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An Ayurvedic Approach to the Treatment of Eczema

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 140 - October 2007

If one can broadly categorize eczema or vicharchika, into three types, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, then herbal and dietary treatment is fairly straight forward and it is my experience that it generally works well.  It is not hard to see how most skin problems fall easily into these categories: 

Vata type:  The skin tends to be rough, dry, hard, itchy and scaly. There may be associated constipation, wind and distension, anxiety and insomnia. The skin is aggravated by cold, wind, dryness and stress and relieved by the application of oils, especially sesame.

Pitta type:  The skin is hot and inflamed; it is aggravated by heat and heating foods, exposure to the sun and application of most oils, reflecting a state of heat and toxicity in the body. There tends to be burning, redness, oozing, swelling and infection which can be associated with fever, irritability and feeling of heat. 

Kapha type:  Kapha skin problems are often accompanied by mucous congestion, lethargy and sluggish metabolism. The skin tends to be cold, clammy, sticky, oozing, swollen and itchy, with a pale complexion. It is aggravated by cold, damp, application of oils and eating dairy products and sugar.

Eczema is more common in Pitta types as Pitta can overheat the blood (Rakta dhatu) and predispose to toxic conditions which are expressed through the skin. Factors causing such skin problems include poor digestion (low agni), toxins in the bowel (ama), incorrect diet, over use of sour, salty, or pungent tastes, heavy, sweet or oily foods, as well as over-use of cosmetics, perfumes, synthetic creams, etc.

For General Treatment of Eczema

Useful herbs include Turmeric, Barberry root (Berberis vulgaris), Sariva (Hemidesmus indica), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Manjishta (Rubia cordifolia), Sandalwood and Guggul (Commiphora mukul) for acute cases. For chronic cases, tonic herbs such as Bala (Sida cordifolia), Licorice root, Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and Gokshura (Tribula terrestris) are recommended, once diet and gently detoxifying herbs have been used and the tongue is cleaned. Triphala (a formula of Emblica off., Terminalia chebula and Terminalia belerica) is excellent for clearing toxins, by taking half a teaspoon of the powder in a little warm water at night. 

Turmeric, with its effective anti-inflammatory action, is one of the best herbs for all skin problems used both orally and topically. A key constituent, curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant effects (Araujo CC et al, 2001), whilst combined curcuminoids appear to help protect epidermal skin cells from free radical stress. (Bonte F et al, 1997). Being a polyphenol, the compound curcumin stabilizes collagen (Landis and Khalsap p.342, 1998) and is good for all connective tissues.

Ghee is considered excellent for external use in skin problems such as rashes and burns. Aloe Vera gel is another beneficial application for most skin problems and can be mixed with a pinch of turmeric powder, as is the juice of coriander leaves. Neem oil can be very effective. Saffron is a specific herb for nourishing the skin and can be taken internally as a milk decoction, (quarter gram per cup), and also used in external skin preparations (Frawley D, 2000). Tea or juice of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) leaves can be taken internally and used externally to bathe the skin (Rai Y p.93, 2000).

Vata type eczema: Follow a Vata reducing diet and lifestyle with sesame oil massage and castor oil laxative or enemas. Pungent, bitter and astringent tasting foods should be reduced, while sweet, sour and salty tastes are recommended. Nourishing and cleansing herbs for internal use include Triphala, Guggul, Shatavari, Bala, and Cardamom. Chitrak (Plumbago zeylanica), Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Cardamom and Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa). Triphala powder mixed in warm water, or Triphala guggul capsules, can be given before bed.

Medicated ghee can be used internally and externally. Useful herbs for medicating the ghee include Triphala, Musta (Cyperus rotundus), Manjishta, Gokshura, Chitrak, Neem, Guduchi, Cardamom, Punarnava, and Vacha (Acorus calamus) root.

Pitta type eczema: Follow an anti-Pitta diet, avoiding possible allergens such as dairy produce, vegetables from the nightshade family, as well as oranges, peaches and strawberries. Sour, salty and hot spicy foods are best avoided, while sweet, bitter and astringent foods are recommended. Drinking coconut juice is helpful, along with coriander leaf juice. Exposure to sun and heat is best avoided.

Recommended herbs for internal use include bitter cleansing herbs such as burdock root (Arcium lappa), Neem, Guduchi, Manjishta, and laxative herbs such as Dandelion root (Taraxacum off.) and Triphala can be helpful. Also recommended are Gotu kola, Sandalwood, Kutki  (Picrorrhiza kurroa),  Musta, Chirata (Swertia chiretta), Aloe Vera juice, and Amalaki.

Helpful therapies for external application include rose water, coconut juice, Aloe Vera gel, coriander leaf juice, Gotu kola oil, and Bringaraj oil.  Sandalwood in oils, creams, or the powder made into a paste, has a cooling anti-inflammatory effect.  I use a cream that contains Sandalwood, Neem and Turmeric which is effective.  Baths with herbs of Musta, Bakuchi (Psoralea corylifolia) and Triphala can be useful. 

Kapha type eczema: A Kapha reducing diet and lifestyle is recommended by avoiding all heavy, greasy and oily food, particularly cheese and yogurt. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods should be reduced, while pungent, bitter and astringent foods are recommended.

In India emetic therapy is used as the initial treatment, but here in the West expectorant herbs such as Thyme, Elecampane (Inula helenium) or Hyssop (Hysoppus off.) may be used. Useful herbs for internal use include Gokshura, Guggulu, Triphala, Manjishta, Ginger, Chitrak, Guduchi, Cardamom, Kushta, (Saussurea lappa) and Gotu kola.  Diuretic herbs such as Dandelion leaf and Punarnava are useful. Triphala guggul capsules can be given before bed.  A formula called Gokshura guggul is also used with warm water or ginger tea (Frawley D, 2000). A decoction of Triphala can be used to bathe the skin. Turmeric, Neem and Chamomile are also useful.

References

Araujo CC and Leon LL. Biological Activities of Curcuma Longa L. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 96(5): 723-8. July 2001.
Bonte F, Noel-Hudson MS, Wepierre J and Meybeck A. Protective effect of curcuminoids on epidermal skin cells under free oxygen radical stress. Planta Med.  63(3): 265-6.  June 1997.
Frawley D and Lad V. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press. Twin Lakes. Wisconsin. 2000.
Landis R and Khalsa KPS. Herbal Defence Against Illness and Ageing. p. 342. Thorsons. London. 1998.
Rai Y. Tulsi. Navneet Publications. India. 2000.

Comments:

  1. Natasha said..

    Hi ,
    Please refer to your article- http://www.positivehealth.com/author/anne-mcintyre
    Under pita diet you have mentioned personal use of cream containing sandalwood, neem and turmeric. Would be grateful if you could mail me the name/ brand of cream u use as I would like to try it too .
    Thanks much
    Rgds
    Natasha


  2. Astrid said..

    Hello,my daughter has eczema, she's 3 years old, how can I know if she's vatta,pitta or kapha, I'm getting desperate, some days she has really strong reactions, I'm not sure what to do or use to help her? I want to find a good oil for her skin, and I want to help her with the diet, thanks


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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