Fermented Foods, Eczema, and the Room for Improvement in Medicine

When I was a graduate student, I had acne. Via self-experiment, I discovered that the antibiotic my dermatologist had prescribed didn’t work. He appeared unaware of this possibility, although antibiotics were (and are) very commonly prescribed for acne. “Why did you do that?” he said when I told him my results. As I’ve said before, I was stunned that in a few months I could figure out something important that he, the expert, didn’t know. He had years of training, practice, and so on. I had no experience at all. Eventually I gathered additional and more impressive examples — cases where I, an outsider with no medical training, managed to make a big contribution with tiny resources. The underlying message seemed to be that professional medicine rested on weak foundations, in the sense that big conclusions could be overturned with little effort.

Two recent posts  (here and here) on this blog argue that eczema, which afflicts about 10% of Americans, can be cured and prevented with fermented foods. This observation makes perfect sense because of two pre-existing ideas: 1. Eczema is due to an overactive immune system. 2. Fermented foods “cool down” that system (a variant of the hygiene hypothesis). Professors of dermatology failed to put them together, but people outside medicine were able to.

After I learned that eczema could be cured easily and safely, statements by medical professionals about eczema became horrifying. A dermatologist recently wrote about eczema on Reddit:

Eczema is a chronic condition, which includes hand eczema. It’s a condition of dry and sensitive skin. Topical steroids are a useful adjunct in getting your skin clear, and – in certain cases – keeping your skin clear. I tell my patients that the most important thing in management of eczema is the skin care regimen. This means avoidance of irritating factors and restoration of the skin barrier.

The National Eczema Association:

The exact causes of eczema are unknown. You might have inherited a tendency for eczema.. . . Many doctors think eczema causes are linked to allergic disease, such as hay fever or asthma. Doctors call this the atopic triad. Many children with eczema (up to 80%) will develop hay fever and/or asthma.

The Mayo Clinic website: “The cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown, but it may result from a combination of inherited tendencies for sensitive skin and malfunction in the body’s immune system.”  The various remedies listed have nothing to do with the immune system.

What else don’t they know? Doctors have great power over our well-being. Imagine learning that the driver of the car you are in is nearly blind.

19 Responses to “Fermented Foods, Eczema, and the Room for Improvement in Medicine”

  1. BoSelecta Says:

    http://suppversity.blogspot.com/2014/02/fish-oil-or-gla-to-treat-acne-vulgaris.html

    (Fish Oil or GLA to Treat Acne Vulgaris? Controlled Human Trial Confirms)

    Seth: very interesting, thanks

  2. Valerie Says:

    If I had to guess, I would say that your dermatologist didn’t change his practice after you told him what happened to you. Based on my experience, I think he just dismissed it.

    For a long time, I had problems finding just a non-stupid doctor. Now that I have a competent doctor, I find that I would need a competent AND interested doctor. Many times, I bring observations to my doctor, observations that seem important or at least relevant to me, and he just doesn’t care.

    For example, I have idiopathic polydipsia (excessive thirst of unknown origin [no, I don't have diabetes]). At some point, I noticed that if I fast for a few days, I completely stop being thirsty. The change in thirst is very obvious. This is great, right? It should bring insight into the problem, right? Doctor doesn’t care.

    As another example, I observed that my hypertension is much worse in winter than in summer. Maybe that could help us find the cause of the hypertension, or a treatment, right? Doctor doesn’t care. That instance baffles me even more since the doctor is a hypertension specialist.

    I have learned to keep my expectations very low with doctors.

  3. An Appreciative Reader Says:

    Dear Seth Roberts: I appreciate your blog so much. After many years of dealing with doctors of all kinds I have concluded (don’t laugh, readers) that my best strategy is, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF AND TRUST YOUR INTUITION. I stay far away from them, for I do indeed feel good, I am heathy and every single time I have gone near one, they want to give me flu shots and run me through a zillion checkups. It has not escaped my notice they inevitably write down everything with a pen that is emblazoned with the name of a pharmaceutical company. I recently found out my sometime doctor’s hospital insists that its clinic’s doctors fulfill quotas, eg so many chest x-rays per month. It is obvious to me now that the whole industry that almost all doctors are part and parcel of is set up to make money, not necessarily heal anybody. (Just look at the food the hospitals serve their patients…) Apart from good habits and a healthy diet, scrappy attitude, etc., I believe a good strategy is to learn to listen to one’s body, to know– to really know, a gut sense– when one has to go to the doctor. Obviously, sometimes one does need a doctor. But otherwise, steer far clear.

    Re Healthy diet, after a surgery and round of treatments that left me more than a decade of complaining to my various doctors on every visit, not a one recommended yoghurt. This is a total head-slapper. I am sure the Greeks and Romans knew about this! Long story short, with a daily dose of yoghurt and Keffir I am just fine for the past 10 years and the last five years, with the addition of raw honey and vinegar, even better. And the floaters in my eyes cleared up, too. But one doesn’t need a prescription for that.

  4. James M. Says:

    By following a paleo/primal diet (reduction/removal of refined carbohydrates and sugar), + reducing/addressing stress, I reduced and cleared up chronic skin problems, lost about 30 lbs, corrected some age related issues, that my family doctor could not resolve. He usually comes across as an astute doctor, but for one of my issues that cleared up, his solution was “luckily I have a medication for that”, and prescribed me a medication that required regular blood monitoring and follow-up visits to have the prescription renewed (don’t like needles and don’t like wasting time).

    No longer take the medication by accidentally not taking it for a while and realizing I did not need it, and the health issue has been resolved. When I went back to him and asked why he had not suggested a diet and exercise based approach to correct the problem, he said patients generally don’t listen, and just want a pill, over changing their life-style/diet. I would have appreciated the opportunity to have heard that advice and made the choice. I saw a naturalpath and she provided more health support than the doctor.

    Not wanting to knock doctors, because they do have lot of knowledge and training to help those in need, but there does seem to be something lacking in the medical system, if amateurs can find solutions that the experts with all their training and experience cannot find.

  5. Seth Roberts Says:

    Not wanting to knock doctors, because they do have lot of knowledge and training to help those in need, but there does seem to be something lacking in the medical system, if amateurs can find solutions that the experts with all their training and experience cannot find.

    yes, exactly

  6. joseph Says:

    To An Appreciative Reader Says:
    you wrote at the end of your comment
    “floaters in my eyes cleared up”
    im curious about that can you tell more? which of the things you did helped at least in your estimation?
    thanks

  7. Bill Says:

    To solve chronic problems, run your own experiments.

    A close relative has fought autoimmunity his whole life. Eczema as a toddler, allergies in childhood, supposedly idiopathic brain tumor as a teenager (excised), visual migraines since his 20s (unrelated to tumor), rosacea and rheumatism since his 30s, and, for the past 4 years, a yet-unnamed energy-sapping ailment that forces him to lay down and rest every hour or two throughout the day. He’s essentially housebound in his mid-40s, lucid, intellectually normal, not depressed, not lazy, not anxious, just physically unable to get through a day.

    For 4 years, he has seen dozens of doctors, specialists in every field you can imagine, taken every test, been prescribed a witch’s brew of medications. None of it has ever made any difference. Yet no doctor, over a period of years, has ever suggested, even as a last resort, that he examine environment or diet.

    His energy collapse began concurrently with a 2-year spate of mysterious, nearly constant belching, even on an empty stomach. Yet no one has ever examined his GI tract, nor treated for GI problems, nor suggested dietary changes, let alone something as novel as fermented foods.

    Unfortunately, my close relative considers doctors to be absolutely authoritative, so he runs no experiments of his own. He just keeps going back to a dry well, visiting more doctors, who run more random blood tests, find nothing, and prescribe the standard we-dunno-what’s-wrong-with-you drugs, such as steroids.

    To solve chronic problems, run your own experiments.

  8. Al Says:

    Good article, but why should it come as any surprise that dermatologists etc. would make such statements? They have to maintain an air of mystery around health because permanently healing people would put them out of business.

    Seth: But if they appear too ignorant people will stop asking them for advice.

  9. An Appreciative Reader Says:

    Joseph wrote:
    “To An Appreciative Reader Says:
    you wrote at the end of your comment
    “floaters in my eyes cleared up”
    im curious about that can you tell more? which of the things you did helped at least in your estimation?
    thanks”

    Hi Joseph and all, I am not sure what exactly I did or did not do that made the floaters diminish. They started getting bad about 2 years before I began to study apitherapy and from that time, for the past few years, I have been taking a teaspoon raw honey once or more per day, and a homemade salad dressing for a dose of vinegar also daily, and slowly, the floaters improved.

    Other things that might (or might not) have helped diminish the floaters: on one occasion I tried meliponna eyedrops. These are made from honey of the stingless bee (indigenous to the Americas and Australia). Ha, the drops did sting!! But they are reputed to help eye trouble, in particular cataracts (which I do not have) so I thought I’d try it for the floaters. I did only that one application and it was (now that I look back on it) about the time I began to notice a marked improvement with the floaters. So maybe that one dose did it, or at least helped. Maybe.

    One other thing I tried was reading books by Meir Schneider, an Israeli healer who runs the School for Self-Healing in San Francisco, and trying some of the exercises he suggests, in particular “palming” and focusing on the floaters– yes, just looking at the floaters, directly. Maybe that was what did it.

    I don’t think it would have been taking yoghurt and/or other probiotics because I had been taking yoghurt daily for some years before the floaters began to appear. But possibly the yoghurt combined with the honey and/or vinegar and/or meliponna drops or something else had some effect.

    Originally, I suspected that the floaters might have started in response to my staring at a laptop screen for so many hours a day. But my habits have not changed in that regard.

    So in sum, I tried a bunch of things and whether it was one or two or all or none– and my own sense is that it was probably the raw honey in my diet plus the Meir Schneider exercises– floaters are no longer the annoyance they once were.

    Hope this helps.

    PS I had been informed by two doctors that I would have to just live with the floaters. Yet another reason why my confidence in doctors has so badly eroded in recent years. I am not anti-doctor, by the way– I do appreciate their lengthy education and experience and on more than one occasion a doctor has saved my life. But in general (there are exceptions, of course), my experience has been that doctors presume to know far more than they actually do and their attitudes toward me as patient, and eagerness to prescribe tests and prescription medicines– which may be in part cultural and in part in response to increasingly perverse incentives– I find downright consternating.

    Mr Roberts, I find your blog both fascinating and empowering and I thank you again.

  10. Adam Says:

    “When I went back to him and asked why he had not suggested a diet and exercise based approach to correct the problem, he said patients generally don’t listen, and just want a pill, over changing their life-style/diet.”

    This is one of my biggest gripes with “in addition to a healthy diet and exercise” or “when diet and exercise fail”… many doctors do not check the first box — they don’t make sure that the 1st, most effective treatment has been tried; in some cases they don’t even suggest it! If patients do try it, they are basically guaranteed success — diet and exercise DON’T fail for most common conditions.

  11. Bill Says:

    >> Unfortunately, my close relative considers doctors to be absolutely authoritative, so he runs no experiments of his own. <<

    Correction. He has recently experimented with kombucha, probiotic yogurt, and saliva transplants from healthy people. I feel silly for leaving this out, because he just told me about it a month ago.

  12. John Smith Says:

    Water Fasting was the first protocol that gave me a real boost in good eyesight.

    The water in our iris relies on osmotic transfer to be refreshed, cleared and regulated as there is no duct circulation apparently. So the water in our eyes can be no cleaner than the water in our body generally. Hence, if our kidneys are compromised (almost all adults with Western Lifestyle!) our eyes cannot improve.

    Anything that improves the kidney function helps the whole body, eyes and all. I like protocols that alter lifestyle over potions and palliative procedures, but the older I get, the more I tend to reach for soft medicines, foods, vitamins, minerals etc. I do find that taking myself away from TV, Fluorescent lights and computer monitors early rather than later makes a big difference to my eyesight.

    Of late, I have been putting tiny drops of Manuka honey in my eyes. This feels like it is burning, but in fact no evidence of damage is found. Instead, one wakes up the next morning with clear eyes and good vision range. The honey is a great osmotic water mover.

    I see a doctor every time I am required to by some law, some contract or some urgent social need. I try to make friends with them in case I need them one day for some real emergency. It is hard to make friends with someone you see only ever 15 years!

    I gather from doctors I do know well, that after a few years of dealing with the general public a contempt for them arises as they are for the most part hopeless and useless at looking after even the simplest of problems. I blame health insurance for part of this, as having now paid for these services, one tends to want to collect something in return. Free medicine for the elderly is a cause too, as they are often lonesome and go to their doctor for social purposes more than good medical help. Doctors are often really excited when they are able to actually help someone in true need. The rest of the time, well I think it must be like farming pigs.

  13. Justin Says:

    Please feel free to consult my message in the previous post about eczema. I used fish oil to largely rid myself of a very severe case. Anyone with severe eczema should consult the post. When eczema is bad, it is a serious condition that also exposes you to a huge number of pathogens through the open sores.

  14. Lynne Logan Says:

    A friend of mine referred me to your blog because I suffer from psoriasis, which is, of course, very similar to eczema. I’ve written several posts on my blog about my trials/tribulations with this obnoxious skin disorder and the issues I’ve had with my dermatologist, i.e. – http://tenaciousbitch.com/2013/12/13/post-123-make-no-mistake-i-am-also-a-health-bitch-and-im-not-going-to-apologize-for-it/ – which most people found rather amusing.

    Anyway, I want to thank you for posting this information about fermented foods because I got tired of asking my doctor if there were any foods or homeopathic remedies that would make my psoriasis better only to be told there weren’t. Knowing that I was able to cure my own hypoglycemia by altering my diet, I, like you started experimenting with various Vitamins and supplements as well.

    Unfortunately, fish oil didn’t really help me much. Why? Because psoriasis is a bastard, and that would just be way too easy…:). However, last fall I began taking borage oil pills as part of the Fat Flush Diet, and I noticed a major reduction in the severity of my breakouts. Now, I take 500 mg twice/day in the gel cap form, which cost me $3.94 for 50 pills from Walmart.com – much better than the $598 I was spending per month on Taclonex, the topical steroid ointment, which is the subject of the post I mentioned above.

    Borage oil is made from a wild flower found all over the world, and its healing property have been utilized as far back as the time of the Roman Empire. Maybe, you’ve already written about the benefits of the oh, so, awesome borage oil. I don’t know. I’ve haven’t had time to peruse any of your other posts as yet. From what I understand borage oil helps the body to suppress inflammation in one’s skin and such, which I read about on this site:

    http://www.shikai.com/publications/borageSkin.htm

    That said, since it doesn’t completely rid my skin of the dreaded psoriasis, I’ll definitely give fermented foods a try!

    Again, thanks for sharing. Have a great day!
    LL/otherwise known as TENACIOUS BITCH

  15. anon Says:

    Seth & readers,

    You talk a lot about acne, any experience with enlarged, clogged pores on the nose?

    I don’t get many pimples, but I have the pores as described. I looked online and people repeatedly said (paraphrasing): “pores size can’t be changed, use chemical treatments or pore strips that tear the material out of pores.”

    Has anyone done any diet change that had an effect?

  16. Bill Says:

    Here’s an experiment you could try for pores.

    Consider what chemists say: “like dissolves like.” Oil dissolves oil-based things. The gunk in our pores is oil-based. So wash your face with a harmless, non-irritating oil. This will mix with, and soften, the oil-soluble gunk in your pores. Then clear the excess oil away by washing your face with a non-irritating facial cleanser. Over time, this should leave you with spotlessly clean pores.

    Using this reasoning, for years, I have shaved every morning using olive oil as pre-shave balm, with regular shaving cream on top. The olive oil dissolves any oil-soluble gunk on my face, and then the shaving cream clears it all away. Pores have never been clearer, and it has not given me acne, despite many years of adult acne in the past.

  17. Jan Says:

    Seth, just to let you know that MDs in Slovakia, Europe are very similar to those in the US. I too have something reddish on my skin, and all they were able to do after several trials (and errors) was to prescribe the usual suspects.

    I declined that cosmetic solution.

    My “eczema” gets worse with the approaching winter. I wonder if I eat less fermented food as winter gets closer … will have to test it.

    Jan

    Seth: “cosmetic solution” is a good description.

  18. Mark Says:

    At least part of the problem is, most of them don’t seem inclined (or…incentivized?) to LOOK for any solutions other than what is presented in pill form.

    Seth Roberts Says:
    February 25th, 2014 at 6:07 pm
    Not wanting to knock doctors, because they do have lot of knowledge and training to help those in need, but there does seem to be something lacking in the medical system, if amateurs can find solutions that the experts with all their training and experience cannot find.

    yes, exactly

  19. Mark Says:

    Also, interesting timing (not sure if this has been referenced yet on this blog or not):

    http://mrheisenbug.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/l-plantarum-cured-my-eczema/

    Seth: That is one of the two cases that prompted this post.