Click here to listen or watch Episode #8 of the Eczema Podcast
Welcome to The Eczema Podcast. Today I’m here with a really special guest, Dr. Jason Lee, he was actually my naturopath who really helped me on my journey with eczema and really helped me to overcome severe eczema. So I’m super excited to have him as a guest on the show today and I’ll just let him talk more about how he got into naturopath and what made him specialize in eczema as well.
Well, I guess for me my dream began a long time ago. When I was born…I was born in the 70s and in the 70s it was sort of like breast-feeding wasn’t really right and they really pushed formula feeding. When I was born my mom had difficulty getting me to latch – it was an open opportunity to say, “Well, don’t worry we’ve got formula.” So tried the formula out…it’s superior anyway to breast milk, it has all the vitamins and nutrients and things like that in it so my mom jumped on the opportunity – put me on the formula and that’s when everything started. Within about a week of being on the formula, the eczema started coming out – it started coming on my face first, the neck – it just kind of moved down the body. My mom didn’t really know what to do, so she took me to the doctor and the doctor said, “Well, I know eczema is a condition, it’s a disease, it’s genetic, we don’t really why it happens but here’s a treatment for it.”
So I was started on steroid treatments – he started topical steroids on the face initially and then it moved to the rest of the body. The thing is it never fully went away, it would disappear maybe in some areas, got worse in other areas, but in the end it got so bad that probably by the time I was about one or two, I was covered head to toe in eczema. I was losing my hair – because when the eczema formed on my scalp, my hair would fall out, but the worst was mainly the torso especially on the hands and feet. So it was like that for a long time; I had seen many doctors – my mom got different prescriptions for different types of steroid creams; some creams for the body, some creams for the face. I remember being very young and my mom would lather me in cortisone and then because I would it itch at night she would wrap Saran wrap around my body and then put me in the bed and then eventually my mom got plastic sheets, because I would just itch a lot at night and the bleeding would happen.
This went on for many years and over time I developed other disorders like – I started getting asthmatic, I had breathing problems, I became allergic to things like dust and dogs and cats and trees and pollen and everything – I would go everywhere and to be allergic to something. I had this utility belt with all my…like Batman… creams and cortisones, my asthma inhalers, (inaudible [3:03]) and Ventolin and my allergy pills and that went on for a while.
When I was about eleven or twelve, in my mom’s desperate search she was able to find a naturopath to take a look at me and that’s when everything changed. I still remember going to see the naturopath and she looked at me and I was covered in skin lesions and still taking all these medications. She looked at me and said, “You know, you don’t have a skin problem. You have a problem with your digestion.” And I looked at her, I was like, “What do you mean I have a problem with my digestion? I don’t have digestive problems – I go to the bathroom fine. I have a skin problem.” She goes, “No, you don’t you have a digestion problem.” I didn’t understand it, it didn’t make any sense but I was so desperate I thought, “Okay, it sounds crazy,” but I told her, I said, “I’ll do whatever you want, you just tell me what to eat, what to do and we’ll see this through.” So she changed the diet added a few different supplements and the skin actually got worse, it got worse and I thought, “Oh man, I made a mistake.” My mom was so desperate she said, “Jason, just try this out. Just try it out.” So I said okay, I’ll stick through it.”
My skin aggravated for about a month, it just got worse and worse and worse. It started getting more cracking more bleeding, but then something happened – after about a month it just got better, it stopped itching. So about five weeks into it the itching went away and that never happened to me before it was always itchy. I don’t remember it ever not being itchy and that was amazing, I thought, “Okay, something is happening,” and then it started healing slowly. So it took about a good six months but by then it was probably about eighty percent better and after about a year and a half it totally disappeared – the last remnants from my hands and that took the longest time to get rid of but I was happy by then.
One of the most amazing memories I have of having it go away – it sounds really trivial is having to wash my hands and I didn’t have to rush to apply a cream of some kind because I would just dry them like an average person, that’s fine. Because if you know anybody with eczema when your hands get wet the itching just goes crazy, you have to apply cream right away so that was amazing to me. After that I made a decision – I said, “Instead of being happy really – I was kind of upset because I thought if someone told me this information eleven years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been in this state, I wouldn’t have suffered for so much because people didn’t understand eczema in the 70s and 80s people thought it was dirty or I just had an itching problem or there is something wrong with me or a whole bunch of things.
Very few kids had eczema at that time so I thought there was something really messed up; no one really could provide answers. I had answers coming from bad luck to genetics to… I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that I’d sinned…
Exactly! There’s all these reasons why eczema was there but no one actually said it in the way that made sense to me and I mean if the creams really did work, then it would get rid of the eczema altogether, I would have to keep apply them forever. So that started my journey and after that it was like I had to do this as a profession because it was something I believed so strongly in because I think people need to understand what’s actually causing their problems not just treating the symptom itself. Eczema – I still to this day do not even view eczema as a disease, I view it as a symptom of something; it is a symptom, it’s not a condition or a disease, it’s just a symptom.
Most of the time, do you feel like it’s a digestion problem or it has other root causes as well?
In my practice it’s many causes but the three biggest ones I’ve seen is digestion and that can be a whole bunch of things, it can be food that you’re eating that you can’t tolerate, either a sensitivity or an allergy of some kind, it can be how you break down the food, that can be an enzymatic issue. When you eat food, you have enzymes that break down the food – you’re not producing those properly; you can’t break down the food properly and hence it aggravates the gut or it can be stress related as well. Even now for myself if I get really stressed, I don’t feel stressed on the outside, it doesn’t change my disposition a whole lot but my skin might flare up a little bit.
It’s interesting because all these things all relate back to the bowel, When you need food or can’t digest food or stress that causes inflammation in the bowel, not inflammation as in chronocolitis but a micro inflammation in the villi, which is the lining of the gut. What happens when that occurs is that the cells swell and it puts pressure the system pretty much – so it causes a leaking. They call that leaky gut or medically semi-permeable membrane syndrome so you have material that leaks through the bowel lining; could be undigested foods or antigens or even compounds in the gut that feed off food that the body hasn’t been able to break down properly such as yeast or fungus compounds and things like that and that enters into the bloodstream and because it enters into that system, it cannot be eliminated through normal ways of elimination like the liver or the kidney. It’s just how we have to get rid of our waste, either you’ve got to poop it out through the bowel or be peed out through the liver, through the kidney and out of the body. If you can’t get it out through those main areas, it will flush through a secondary area, which is the skin – so then it will come out through the skin.
That’s why it’s tough for people because sometimes they’ll eat food and they’ll aggravate on the food but it will show as eczema two days later, three days later – up to a week later. It’s not like you eat the food and right away have an eczema attack, although that happens but it can happen later, like a late reaction. So it’s hard for people to track sometimes – they either eat something that bother me or not. Those I find are the biggest causes of eczema.
I see it a lot too because of people taking things like antibiotics and what not; it’s not that these drugs are horrible, there’s a place for them but over prescription can lead to a lot of problems too.
So it there a way to figure out of it’s a digestion problem or whether it’s enzymatic or stress related?
There are tests that people can do like sensitivity tests, food allergy testing and things like that – as many ways of testing, whether it be through electrodermo testing or blood work or a patient can just do elimination. Sometimes patients will come in and say, “You know, I found out what bothers me because when I stopped eating this food – my skin got better.” The biggest ones are usually wheat, compounds… and the wheat in North America is very different from the wheat in the rest of the world, it’s quite modified; it’s modified a lot, most of the modification happened, probably after the 90s. Some people say all this wheat and gluten and things is not really right because people have been eating it for years, so why is there such a bit hype about it now? There is a big hype about it now because the wheat is very different than what it used to be, it’s modified, so people will take that away. The skin will get better.
Other ones would be dairy and dairy products as well. The dairy in Canada is largely unpasteurized and when you unpasteurize the dairy, you destroy all the enzymes in the dairy so you can’t break it down properly. Plus the dairy is grain fed – mostly grass fed – which is a whole new story. But anyway, dairy is a big one.
Sometimes oils – patients are taking the wrong kinds of oils, they’re not cooking with the right kind of oils. Basically all the oils that the industry has made us believe are really healthy like canola oil, corn oil, all of these… sun flower oil; those are horrible to cook with. Sunflower oil… you can take it raw – but mostly do not cook with them. The best oils to cook with are sadly enough, the ones that people have been trained that are bad for us like ghee, which is a clarified butter, it’s solid at room temperature, cooking oil solid at room temperature. People get scared, even grass fed types of lard in animal fats – people think fat makes you fat, “I can’t eat the fat because It’ll clog my arteries and make me fat” that’s actually not true. It’s the processed oils that’s causing all the inflammation, you can’t tolerate high heat. So oils can be a big deal – refined oils.
And of course, the number one thing a sugar.
Yeah, sugar is huge.
North Americans love sugar and we love it in lots of food. We don’t just love it in candy and chocolate like most people seem to get sugar, it comes in so many forms. Most of the packaged foods out there – the number two or three ingredients will be sugar and they always list the ingredients most, least. So the number two ingredient is sugar, you know it’s a big part of that compound. People love sugar.
Sugar is really harsh on the body, the average North American now consumes somewhere between 140 to 150 pounds of sugar a year. Whereas back in 1920 the sugar consumption was maybe 10 to 20 pounds, so it’s significant. And sugar is not one of the things that cause diabetes; it really bothers the body, because the sugar we take in it feeds other organisms in the body that aren’t really supposed to be getting that level of sugar, like yeast, Candida and other kinds of bacterial compounds – that comes out through the skin too.
So how do you know if it’s Candida causing the problem or parasites? Which one do you treat first? Digestion or…?
It begins with testing as well. Here is the thing, in reality, there is no point in killing a parasite or even doing any work with yeast if you are not treating that digestion first, because there is no point in killing the mouse with a mousetrap in the house if you haven’t plugged the hole in the wall and the cheese in the floor that brought the mouse in – in the first place.
You can trap the mice all you want but if you don’t deal with that hole and the cheese, they’re going to keep coming back.
Yeast and the bacteria they are not evil, they are supposed to be in the gut in small amounts and the gut keeps it at bay based upon the environment in the gut. But when we change that environment, that’s when it feeds and it comes out kind of thing. So the first key you want to see is does the patient go to the bathroom every day? I mean some people are like, “Yeah, I go to the bathroom,” and they think everything is fine and you find out they go once a week, even once every other day is still not acceptable. Ideally it’s one a minimum and you should be going up to two or three times a day to eliminate because food comes in…People say, “I should go three times a day?” I’m like, “You eat three times a day; something in the something out,” kind of thing. But people don’t eliminate properly, they’re not digesting properly, and the foods they are eating are not to right either. So fix those first and then you can start going in and potentially dealing with the yeast or fungus or that kind of things in the body later on.
These organisms are designed to basically decompose you when you die but the problems is we are eating food that’s so horrific and our diets are so poor that we tend to become slightly acidic while we are alive in our life, it’s enough to aggravate the system, enough to cause some of the issues that people see. The eczema is just a manifestation of that, just like a light on your dashboard that tells you the car is running low on oil; it doesn’t have anything to do with the light – it has everything to do with the oil – so you don’t need to focus on the light, focus on the oil. The eczema is just a symptom.
One of my professors said something that I’ll never forget, he said, “When you treat something externally, you will treat it eternally,” and he was right if you treat the eczema externally with just topical steroids, you will be treating it forever and ever and ever. If it does happen to go away, it will just move to something deeper. So the triad just goes like this: it goes eczema, asthma, allergies, so if you suppress it, it will start with eczema then it becomes asthma, if you suppress that with steroid inhalers, it becomes allergies and it an allergic triad. It’s interesting, you can see almost the progression of these things and allergies are very common with people, they may have no eczema now, because they “grew” out of it but now it’s formed into a different type. So it comes out as allergies or asthma, which is basically eczema type issues in other tissues.
So that’s a big thing.
So the things that you use to treat your patients usually, you find that usually it works? Especially with treating digestion?
Yeah, we have a very high rate success with eczema. Of course it depends on how willing the patients are to follow some of the changes we make. I find it interesting… when I treat children parents will do anything to get rid of their eczema, but sometimes, when the parents would come in and I tell them to do things they would hum and haw about it, but it depends on how severe the issue is. A lot of patients that come in, I tell them, “This is what you have to do for this a while,” they are like, “Sure, whatever it takes to get rid of this,” and they’ll do it and they’ll see the results fast. But it depends of course on how long the patient has had eczema, how long it’s been suppressed, meaning if they had eczema for 20 years, been on steroids for 20 years, it might take up the year or so to get rid of it. Of course, if they had it for a few years, it may take a few months – so it totally depends.
But I love treating children that come with eczema because I have… I see myself in them, I see them itching and I look at them and I remember. But if you can treat them young, you can halt the progression before it gets worse, so that’s the key to get it early – don’t wait, deal with it early so you can deal with the problems so you don’t have to keep dealing with the other manifestations and problems that come up over and over again. Plus, long-term steroid use is not ideal…
Yeah, not good at all.
It can thin the skin, I have even areas on my body that are thinned permanently; I don’t think they’ll ever change. There is no eczema there, but the skin is not quite the same. That’s because the steroids have a thinning effect on the skin if used for long-term. There are other conditions that can happen too because when you take something topically people don’t realize it absorbs right into the blood as well so it was almost like I was on steroids for over 11 years. That’s the formative years, during puberty and hormones and everything like that. I don’t know the damage that’s fully been done to me and I still think I’m trying to work through that.
In the 70s, they told my mom like just put this stuff on forever; I could even bathe in it they didn’t realize there are such side effects to it.
What about for babies, because I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me…, their son or daughter can’t eat a whole list of foods, and they’ve tried everything to help them get better?
What starts it off is usually the…right when you’re doing the…like right in utero, what the mother eats when she’s carrying the child is a big deal. A lot of parents, I think…moms, I guess, when they are pregnant, they are hungry and they have cravings, sometimes they’d really indulge in those cravings which usually aren’t particularly great – they’re not like, “I’m craving broccoli,” it’s usually something quite sugary – so they kind of go to town on it. That creates almost like a yeast issue in the body, while the child is still in utero and that can affect the body.
A lot of kids nowadays are caesarean section, they are not vaginal birth. When you pass through the vaginal canal, you pick up the mother’s good bacteria to populate the gut and the breast-feeding activates the bacteria to regulate the bowel. So the child’s born caesarean, and not breast-fed – it’s kind of like a double whammy, it’s almost a given they’re going to have some sort of eczema reaction. A lot can be done prior to actually giving birth. But once birth happens we try and get them on the breast as fast as possible; the breast is always best that’s the milk that the baby’s designed for – try to hold off on formula. But I mean some of them just can’t produce enough milk, there are other issues going on, they have to go on formula, which tough. Because the patient is always asking,” What’s the best formula to take?” And it’s always – man’s is trying to pick the best of the worst – they are all crummy, a lot of them have high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in there. I don’t know why, but they put that… even the organic ones, it doesn’t make sense – it’s very glycemic compound to be in there. So getting your child on a good probiotic is key, even having the mother take a probiotic during pregnancy; very, very important and then watching diet, very, very key as well.
As soon as the eczema comes up…take them to somebody to deal with it is best , as opposed to suppressing it, because right away if you put cream on it and think,, “Okay, I just try it out if the cream works we’ll see how it goes.” And sometimes it does work, you put the cream on, and it works but then two days later you’ve got to keep applying it. If you have to keep applying the cream over and over again, it tells you that it’s not treating the actual issue it’s just covering it. You don’t want to cover it for very long that’s when it goes to more systemic.
What do people do? The best thing is to eat properly. Stay away from refined foods, stay away from processed foods. Stay away from junk regardless of the cravings – I know they’re probably crazy, but I mean they’re not great. Try and get them on the breast as soon as possible, if you have to get a lactation consultant to come in or whatnot that’s the key.
Okay. That sounds good. Do you have any last-minute words of advice that you want to leave?
One thing is to understand how the body works, the body’s not stupid; it will not produce a symptom for fun. It will not produce a symptom to ruin your life or cause you grief. The body creates these symptoms as a warning light to tell you something is going on; asthma is a warning, eczema is a warning, allergies are a warning. So instead of saying, “Forget it! I’m just going to cover that warning and get on with my life, my day,” try and find out, “What is it about what I do that causes that problem and deal with it at the source as opposed to covering it.”
Eczema is not the devil, it is basically a symptom. You have to find out what causes it, and for some patients, eczema can be a blessing in many ways. I know it sounds kind of crazy and this is a positive way to look at eczema is that usually the patients I see that have eczema, they’re shown to have a strong vitality, they will not hold toxicity, when stuff comes in, it comes out right away. It comes out it doesn’t stay in the body. Because some patients will say their “friends kid can eat the same thing as my kids, how come my kid has eczema and they don’t?” That’s a dispositional thing.
Some people – everybody has a weak spot. If I blow up a balloon, the balloon will get larger and at some point it will pop. Where does a balloon pop? At the weak spot; it’s dependent on the balloon. Patients have weak spots as well; they will show their illness to the weak spot. Eczema for me and for you is our weak spot, so we’re what they call atopic disposition, it will show through asthma, allergies, eczema…Some people when they have toxicity they can’t tolerate things like headaches, some people get digestive disorders, some people get fatigued, some people get… like a whole bunch of different things people get.
So look at the illness or the symptom not as the end, but at the beginning as a lesson to help you. With eczema, what I hated as a child it really has changed my life because it helped me look at illness in many different ways. I have patients that come in that have eczema, it’s given me great insight because I know exactly what they’re feeling, I know exactly what they’re going through when they tell me they are itching and they just want to tear their skin off and people don’t understand and people told them to put cream on it and just stop itching. I mean, I get it. You can’t stop itching, I promise, it’s on.
The best piece of advice I can give is to realize that eczema is not a disease, it is a symptom of something; the key is to find out what is that something.
One last question I had was – the one e-mail I get a lot is that people see naturopaths but they don’t really notice the difference. Is that because some naturopaths are just not experienced in knowing how to treat eczema?
It totally depends. Different strokes for different folks. Some people – maybe they are not sure – not testing properly, maybe not getting the right testing or the patient is not following through on what they are saying or they don’t want to follow through. It totally depends.
The success rate in this clinic is quite high, but I demand a lot from my patients, I will tell them, “You have to do this!” They will say, “I don’t know if I can.” I will say, “Let me help you with that but you’re going to try.” I do push them because they have high expectations – I have high expectations for them. It’s a two-way street, kind of thing.
Every profession, you’re going to have people that resonate well and some that don’t. Medically some people will take the steroids and they’ll feel great and call it a day and some people don’t but it depends on how you approach the thing. Just because some people may not have any success with any naturopath does not mean that the right naturopath for them… the treatments don’t work. Naturopath practice is very different as well; different approaches to things, different ways of dealing with things.
Although the key to naturopath medicine is to treat the underlying issue that caused the problem in the first place so whatever naturopath you see it’s important they do some level of testing to at least determine what’s causing the eczema as opposed to just saying, “Well, try fish oil or try this.” Because if the patient can’t tolerate fats and you put him on fish oil, it will aggravate and the patient goes on the liver cleanse for example, to deal with eczema… like you might put an adult on but the liver is compromised in some way, shape or form or they are not breaking down foods properly, that will aggravate them. Or if the patient goes on a yeast cleanse for example but they are not dealing with the digestive issue then that will aggravate them. So it’s like you haven’t seen results because they’re aggravating but it’s hard to tell. Sometimes the aggravation competes in and of itself, sometimes it could be the wrong treatment, but it’s up to practitioner to be able to determine or the patient them self.
Chances are, we can’t fix every single person that comes into the office, but I’ll definitely try my best and wish the other doctors always try their best as well.
Thanks so much Jason.
Cool. Thanks for your time.
If you’re interested in seeing Jason he does a practice in Oakville, Ontario in Canada, and I know that people do fly in from the States and elsewhere in Canada to see him. So, he is in high demand and he is one of the smartest naturopaths I know and he’s helped me a lot too so I really look up to him so please check out his site www.drjasonlee.com.
The key is to find the best match. I might not be the best naturopath for everybody – all I want is for people to feel better so whatever route they pick whatever they see it doesn’t matter as long as they realize that eczema is a symptom, not a condition – in my opinion at least.
Thanks so much
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