. Eczema is a common sign.
But don’t despair! There are many ways to cultivate healthy gut flora and it’s simple to begin.
Step 3 is a delicious one, and it’s much easier than step two. (I promise.)
It all begins with taking the first step towards simple changes. Like serving saurkraut at every meal.
Really. Let’s take it slow. I’m talking about easy, small – even pleasant! – changes.
Are you ready? Then let’s get to it!
Please Note: the information provide here is not intended to replace professional medical advice and care. It is simply my perspective for you to consider as you go about making good choices for your family’s health. Seek the support and care of a naturopathic or western physician, and listen to your own wisdom. Be well!
Step 3. Restore gut flora.
To nurture and restore healthy bacteria to our bodies we will take three steps:
- Stop killing your gut flora,
- Introduce good bacteria through the environment, and
- Eat probiotic foods daily.
1. Stop killing your gut flora
Eat real food
Our body contains hundreds of kinds of bacterial life. They are nourished by the foods that we eat, and we in turn are nourished by their work (digestion).
Processed foods, however, feed the undesirable species that live within us. To tip the scales in favor of greater overall health eat whole, real food. Skip the junk – especially processed sweets and carbohydrates -every chance you get.
While the goal of a “perfect diet” is unreasonable, set a goal instead to make one small change per week. For example, replace one soda per day with kombucha, replace a sugared treat with a piece of fruit. And when you do backslide be gentle with yourself.
Be judicious with antibiotics
Antibiotics are important, powerful medicine. But they should be used judiciously. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for every ear infection or tummy bug, find a new physician. And if you are taking or have taken antibiotics, be tireless in restoring your gut flora, using the methods outlined below.
Ditch the sanitizer
Please. Stop using hand sanitizer. I beg you. It is compromising to your health in so many ways.
Good old fashioned soap is the best way to knock back the bacteria you don’t want without inviting trouble. Keep some natural wet wipes in your purse if you’re worried about dirty hands.
Consider alternatives to birth control pills
While the data regarding the effect of birth control pills on gut flora is spotty, I am repeatedly reading that these medications effect the health of gut flora. I can’t say enough good things about this book if you are looking for a new approach to managing fertility.
Filter your water
Don’t drink chlorinated water. Just don’t. Purchase an inexpensive water filter and get that stuff out before you drink! We were not designed to drink bleach. It’s bad for you and bad for the bugs in your gut. Enough said.
2. Introduce good bacteria through from the environment
When did our lives become so sanitary? Go outside for goodness sake. Get dirty. Dig in the soil. Play in the sandbox. Muck in the creek.
And encourage your kids to do the same. (Or at least get out of their way by removing the words, “Don’t do that – you’ll get dirty!” from your vocabulary.)
While I don’t recommend you seek out contagious disease, dig in the dirt and expose yourself to the natural world. Because there is bacteria out there. And your body needs this in every way.
Don’t wash your veggies
What?! No. She didn’t just say that.
Yes. I did.
Raw, fresh, local, organic veggies (from your garden is great!) are a good source of healthy bacteria. Just rub that carrot off on your pant leg and enjoy. (* See “Get dirty”, above.)
Bear in mind that conventional produce is often grown in soil that is – in essence – dead. Do make sure you are eating food from healty soil. Don’t eat conventional produce without washing it first as you will end up consuming more chemicals than probiotics.
Stop sanitizing your house
Good health does not come from a sterile environment. If someone in your home has the flu, by all means wipe the counters and door knobs down with vinegar. But for daily housekeeping, keep it simple. Let’s live in harmony with a little bacteria.
3. Eat probiotic foods daily
The photo above was taken today at my kitchen counter. This week I am making (from left to right) live-fermented pineapple vinegar, mixed veggie ferment, saurkraut, and a green chili kimchi.
These foods are cheap, nourishing, and absolutely bubbling (literally!) with healthy bacteria.
I can share plenty of recipes if you are interested.
Tips for Kids
To encourage my kids to eat their probiotics we serve appropriately sized portions. Once they fall in love with a new flavor they will beg for seconds (or thirds), but until then go slow.
In our home we use “three bites to taste” as our version of requiring a “no thank you bite”. Because it takes three bits to truly taste a new flavor, and dozens of tries until your body falls in love with something new.
I never force my children to eat anything. Instead I remind them that eating healthy, nourishing foods is good medicine for their bodies.
(And those three little bites of kraut at ever meal really adds up.)
Lacto-fermented sauerkraut or other vegetables
Lacto-fermented vegetables are simple to make at home.
Seriously. You can do it with two ingredients: cabbage and salt. How hard could it be?
And they are delicious.
We make a jar or two every couple of weeks. Kimchi, lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, ginger carrots, and the rest are all an affordable and easy way to add good bacteria to your diet.
You can also purchase live-fermented sauerkraut. You will find it in the refrigerator section of your grocery or coop in glass jars – not in the isles in cans.
If you have determined that dairy is not an eczema trigger for you, probiotic yogurt is a great source of healthy bacteria. (If you can’t do dairy, culture homemade coconut-almond milk).
Kefir is Russian version of yogurt, though the flavor is more yeasty in my opinion than yogurt. Kefir is made by placing kefir “grains” (a bacterial colony) into fresh milk and allowing it to sit at room temperature for a day.
Soon the milk is thick and tangy and ready to be strained (to remove the grains for the next batch) and enjoyed. Try with a little liquid stevia if it’s too tangy for your palate.
You can purchase grains through the yogurt culture link above.
Water kefir is a great dairy-free kefir option and is as simple to make as dairy kefir. I’m getting water kefir grains next week, so I’ll report back as to how we like it!
Grains available from the source listed for yogurt cultures, above.
Kombucha is cheap and easy to make. Like many things, you can also buy it but to drink enough might break your budget and fill your recycling bin in a hurry. To make kombucha you’ll need a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), or “Mother”.
Then follow my instructions to make your own.
We’re a little obsessed with it around here.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Even the humble vinegar bottle can be a source of good bacteria! I add a splash of live apple cider vinegar to a tall glass of room temperature water and drink throughout the day. You can add a drop of honey or liquid stevia if you aren’t a fan of sour. I think of it as lemon aid. Sort of.
Just be sure your vinegar is labeled “live” or “with the ‘Mother'” – this is how you know it is probiotic.
Yes, you can also supplement with probiotics. Personally I use them when we run out of the foods listed above as a shortcut to supplementing our flora. They work, but don’t let them be your only source of bacteria.
Let’s make these changes one small step at a time. There is no schedule, so move at your own pace.
Set a goal for this weekend or next week that feels reasonable. Like buying an affordable water filter. Or digging in the dirt. Making or buying a single jar or kraut.
And one small change at a time, you will transform your health.
Find the whole series through the links below.