My sons have had eczema their whole lives.  It has ranged from cradle cap (did you know that was a form of eczema?) to itchy bumps in the creases of the knees and elbows to full-blown bloody red rashes on the arms and legs.

Pediatricians, as usual (sorry!), were useless in treating eczema.  Their standard advice was to “put a little cortisone cream on it”.  I did try that a few times at first with my older son, but I quickly grew worried about the effects of it on his already-poor immune system. 

Cortisone cream is a steroid, and steroids suppress the immune system.  Not only that, but I learned that suppressing eczema with cortisone cream can lead to asthma.

Most times, we just put up with the itchiness, but this winter, my older son’s eczema was the worst I had ever seen.  There was an itchy, red rash all over his thighs and horrible itchy bumps all around his elbow creases.

He had scratched the bumps so much that they were constantly bleeding, and bathing or showering became a nightmare for him because the soap would sting.  Here’s what it looked like:

arm eczema Jan 12 leg eczema Jan 12

Given that I had had (and likely still do to some extent) systemic Candida, I knew, after doing a lot of research for myself and for Epidemic Answers on the subject, that it is the usual culprit underlying eczema.  Not that any pediatrician would tell you that.  Oh no – you would be treated dismissively for suggesting that!  I set out to learn about healing eczema with food.

Body Ecology Diet

I had tried the Body Ecology Diet for myself previously and had used it for myself as a means for clearing up the systemic Candida and its symptoms (fatigue, foggy headedness, constant sickness, chronic sinus infections), but I didn’t think it would go over well with the kids.

The Body Ecology Diet doesn’t allow fruits except for lemons, limes and unsweetened cranberries and black currants, and I didn’t think the kids would take too kindly to me taking their beloved fruit away.  We’d already cut out so much already being gluten-free/dairy-free already for 2-1/2 years.

The Body Ecology Diet does, however, allow gluten-free grains and has a beautiful system of explaining acid/alkaline balance.

An overly acidic diet (sugars, processed foods, meats, grains, dairy) creates an acidic environment in the body, making it more hospitable to pathogens like viruses, strep, clostridium, Lyme infections, other pathogenic bacteria, Candida and other yeast, and parasites.  Eating a more alkaline diet (vegetables and sea vegetables) alkalizes the diet and helps prevent infections.

Gut And Psychology Syndrome

I had been reading up on the GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet.  Like the Body Ecology Diet, it is another gut-healing diet.  Its creator, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, used it to recover her young son from autism.

It is a spin-off of Elaine Gotschall’s longstanding Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), meaning that both diets advocate eliminating grains, starches and sugars because this is what feeds the pathogens in the gut.

The GAPS diet takes it a step further and emphasizes healing broths, fats and fermented foods as a means to repair the immune system (of which 70% is located in the gut) and correct the gut dysbiosis that is common in children with autism, ADHD, allergies, asthma, acid reflux, OCD, SPD (sensory processing disorder), depression, anxiety, chronic ear infections, autoimmune diseases, schizophrenia, Lyme disease and eczema.

There are two parts to the GAPS diet:  Intro and Full.  GAPS Intro includes a very pared-down diet in the beginning consisting of healing fats and broths; other foods are gradually reintroduced.

GAPS Intro is for more severe cases, especially if there is diarrhea or constipation.  GAPS Intro sounded very hard to implement, although I can see its value, so I went ahead with the Full GAPS diet.

On the Full GAPS diet, there are no grains, starches, sugars or chocolate, but honey, fruits, lentils, navy beans, peas and baby lima beans are allowed.

In addition, if a person can tolerate it, fermented dairy is allowed.  Store-bought yogurt is not allowed because it’s not fermented for long enough, because there are usually added sugars and because there are other fillers in there.  Instead, homemade yogurt is allowed.

It’s super-simple to make homemade yogurt.  You just need an incubator and cultures (you can buy them on Amazon).  I use the Yogourmet cultures without the Bifidobacterium.

I also use raw milk from pastured cows because it’s a live food loaded with beneficial enzymes and bacteria.  I realize most people wouldn’t be comfortable with this choice.

In any case, you need to use whole-fat milk to make yogurt.  The GAPS diet is not a low-fat diet at all.

Fats are extremely healing, despite what we’ve been taught to believe.  They are necessary for the activation of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and often contain them.

Maybe the recent trend of eating low-fat foods is one of the many causes behind the epidemic of diseases that we’re seeing these days.

Vitamin D is necessary for a healthy immune system, and most peoples’ levels are not optimal.  In addition, because it takes out almost all sources of carbohydrates, the missing calories will need to be replaced with fat calories.

Fermented cheeses are allowed, too, making this a whole lot more appealing to me, because if my sons were going to do it, then I would do it, too.  Fermented cheeses include cheddar, Parmesan, asiago, Brie, Camembert, and blue.

The trouble is that most kids like to eat bready foods like pancakes, cookies, bread, bagels, pasta, crackers, etc.  What you use instead of grain-based flours are nut- and seed-based flours.

You can buy coconut flour and almond flour, but for nut and seed flours, I prefer to soak the nuts and seeds overnight with a little vinegar or whey, drain and then dehydrate.

Doing so removes phytic acid, a nutrient inhibitor.  I choose to do this because if you’ve got gut dysbiosis/Candida, then you’re already having problems with nutrient absorption.

We began the Full GAPS diet at the beginning of 2012.  We had been on it for 2 weeks when my older son had one of the gluten-free, dairy-free, chocolate cupcakes that I had left in the nurse’s office at school for school birthday parties.  Here are pictures of the welts that appeared on him.  The shininess is due to the anti-itch salve I had put on him.

leg welts Jan 12 leg welts closeup Jan 12

This kind of reaction was proof to me that the diet was working.  The diet is so clean and healing that it unmasked unknown food sensitivities such as the chocolate, gluten-free grains, gluten-free starches and Rapidura sugar that I had used to make the chocolate cupcakes.

Just so you know, I didn’t give him Benadryl.  Knowing what I know now about how pharmaceuticals poison pathways and the liver to alleviate symptoms (that’s why there are side effects), I had tossed all the kids’ medicines, including Benadryl, Tylenol and Motrin.

So what did I use to calm the inflammation?  Cod liver oil and vitamin C, as they are both anti-inflammatory.  They worked like a charm, eliminating the welts within 30 minutes.  Now, why can’t pediatricians recommend things like this that are not harmful and are actually quite helpful?

From what I understand, pharmaceutical companies provide most of the education and training to doctors in medical school and in their practices, and what incentive do they have in promoting something natural that can’t be patented?  Zero.

You are probably wondering what in the world I feed my kids!  For breakfasts, I make pancakes, muffins and waffles made with nut/seed flours, eggs, fruit, bacon or sausage, and/or homemade yogurt.  My older son still can’t tolerate dairy, though, because he has adverse reactions to it.

For lunches and dinners, I include meat, fish or eggs; beans, lentils or peas for the “carb”; a vegetable and a fruit.  I use Laptop Lunches’ bento boxes for lunch to make it fun.

Here’s one of my favorite recipes for navy beans; it’s from the Natural Gourmet Institute, with my twist:

Tuscan Navy Beans Prep Time:  5 minutes
Cooking Time:  60 minutes
4 servings
1 c. navy beans, soaked overnight
2€ square strip of kombu (kelp)
1/4 c. ghee, butter or animal fat
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
8 sage leaves
4 c. water or stock
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
black pepper, to tasteDirections:1. Place the beans, kombu, fat, garlic, bay leaf and sage in a medium pot.  Add 4 cups water, cover and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about an hour, until the beans are tender.  Check from time to time to make sure there is still some water in the pot and add more if necessary.

2.  Add 1 teaspoon sea salt, let sit for 10 minutes, then smash some of the beans against the sides of the pot.  Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with a generous amount of black pepper.  Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Notes:  I usually double or triple this recipe, and many times I add at least one diced onion.  In addition, if I have any chicken drippings that I have saved from previously roasting a chicken, I’ll stir those in for extra yumminess.

I give them fermented foods to eat, too, such as sauerkraut.  You need to make sure they are raw, unpasteurized foods; you can find them at Whole Foods.  They are near the eggs in my store.

I prefer Veggie Zing because it’s a smooth blend of carrots, beets and cabbage, but we also eat other lacto-fermented foods:  kim chee, pickles (the real kind – they have to be refrigerated), and ginger/carrots.  You can easily make these foods at home, too.  Other types of fermented foods are kefir and kombucha.

Fermented foods have billions or trillions of probiotic CFUs per serving.  Eating them improves your immune system tremendously by crowding out the bad guys in your gut.  And my kids eat them, too!

His eczema slowly improved.  Here’s what it looked like after being on the GAPS diet for 7 weeks:

leg eczema Feb 12 arm eczema Feb 12

And here’s what it looks like after 5 months on the diet:

arm eczema May 12 leg eczema May 12

The eczema is completely gone from his arms, while there’s still a little that remains on his legs.

Given that he showed consistent improvement, I would say that the GAPS diet is very effective at treating eczema as well as any other condition/disease with a gut-dysbiosis component, such as the ones I listed above.

For treating more serious conditions/diseases, Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends doing the GAPS Intro diet followed by a 2-year Full GAPS diet.

The diet is not a piece of cake, though.  It requires your full commitment, just as the Body Ecology Diet does.  And you have to cook almost all of your food, although you might luck out like I did and found some healthfully prepared foods that list the ingredients so you know what to avoid.

It’s good for you to know that there are a large and growing number of people who are interested in recovering themselves or their children, so I encourage you to find them in groups on Facebook or to do Google searches for recipes and blogs.  It’s an all-consuming lifestyle for a while, but isn’t it worth it to heal?

Maria Rickert Hong is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  She specializes in recovery from symptoms of autoimmune, neurological, behavioral and digestive disorders, as she has recovered her own sons from Sensory Processing Disorder, asthma and acid reflux.  She is also a board member, social media director and blogger for Epidemic Answers, a non-profit whose goal is to let parents know recovery is possible from autism, ADHD, SPD, allergies, asthma, autoimmune, Lyme and more.

Maria Rickert Hong can be contacted at maria[at]epidemicanswers[dot]org


  1. Nicola

    Thanks for the post. My son has eczema and lt looks exactly the same as your sons eczema in exactly the same places.

    We are a little over 2 years on GAPS with great results. Still have not cleared up entirely, but we do have little cheats now and then.

    Thanks for sharing.

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