Q I recently contracted dermatitis, probably as a result of all the painkillers and antibiotics I was given after minor knee surgery. Rashes, irritating spots and discoloured patches have now begun to appear at random all over my body. My doctor has prescribed lethal-sounding ointments. Alcohol, coffee and tea make the problem worse, so I am keeping off those. I am also taking vitamins B, C and lecithin, which seem to be doing some good. But is there anything else I could try? - Anthony Furse, via e-mail
A Skin problems are notoriously difficult to treat - whether by conventional or alternative medicine. Prescribed drugs will generally not work .
One alternative may be Chinese herbal medicine. This hit the headlines over a decade ago when Dr David Atherton, of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, tested Chinese herbs on 37 children with severe eczema. Most were cured after a few weeks of treatment (Lancet, 1990; 336: 1254). In a similar trial of 31 adults with dermatitis, 20 significantly improved with the herbs, although some found them 'unpalatable' (Lancet, 1992; 340: 13-7). The herbal mix is now marketed as Zemaphyte.
An ointment using 10 per cent tea tree oil, marketed as Bogaskin, was tested by researchers at the University of Zurich on dogs suffering from a variety of intractable skin conditions. Bogaskin proved effective in over 80 per cent of the animals. In addition, there were few adverse reactions (Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd, 2002; 144: 223-31).
Another possible treatment is NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), the active ingredient in vitamin B3. This has recently proved to be a powerful antioxidant. Dermatologists in Poland recently tested an ointment containing 1 per cent NADH mixed with ordinary Vaseline, and found it 'very effective' in the treatment of certain kinds of dermatitis (Clin Exp Dermatol, 2003; 28: 61-3).
It sounds like your gut is also out of sorts and more reactive to foods at the moment. Take essential fatty acids like fish oils or their derivative EPA to calm inflammation and these allergic tendencies. Also, suspect Candida overgrowth from all the antibiotics you took (see WDDTY's The Candida and ME Handbook), and find a good acidophilus preparation. Avoid all sugar and refined carbohydrates, and the offending foods.
If all else fails, under-the-tongue immunotherapy (where homoeopathic potencies of allergens are given) cures skin problems in three-quarters of cases (Allergol Immunopathol [Madr], 2000; 28: 54-62).