Healing Eczema, Asthma, Sleeplessness, and Tantrums Naturally

The mangy munchkin's eczema

It might come as a surprise to you to learn that it is possible to “heal” sleeplessness and tantrums, and as even more of a surprise that it is possible to heal all of the conditions mentioned above simultaneously through dietary changes. But it is!

Let me tell you the story of the mangy munchkin’s legs, pictured above at the beginning of summer 2015. She’d been suffering from persistent eczema for several months and had also started developing symptoms of asthma. Non-steroidal creams wouldn’t clear up the eczema so I took her to a pediatrician for advice. The doctor’s suggestion was to try a name-brand cream and then to try an over-the-counter steroidal cream if one of the non-steroidal creams she recommended didn’t help. Knowing about the connection to gut health and overall health, I asked if a change in diet might make a difference but the pediatrician insisted that food was rarely an issue with eczema except in serious cases (I guess she didn’t think Libby’s case was serious).

None of the non-steroidal creams she recommended worked. Not wanting to use steroids on the mangy munchkin’s delicate skin, I took her to a naturopathic doctor for alternative advice. The naturopath immediately concurred that food was likely an issue, so she ordered a food sensitivity test that examined antigens in her blood to determine whether certain foods may have been causing an autoimmune reaction in her body, resulting in the eczema. Sure enough, a handful of foods that she ate commonly (including eggs, dairy, coconut, and beans) registered on the test. After eliminating these foods from her diet for a month and applying a bit of Neosporin to the last remaining spot of eczema on her left leg (which had become infected from scratching), her eczema cleared up completely–and along with it, her systems of asthma disappeared.

Just one month of eliminating certain foods from her diet healed her eczema, whereas nearly three months of trying various creams did not. While the steroidal cream may have cleared up the eczema (we’ll never know since we never tried it), her rash surely would have returned given that all of the foods she was sensitive to would have still been in her diet had I followed the first pediatrician’s advice. Had I not turned to her diet to heal her, we would have been dealing with bouts of eczema indefinitely, and very likely with a worsening of her asthma.

What’s more, her nighttime awakenings and fits as well as her daytime tantrums subsided, something that I didn’t even think to associate with her diet at the time. I only recently realized that her food sensitivity issues were connected to her sleep issues as well when she experienced a resurgence of her eczema this week after she ate handfuls of cashews one afternoon. She’d never had them before so we didn’t realize she was sensitive to them, and along with the rash came several nights of midnight awakenings and several days of crankiness and bad behavior, which is just now subsiding as her rash has disappeared.

Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride both share countless stories of behavior and sleep improvements promulgated by dietary changes in their books on gut health. If you have a toddler who has trouble sleeping and/or throws lots of tantrums (or is depressed), don’t assume it’s the terrible twos or threes–it could be a food sensitivity (or sensitivities, as in the mangy munchkin’s case). Any child or adult, for that matter, who exhibits anxious or moody behavior could be suffering from a damaged gut, which is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve and has been proven by scientific studies to influence not just our digestive tract but also our minds.

What if you can’t afford a naturopath or there simply isn’t one in your area? The GAPS diet is an approach developed by Dr. Campbell-McBride that offers a more-or-less surefire way of healing the gut even if you don’t know what your or your child’s food sensitivities are. It requires a drastic alteration in diet, eliminating most foods besides meat, vegetables, and broth for several weeks to several months depending on how serious a person’s symptoms are (and thus how seriously their gut is damaged). If that seems difficult to swallow, think of it this way: meal planning becomes super easy since there’s only so much you can eat! The website linked above provides a wealth of resources for those considering the diet, including recipes.

The good news about a natural approach to healing is that once a child is off of the foods to which they are sensitive for a period of time, giving their digestive and immune systems a chance to heal, those foods can be reintroduced and enjoyed once again down the road; how much further down the road depends on how quickly they heal. It only took a month of eliminating the foods to which the mangy munchkin was sensitive before her symptoms cleared up and she was once again able to eat butter, coconut, gluten, and other foods she had previously been sensitive to, only now without any side effects.

I urge anyone with children—indeed, anyone at all—to take seriously the connection between food and health. Modern medicine and the media would have you believe that the only thing food affects is our weight, but in reality it affects so much more. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin had it right when he coined the phrase “you are what you eat.” If you eat crap, that’s what you’ll feel like. If you eat well, you’ll nourish your body into performing at its absolute best.

How to Sleep Like a Baby

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If you’re like me and the other one in three Americans who have trouble sleeping at night, then this post is for you. I’ve spent countless hours lying awake at night, seething with jealousy while my husband snoozes soundly beside me, having entered a deep sleep the minute his head hit the pillow.

For the first time in my life, however, I’m finally finding myself able to fall to sleep quickly and completely, staying asleep for up to six- and seven-hour stretches at a time. I’ve been so amazed by my turnaround that I wanted to share the lifestyle changes and healthcare practices I’ve implemented that I believe have made the difference.

Here are some of the adjustments I’ve made over the past few months that have contributed to my newfound ability to fall to sleep and stay asleep:

  • Eliminated technology (computers, cell phones, television) in the hour before bedtime and unplugged my router at night;
  • Dimmed the lights in the house in the hour before bedtime;
  • Eliminated meals and snacks in the two hours before bedtime;
  • Used magnesium lotion after showering;
  • Practiced oil pulling 3-4 mornings per week.

The way I spend my time and the atmosphere of my house in the hours before bedtime seems to make a huge difference in my ability to fall to sleep. I used to lie awake for an hour or more mulling over to-do lists and other concerns after lying down at night, but since implementing the first three changes above I’ve found it much easier to quiet my mind and drift off to sleep. I’ve also found that reading a book–even just a few pages–before bed helps to take my mind off of any personal concerns I may be pondering, thereby clearing space for sleep to take hold.

Since we don’t have dimmer switches on the lights in my house, after the sun goes down I only turn on lamps rather than overhead lights. I do this to mimic nature’s day/night cycle, which is intimately connected to our own circadian rhythms. Bright lights after dark can disrupt those rhythms and contribute to sleep problems. When I floss and brush my teeth before bed, I turn on a cheap, low-wattage reading lamp I’ve placed in the bathroom rather than the blinding vanity lights above the mirror.

For those of you who simply can’t give up your computer or cell phone during the final hour of the evening, there’s an app you can download that causes your screen to emit the wavelengths of light appropriate for the time of day that you’re using it (specifically, it eliminates the blue wavelengths in the later hours of the evening). You can download the app, called f.lux, here. Given the rising concerns about EMF radiation in our homes, unplugging your wifi router at night is a good idea as well. The more like nature you can make your sleeping environment, the better.

According to this article by Dr. Mercola, eliminating food during the hours before bed not only facilitates falling to sleep but also reduces the number of free radicals (damage-causing electrons) in your body. Mercola writes,

If you consume more calories than your body can immediately use, there will be an excess of free electrons, which back up inside your mitochondria … These excess electrons leak out and wind up prematurely killing the mitochondria, and then wreak further havoc by damaging your cell membranes and contributing to DNA mutations.

This information was compelling enough to convince me to finally quit snacking before bedtime, a bad habit I had maintained even though I knew it was likely making it more difficult for me to fall to sleep at night.

Magnesium supplementation has been another important piece to my sleep puzzle. I actually started applying magnesium gel to my legs during pregnancy, when I’d get restless leg syndrome. Magnesium has long been known to help sore muscles, but many don’t realize that it is also essential for restful sleep. According to Marek Doyle,

Magnesium is vital for the function of GABA receptors, which exist across all areas of the brain and nervous system. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling.

Exactly what would happen with me! You can find magnesium sprays, gels, oils, and lotions at most health food stores as well as online. You can also take a warm bath in a cup or two of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate),which you can find pretty much anywhere, to increase your intake of magnesium. Oral supplements are also available, but the beauty of dermal applications is that your body will absorb only what it needs so you won’t need to worry about overdosing (not to mention the fact that numerous studies have shown multivitamins to be virtually ineffective). Since magnesium deficiency is fairly common across the board due to the ever-depleting soils of industrial agriculture (meaning it isn’t present in sufficient quantities in our food), I add epsom salts to my daughters’ bath once a week as well.

So what about oil pulling? What is it even? Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice from India in which one swishes a teaspoonful of oil around in the mouth first thing in the morning (before any food is ingested but following a small glass of water) for 10-20 minutes. Virgin sesame, olive, or coconut oils can be used (I use coconut). The practice supposedly draws toxins out of the body and can also reduce plaque and gingivitis according to this article from the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. I started the practice after my mom reported that it did wonders for her ability to sleep at night. She does it every morning but with little kids that can be difficult, so I shoot for 3-4 mornings a week and I believe it does make a difference; if I forget to do it for too many days in a row, I’ll start waking more in the middle of the night and having trouble falling back to sleep.

So there you have it: a handful of helpful practices to make your nights more restful so that you, too, can enjoy the peaceful sort of deep sleep we associate with “sleeping like a baby” (the mangy munchkin models this greatly, doesn’t she?). Sweet dreams, everyone…