When I was growing up, gluten free wasn’t even a fad, it was non-existent. People had absolutely no idea. Also, intolerance was not the phrase. It was an ‘allergy’, so I grew up thinking I was allergic. I had eczema all over my arms and legs and was mostly happy child but with this tainted view of my body. I thought I was a little monster. People weren’t educated. We thought gluten was just in bread, pasta, and cakes.
Steroid creams were a go to for many, but this would often thin the skin and make you more susceptible to having a further break out. I remember being 8 years old and we started going to a homeopathic doctor. The result; unconventional methods such as apple cider vinegar, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free diet. At one point I remember not being able to eat strawberries. This is from memory but it was a very extensive regime, of which I need to find out some more details but eating this way began to work. In Singapore, this was really difficult because people were uneducated and there were no substitutions. Also in Chinese food there is soy sauce (gluten) everywhere.
When I went into my teens, the eczema subsided and my immune system started to become stronger. As a counterpart to this, I was never on antibiotics really and we ate very healthily at home. Of course as a teen I would try and rebel against the conscientious ways by eating out with friends. Cheating began a thing from that age. When I strayed away from the gluten free diet, I wouldn’t always break out. I would then think I was fine and healed and not ALLERGIC. At that time, I would go back and forth between saying I’m allergic to gluten, I am not allergic to gluten. It became confusing. The eczema would always come back.
What is it then? I’m not allergic. I’m intolerant. Gluten can be found in wheat, durum, semolina, spelt, faro, rye, barley, triticale, malt, Brewer’s yeast, wheat starch. Other items that one wouldn’t think gluten appears in: lipstick, nutritional supplements, OTC medications, and vitamins. This is the reason breakouts can happen despite one’s best intentions to just stay away from the gluten. Always check the label.
Intolerance can sometimes show up as the same signs and symptoms of an allergy. This is why it can be confusing. In some cases, intolerances can be seen as ‘less serious’ but in my case the symptoms are limited to digestive and physiological affects to the skin. On the other hand, coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition where the body’s defence attacks healthy cells and tissues. It’s a self-attack. In coeliac disease the immune system attacks substances found inside the gluten. This is why people react to gluten in different ways. Some people will have a food baby that never goes away. Sound familiar? There is damage to the intestines, and the body is unable to absorb nutrients from food.
It’s not simple. It’s genetic. It’s environmental. The same complexities that are the causation for all diseases are the exact same things that cause allergy, and disrupt the immune system.
In 2016, I was studying for medical entrance exams and burning the candle from both ends to speak. Partying, studying, not sleeping, making up for it by drinking a green juice. Not really how it works. To add to this, I decided I wanted to lose weight and started taking this whey powder (I haven’t decided whether or not I want to brand shame or not) and replacing meals. The whey powder completely broke down my digestion, and any gluten I had come into contact with was not being digested either. We could say the ‘environmental conditions’ I was putting myself through actually heightened my sensitivity to gluten to the worst it’s ever been but in a super isolated place. I contracted dyshidrotic eczema on my hands that became infected and the mere act of shaking hands was so incredibly painful.
This went on for around six months. I bought every cream from Boots pharmacy: La Roche-Posay, Aveeno, E45, Eucerin, Cetraben, Salcura, nothing was working (nb: this is my personal experience and it wasn’t necessarily about the brand). It was about the environmental and psychological stress paired with food habits that turned into an extreme situation.
To try and cure myself I went on every blog, Google searches to see if anyone had gone through the same thing as me. I found bits and pieces that I literally had to connect the dots and see what would help me. I started reading a lot, about prebiotics, probiotics, Ayurveda, apple cider vinegar, Shea butter. But there were some weird ones too, read with caution!
Throughout this time I had refused to go to the doctor because of my feelings towards steroid application etc. I had to recondition my opinions towards this because it turned out I had a really bad infection. I went onto Dermovate for 7 days, and in this instance I realised that whether or not you agree with conventional medicine sometimes there is a necessity when it comes to desperate measures.
Now, this doesn’t mean I turned 180 degrees on 20 years of learning about my intolerance. I don’t use steroid creams on a regular basis but this was a bit of a necessity as it turns out I had a staphylococcus infection. I then moved on to treating myself from the inside out. Some things I rely on to stay on top of things:
Going for: natural brands, organic, essential oils, shea butter (so hydrating), emollients
Avoiding: parabens (methylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens and ethylparabens), phthalates, fragrance, sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureate sulphate (SLES), BHA, BHT, formaldehyde and lead. The list can go on, but these are a few obvious ones.
- Aloe Vera
I use the brand called Forever Living. I use the Aloe Vera Gel, Aloe Propolis Crème and sometimes I drink the Aloe Gel when I need a detox.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Bragg’s Organic ACV
You can drink the ACV because it has an alkalising and detoxing affect on the body and the skin. You can also apply it! I would dilute it with 50:50 filtered water and apply it onto the areas that are required with cotton wool. You can leave it on for around 10 minutes and repeat every day after a shower. You could also make up the solution and spray it onto your skin. I usually only do this when I have a breakout
- Slippery Elm Powder
Can relieve the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome and eczema. I try to take 1tbsp in water or in a morning shake
- Black Seed Oil
Nigella sativa contains thymoquinone and great anti-inflammatory properties, not just for the skin but was also used by the ancient Egyptians for many ailments (Google it)
Taking a alkalising greens in the morning where possible, gluten free, dairy free as much as possible. Staying away from refined sugar and processed foods. Obviously this isn’t easy for everyone, but when it comes to your health – you reap the benefits of what you put in. So if you make a mistake, instead of thinking you’ve fallen off the wagon allow yourself to have made a mistake, forgive yourself and get back on track. Making excuses perpetuates a cycle of being unhealthy and there are really no excuses.
Slipper elm powder (morning), alkalising greens (morning), Omega3 (morning), Vitamin C (morning), Magnesium Citrate (evening), probiotics (evening), prebiotics i.e. chicory root, kimchi, kombucha, onions, garlic, asparagus, kefir (wherever possible)
Exercise, yoga, meditation, 8 hours sleep, mindfulness
In the long run, using integrative measures in order to prevent the onset of any condition will be a lot more beneficial then trying to turn back to the clock by curing once things are too far gone.