12 Annoying Eczema Contradictions That Seriously Need to Stop

Thumbnail - 5 full hoverAsk any Hong Kongese, they’ll gag-reflex you with “eczema is caused by excess humidity!

Ask an Australian, it’s the heat. Scandinavian, sunlight deficiency.

Yes, stereotypes. Since we don’t know too much, might as well believe “what they say” – right?

Junky eBooks, media and unsupported opinions often anchor some one particular chemical, GMO, or quote, and branch off simple questions into contradictory answers resulting in: divided beliefs.

Ban sugar but what about fruit sugar?

Eat fermented vegetables but don’t kimchi have nightshades?

Cut lactose but probiotic yoghurt?

Too many ‘truths’ today. Let me clarify them for you.

1. No Nightshades vs. Fermented Vegetables (Kimchi)

kimchiWe know not all vegetables and fruits are equally friendly. One category are Nightshades e.g. white potatoes, red pepper, eggplants, and tomatoes.

Eczema sufferers should refrain as they have solanine – a seed protection mechanism But to humans, these are anti-nutrients. They interfere with our enzyme reactions like blocking nutrient absorption, delaying eczema recovery.

Chili powder (nightshades) is an ingredient in making kimchi. We know fermented vegetables like kimchi provide probiotics essential for gut flora, but nightshades promotes inflammation. Eat or don’t eat?

Three takeaways:

  1. It’s not black and white. You can consume moderate amounts of kimchi. So the probiotic benefits of kimchi are not entirely overridden by the chemical intensity of Nightshades.
  2. Are you optimizing recovery? If so, go as restrictive as possible with your diet – eliminate Nightshades outright – ban kimchi.
  3. Choosing nightshades-alternatives (replacements for taste purposes) e.g. black pepper, yams, sweet potatoes. But to also get probiotic benefits, choose non-Nightshades fermented foods e.g. sauerkraut, kombucha, and most homemade fermented plant foods would be great! (trust me, it’s easy to make).

2. Cut Lactose vs. Probiotic Yoghurt

2 yogurt-probiotics-600Many diets exclude dairy. But this rule can be a false-call sometimes but preferable to follow since by default, eczema sufferers have weakened immune systems prone to dairy problems:

  • Milk allergy: acute immune reaction towards a specific milk protein, symptoms almost immediate.
  • Dairy sensitivity: less-obvious food sensitivity to some milk protein caused by chronic autoimmunity, symptoms up to 72 hours.
  • Lactose intolerance: inability to digest the milk sugar lactose, due to lacking its respective digesting enzyme lactase.

Going dairy-free after a while, you could consume dairy and experience little to no reactions because your immune system strengthened and can tolerate more. But your microbiota (gut flora) isn’t at the optimal population to efficiently process dairy AND heal eczema from a healthy gut flora perspective. So don’t binge on dairy just because you can’t see anything reacting.

Like any food trigger, you will not crash to the bottom (and have to repeat the whole diet) if you ingest some amounts. But by following a diet, you are responsible for eliminating immune damage. This answers the common question: “so can I eat dairy? what about just a little bit?”

What about yoghurt? Although they contain probiotic bacteria (friendly bacteria) to support immune recovery, they are unfortunately dairy. Can you eat it?

  • Personal differences. Dairy products have different lactose levels (e.g. whole milk has much more than yoghurt). Also, dairy sensitivity isn’t always caused by lactose, could be another protein like casein.
  • Lactose metabolizers. Yoghurt contains enzymes that metabolize its own lactose, provided by fermentation. This irony doesn’t mean the more you consume, the more you metabolize. It means you can work up your good bacteria levels slowly.

Although yoghurt has less lactose than milk, gradual intake is still required. You can reverse-solve the yoghurt problem by going back in dairy products with less and less fermentation done (more and more lactose). After yoghurt, try different cheeses, then milk. Putting this into steps (source from Chris Kresser):

  1. Take a few spoonfuls of full-fat yoghurt per day (along a meal preferred), slowly increasing the intake up to 2+ servings per day.
  2. Once your body responds comfortably (test-trial, people vary). Intake products gradually in increasing lactose level: full-fat hard cheeses, soft cheeses, cream, regular fluid milk.

Some numbers for a better picture. Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Gouda have 0-2g lactose per ounce. 6 ounce (170g) of Greek Yoghurt has 6.8g of lactose. But one cup (340g) of milk has 11g of lactose.

3. Probiotics (Good Bacteria) vs. Gut Flora Diversity

3 probioticsGut health is emphasized everywhere. You need a good microbiota (gut flora) population to prevent a dysfunctional gut membrane: Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Our body houses trillions of bacteria. Not all bacteria is bad. Some cause disease, some digest food particles. You need a balance between good and bad bacteria. Our modern diets have greatly diverted our microbiota towards more bad bacteria.

Thus, the common solution is to populate with good bacteria – two problems:

  1. Enhancing good bacteria alone is only partially effective because bad bacteria are not eliminated i.e. root problem of poor gut health.
  2. Probiotic products have good bacteria strains, yet we neglect that our microbiota is not governed by several strains alone e.g. everyone idealizes Lactobacillus acidophilus. We need various strains of good bacteria to properly improve gut health. This is the dilemma that occurs at a deeper understanding of probiotics.

Problem #1 is easily reversed by eliminating foods that contribute to more bad bacteria, and by additionally consuming foods with antibacterial and antifungal properties e.g. honey, garlic, onions.

Problem #2 is tricky because many people are convinced that this and that bottle will fix everything. Sure, fixing gut health with good bacteria is correct concept. But assuming several strains from the bottle will fix everything is wrong. We need various types of good bacteria to normalize gut bacteria to our typical diets: by regular eating patterns the body can gradually adapt to (i.e. learn) – how evolution works in gut-scale.

You simply don’t eat pizza on Day 1, dumplings Day 2, nachos Day 3, and some sugar-packed desserts after each meal, and some wheat-ful processed cereals with milk in mornings. The body simply can’t handle such abnormal diversity, because there is literally nothing to get used to.

4. Ban Sugar vs. Fructose in Fruits

4 fructoseThank you for all the information. You mention to avoid bananas as they are in the top sugary fruits but then later on recommend them as a fruit that is great for skin conditions and to balance the sodium. Could you confirm your thoughts on bananas as I currently eat them a lot for slow release energy when exercising – James (comment)

Despite the mega-emphasis on healthy plant-based diets, acknowledge that not all fruits and vegetables are considered healthy. One example is the banana – high in fruit sugar.

However, in another post describing over-consumption of sodium (i.e. salt) in modern diets that topple the body’s sodium-potassium balance – I suggested bananas as a solution because they are rich in potassium. Yet, they are still high in fruit sugar.

Why is sugar bad for eczema?

  1. Unneeded by the body, in reference to processed sugars and additional calories. Applies to anyone.
  2. No health benefit but inflammatory effects to the immune system. Sugar hinders eczema recovery.

But “sugar” is an umbrella term. HFCS in coke is sugar. Glucose from broccoli is sugar. Fructose in bananas are also sugar. That’s why it is unnecessary to 100% ban fruits (for their high sugar content). Because:

  1. Almost all foods have sugar. We eat sugar every day. But obviously, among choices of lettuce (sugar called sucrose) and coke (HFCS sugar), we 100% ban the sugar from coke.
  2. Different metabolism. Two primary sugars in food Fructose (common in fruits) and Glucose (common in vegetables) are metabolized differently. Moreover, consuming fructose supports metabolism of glucose, and vice versa – a synergistic mechanism.

Both sugars are expected in the body and better consumed synergistically for optimal nutrition. When one says “eat in moderation” for bananas, it means eating in proportion with your glucose intake for the best metabolic benefits.

Yes, you can eat bananas for the potassium bonus to balance sodium. But its high sugar content reminds you to consume on par with glucose intake.

5. Legumes (Gluten-Free) vs. Legumes (Non-Paleo)

5 legumesThe gluten-free diet excludes foods containing gluten to prevent gut damage. One gluten-free food group are the legumes e.g. beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soy.

Problem is, some eat gluten-free AND “paleo” (caveman style) at the same time but legumes are non-Paleo. Should you follow gluten-free or Paleo i.e. legumes or no legumes?

These are two synonymous concepts of eating ancestrally. Gluten-free is more specific (by banning gluten). PALEOlithic Diet, the name in itself, merely refers to the past.

Simple solution: don’t eat legumes.

Further explanation: legumes are adapted to protect themselves from predators to improve seed dispersal using many problematic anti-nutrients that interfere with human absorption of nutrients (hence “anti-“).

There are ways to eliminate the problem anti-nutrients in legumes: soaking, sprouting, and fermentation. But the extra effort and relatively low nutritional value among other better choices of plant foods, legumes are generally under-preferred for an eczema diet.

6. Fish (Omega-3) vs. Mercury Contamination

6 fishOne of the biggest turnover points of an eczema diet is to reverse the modern overconsumption of omega-6 by:

  1. Decreasing omega-6 intake.
  2. Increasing omega-3 intake.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are fatty acids found in some plants but primarily seafood, other plants and meats in general, respectively. Theoretically, we should have a healthy 1:1 ratio of two these fats. But modern diets skew us to 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3.

But eating seafood has the concern of mercury contamination. Mercury in seafood originate from natural seabed mineral deposits, and also industrial pollution. So many people are eating fish. Is mercury a true concern or just a hyped up hoax to make us buy some expensive fish and mercury filters?

The liver can naturally process toxic metals. Mercury becomes problematic in excess i.e. too much the liver cannot handle. Solutions:

  • Consume low-mercury fishes only. See reference tables (1) and (2).
  • Despite tremendous benefits of omega-3 intake from seafood, limit fish consumption to 3-4 meals per week max.
  • Consider non-seafood omega-3 sources e.g. purslane, flaxseeds, walnuts, grass-fed meats.
  • Consume liver-boosting nutrients: glycine, magnesium and vitamin B6.
  • Decrease liver workload by decreasing detoxification workload from: salicylates from artificial food additives and commercial products like lotions, histamine from consuming histamine-rich foods.

7. Organic vs. Inorganic

7wash-veggies-fruitsSo you list Apples at the top of the ‘dirty dozen’ list but yet you also list them as a food you recommend? I’m a little confused…

I’m looking for a staple food while I ‘fast’… one that I can eat all I want of but still allowing my body to clean out… is there anything you can recommend? I WAS considering apples! – Seth (Comment)

Organic foods are purportedly more natural and healthy (and more expensive), whereas inorganic foods are contaminated with pesticides, fertilizers, and chemical additives.

But how harmful are inorganic foods? Do they affect eczema recovery? How much of a realistic concern?

Not much. At least for now.

The Dirty Dozens and Clean 15’s are lists of fruits and vegetables considered least and most suitable for consumption because of farming chemicals. Yes, if you analyze the plants with a microscope, you see traces of residues. If you research on effects of eating those residues, there will be obvious harmful effects. But that quantity used in research and found on skin peels of fruits is different.

Two takeaways:

  • Wrong focus. The organic vs. inorganic debate is pointless because it is oversimplified and misleading. Organic foods can be unhealthy. Inorganic foods can be healthy. It’s not black or white either. In fact, there is insufficient evidence to say organic foods are more healthier. Even if higher in nutrition content per gram, the cost-value is not worth it.
  • Reducible. Chemical residues on fruits and vegetables can be greatly reduced via soaking, scrubbing, washing, and cooking. Commercial wash products for washing off chemicals (what an irony in this world) are researched to show no big difference in the ability to remove contaminants.

8. Being Natural vs. Taking Supplements?

8 being natural - nightshades
A quick Google will show all possible safe Nightshades replacements.

Being “natural” is extremely vague, meaningless, and fallacious. Snake poison exists in nature, are you going to drink it?

Yes. Many food choices, lifestyle habits, and ways of thinking, when done naturally, will do you more good than harm (at least it makes sense). But my message is to not over-idolize this maxim of “being natural” as a cure-all mindset.

Some examples of why “being natural” is NOT okay:

  • Vitamin A overdose. The two types of Vitamin A exist: 1) Preformed Vitamin A in animal products e.g. liver, dairy products, egg yolk, cod liver oil, and fortified cereals; 2) Carotenoids found in green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach), yellow vegetables (e.g. pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots), some orange fruits (e.g. mangoes, papaya). Limit your preformed vitamin A consumption because you can get overdose causing skin problems. But carotenoids are okay. Read more. 
  • Nightshades. Naturally found e.g. tomatoes, eggplants, chili.
  • High sugar content fruits e.g. bananas, citrus fruits, dried fruits.
  • Pro-inflammatory foods e.g. corn, picked vegetables, seeds and nuts, various flours, and almost all meats (except seafood).
  • Read more: eczema-unfriendly plants and vegetables

It’s not natural versus unnatural. Your focus is simply to support your immune system to heal by providing it with sufficient nutrition. Specifically, this means consuming functionality-targeting nutrients e.g. gut-based, liver-based nutrients.

9. Being Healthy vs. Are You Really? (High/Low Carbs, Fats, Protein)

There are certainly differences in the past, in now, and in the future. No singular diet can solve everyone's problems concurrently.
Some tribes eat only meats, some eat lots of seeds, some eat  everything. All are healthy. No singular diet can solve everyone’s problems concurrently.

Like history and science with changing paradigms, the relationship between nutrition and health changes too. Here’s a brief rundown of an assumed optimal diet from time to time:

  • Traditional diet (carnivorous): high-fat, low-carb, high-meat.
  • Traditional diet (plant-based): low-fat, high-carb, high-plants.
  • Anti-fat revolution (1980s): low-fat, high-carb, high-plants.
  • Low-carb high-fat diet (LCHF): self-explanatory.

“Ancestral diets” are created in the modern world by estimating what we probably ate in the past. But it is impossible to compare because e.g. a broccoli today only exists after years of evolution.

Broccoli, and various species, have evolved from wild mustard plant.
Broccoli, and various species, have evolved from wild mustard plant. How can we compare?

Today, people can finally choose to eat healthy foods without financial or distance constraints. However, numerous diets exist and all partially work in some way (using an “eat healthy” principle), all convince different groups of people, causing conflicting ideas and never eliminate the inaccurate diets.

This means you (and me) should evaluate different sources and decide, read testimonials, and more importantly, see if the diet suits specific needs e.g. eczema-diet will focus on an anti-inflammatory approach, anti-diabetes diets will follow a carb-conscious approach.

10. This Diet vs. But That Diet worked for him too?

Check this table for American diet trends every decade since 1950s.
Check this table for American diet trends every decade since 1950s.

You can use one of the many possible diets out there and still be able to eliminate eczema. Our next question?

Which diet is the fastest? One best matches what our body needs to heal, as in to specifically address the cliche “everyone has different triggers.”

Yes. Paleo, Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF), Mediterranean, SCD are all emerging and popular diets that can reverse autoimmunity. But why? If you analyze 11 common diets (which I did) expected to heal eczema, you notice some trends:

  • Stops SAD. Stops eating junk food diet aka. Standard American Diet. But in both developing and developed countries, there are people consuming artificial “foods” – an unfortunate irony because the poor lack money to buy fresh and healthy foods, but on the contrary, the more money you have, the more you can fall prey to unhealthy indulgences. Lose-lose situation.
  • “Eat healthy.” Most diets tell you to increase intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds. Exercise more. Stress less. Sleep more. Funny because it doesn’t take hardcore research to prove these existing guidelines for anyone to become healthy. (Note: the most challenging element in eczema recovery is commitment).
  • Focus on gut health. Leaky gut syndrome, intestinal permeability, microflora imbalance. Rebuild your “soldiers” with probiotics. These are marketable health problems so advertisements will enter your pool of medical knowledge. You probably know these concepts but they are partially presented to us. If promising you to heal eczema with probiotic pills, will you? YES you will! Because it’s new, the science makes sense, and sounds legitimate. But gut health is only one of many more factors to address.

So what is the right diet?

Seriously if you ask me that again… just kidding. Any diet which encompasses important principles (like the 3 above) and is anti-inflammatory.

Note: I advocate acid-alkaline, low-salicylate, and gluten-free because it’s the approach that eliminated my eczema in 2013. But I’m working on developing a more accurate picture for you guys. Stay tuned for future posts, videos, and my book!

11. Seeing a Dermatologist vs. Treating Eczema

Emotional health affects physical health, vice versa.
Emotional health affects physical health, vice versa. There are many advantages in feeling happy (hormone-wise). Talk to your friends and family. Hang out. Grab a coffee.

Those who understand how eczema is treated will tell you “no, eczema is not a skin disease.” As much as I (and you) dislike being repetitive, I have to repeat:

Eczema is not a skin disease but a manifestation of physiological imbalances through dry and itchy skin i.e. eczema is a symptom, not a disease.

Specific “imbalance” examples:

  • Consuming health-disrupting “foods” like junk food and artificially fortified products
  • Gut and liver nutritional deficiencies
  • Mental stress impacts on hormone levels
  • Amount of sleep as natural self-recovery medium

The message about dermatologists is: you can get temporary relief through moisturizers based on natural ingredients. But if you only use chemical moisturizers and expect your skin to smoothen and stop itching – that won’t work because the itches don’t originate from the skin directly.

12. Steroids vs. Immune System

The last batch of steroids I was prescribed.
The last batch of steroids I was prescribed.

Developing on from the last message that eczema is not a skin disease but an internal physiological problem – conventional medicine figured half of that out.

It went one step further down in the hormonal and immune level BUT not the deeper root causes.

So what you get is a hormone-science-supported tube of manufactured stress that manipulates (because your body can’t tell whether it’s natural or man-made hormones) your hormone status, which controls the mechanisms meant to trigger itch.

(Note: cortisol is an active hormone naturally found in the body to regulate stress and is responsible for stress-induced behaviors like itching.)

Does this stop itching?

Temporarily. You will have to increase your dose over time. And when you stop, you face accumulated withdrawal symptoms which are painful to endure. The contradiction here is that steroids can be used to manipulate the immune system, but that does not support the immune system to heal at all.

As Mark Hyman puts it “depression is not a Prozac-deficiency,” which echoes “eczema is not a steroid-deficiency.”

Summarized Takeaways

Cut sugar and eat this.
If you could take away one brief message on healthy dieting: cut sugar and up your omega-3.

More and more conflicting ideas are bound to emerge because of the explosion of diets that all rely on a partial mixture of science, charisma, and appeal to “oh, that makes sense” (instead of evidence).

So combine science and experience from those who’s been there and you get real solutions.

  1. Consume fermented vegetables, nightshades-free varients if possible, to minimize inflammation (though not a must if you prefer taste).
  2. After initial rebuilding of good flora, gradually train up your lactose digestion via slow changes. Minimize to speed up recovery.
  3. Probiotics are not cure-all. Don’t idealize specific strains. Consume fresh plants (with good enzymes naturally) overall.
  4. Limit sugar intake regardless of natural fruit source or artificial.
  5. Legumes are not a ban but contain anti-nutrients to minimize to speed up recovery. Find alternatives.
  6. Consume plant-based omega-3 sources, low-mercury seafood, and limit seafood to 3-4 meals per week.
  7. “Organic vs. Inorganic” not an appropriate debate. To minimize pesticide contamination: soak, wash, peel, your plant foods.
  8. “Natural vs. Supplements” inappropriate debate too. Focus on reversing autoimmunity via decreasing inflammatory and increasing anti-inflammatory foods.
  9. Diets following key principles can work e.g. 1) zero junk food, 2) no chemicals, and 3) healthy nutrition targeting gut and liver.
  10. As above. Remember effective diets don’t require you to purchase a product. You only need natural foods. (Note: supplements can work, but only as a side dish not a main course.)
  11. Moisturizers can bring you temporary relief. Use those with natural ingredients.
  12. Steroids manipulate your hormones. Ban them and focus on reversing your autoimmunity.

Why I’m on Daily Laptop Mode

I know I haven’t updated CES and answer your questions on eczema in comments and email. But after first year in university, I’ve learned better time management and will include CES into my life schedule because it had always been my mission (1, 2) to help people eliminate eczema. Because I know how tormenting it is. Here’s what I’m doing every day:

    • Book on Eczema Elimination. I’m currently 33% on my book and writing every day. Estimated completion before September. This will solve confusions on eczema and put all the information eczema sufferers need in one place. It’s my dream so I won’t give up.
    • We’re on Facebook now! The first page is for blog updates and quick eczema tips (“Like” me in the box below). I have them but just can’t share because it’s too short for a post or too long to write. The second is a group: basically, fast Q&A for you and me, you and fellow sufferers, can share what worked for each other. Maybe you’ll learn something new? Go ahead and join the group called “Reverse Eczema Together”! Introduce yourself.

  • Step-by-step Free Course. To make content more organized and simple, I will create structure e.g. Step 1 on understanding conventional approaches, Step 2 on evaluating your dietary history, etc. Each “Step” includes a walk-through video, with other web resources and PDFs below for better understanding. So eczema sufferers won’t have to Google this and that anymore. Free, of course.

Leave any comments below and I will reply to any contradictions… on contradictions =)

9 thoughts on “12 Annoying Eczema Contradictions That Seriously Need to Stop”

  1. Hi Harrison, great post as ever!
    I’ve been on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet for 4 months and following your tips on eczema (fast cold showers, no steroids, no moisturizers, etc). The dyshidrotic eczema on my right hand seems less angry, but I still get flare ups every two weeks. Is this how the healing process happen? How can I know if I’m on the right path?

    1. Thanks Arai!
      Great to hear that you’ve been on the diet for 4 months – certainly not an easy feat. When I solved my eczema in the 2/3 months summer, it wasn’t just during that time when I made dietary changes. Previously I had already been eating more and more healthy. In total, it surely took >3 months. If you still have declining yet periodic symptoms, I would give it more time embarking on the AIP Diet. But try to have a habit of taking notice of what you eat surrounding the days (+-3days) of your flare-ups so you can make some connections e.g. oh maybe, there’s something wrong with a certain vegetable I’m eating.
      Also, because AIP gives you only plant and animal foods: consume more seafood for the latter. Finally, exercise regularly – this is a cliche proven to facilitate immune recovery – sweat 2/3 times per week (a 30 minute jog is a great start).

      1. Hi Harrison! That’s me again.
        A few days ago I decied to limiting my meat consumption to once a day, usually at lunch time and it made a huge diference. No more flareups at all! And the thinned skin on my hand is slowly getting normal again!
        You are absolutelly right on the acid x alkaline chart stuff. I also noticed that red meat (beef) makes me break up badly, although skinless chicken and fish are ok (but sardines are not).
        I have no words enough to show my gratitude. Thank you for all Harrisson!

        Btw, I love HK! I am Japanese but lived for a while in mainland China and used to go to HK to buy medicines and Japanese food.

        1. Great to hear your positive results! With discipline on cutting those nasty foods, the body can surely heal without hinderance.

          What you suggest with red meat and sardines being reactive to you: it is a high possibility you are specifically sensitive to amines – you may want to look up the concept of eating a low-amine diet.

          That’s cool =)

  2. Hello Harrison. I am so happy to have found you. You’re emails helped me immensely, and i look forward to your future posts. Thank you!

  3. Hiya Harrison

    just a quick question I have started eating healthier reduced sugar and also have started working out 5 days a week My skin can get pretty red and sore why is this. Is my skin getting used to the effects of sweating or is it going to flare-up eachtime I exercise.

    1. Hey Aisha. Glad to hear you’re reducing sugar and working out that often! Your skin doesn’t get used to sweating, we all sweat. But the more you exercise, the faster you detoxify which speeds up you recovery. Yes, you will experience itch bursts almost every time, but the intensity of each time will begin to decrease after a certain period. Eventually, it’ll reduce to little to no itches maybe just a scratch here and there but it becomes pleasant to sweat without having to worry about itching. So what can you do during this period? 1) Exercise near a place with immediate shower to alleviate; 2) play ball games so that the rapid activity forces you to concentrate and the itches bother you less.

  4. Thank you for all the work you do on this. I enjoy reading your clear and organized thinking.

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