Eczema (Gr ekzein, to boil over) refers to inflammatory skin conditions that are typically red and itchy, with papules, vesicles, crusts and scales. Usually of allergenic origin, there are nevertheless a few special types.
Eczema craquel'e (EC), described as miniature crazy-paving, is crusty and red, with fissures and bleeding made worse by rubbing or scratching. It may be predictive of cancer. When EC is widespread on the trunk as deep red, inflammatory fissures and resistant to topical corticosteroids, then cancer is likely (Dermatology, 2007; 215: 28-35). Extracts of Grifola frondosa (hen-of-the-woods), taken orally, can inhibit tumour growth (J Naturopathic Med, 1993; 4: 10-5). Breast cancer and mammary tumour cell death was significantly sped up by injection of lentinan, a protein-free polysaccharide from Lenti-nula edodes (shiitake) (Int Congress Series Excerpta Medica, 1985; 690: 138-50). Also, a 95-per-cent tumour inhibition rate was found with the acidic polysaccharide fraction of Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) (Chem Pharm Bull, 1972; 20: 1175-80).
Eczema diabeticorum is a rash often seen on the shins in women. More than half of sufferers are diabetic. The flavonoid epicatechin, from the bark of Pterocarpus marsupium and used in an alcohol-based extract, can regenerate pancreatic Langerhans cells in 54 per cent of cases, thereby improving both the diabetes and the eczema (Lancet, 1981; 2: 759-60).
Eczema erythematosus resembles guttate psoriasis (small, red/pink droplike lesions) or discoid lupus, but is part of lupus (SLE). A daily dose of an infusion brewed from the roots and stems of Tripterygium wilfordii can significantly benefit both SLE and the eczema (Chin Med J, 1981; 94: 827-34).
Eczema herpeticum, eczema infect-ed by herpesvirus, is a serious condi-tion. Herpesvirus thrives on l-arginine and l-lysine, amino acids readily found in foods. Thus, avoiding substantial lysine supplementation and arginine helps (Dermatology, 1978; 156: 257-67).
Eczema marginatum (dhobi or jock itch) is ringworm of the groin. The itchy, well-defined, symmetrical lesions have scaly edges; more often seen in men, it is usually spread by sharing towels, or transferred by hand from a foot infection. Whitfield's ointment (benzoic and salicylic acids) should be applied daily; starch poultices may be required if the lesions are pustular (Solomons B. Lecture Notes on Dermatology,3rd edn. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1975: 137-8).
Eczema of the nipple and areola (Paget's disease of the nipple) is a rela-tively rare cancer, and almost always associated with breast cancer. To inhibit metastases, burdock root (Arc-tium lappa), as included in a herbal combination such as Hoxsey's herbs or Essiac, has antitumour effects (Tumori, 1966; 52: 173-6). There is also the 'burdock factor', known to counteract cancer-causing mutations (Mutat Res, 1984; 129: 25-31). What's more, burdock contains benzaldehyde, which may even cause malignant cells to revert to normal (Anticancer Res, 1991; 11: 1077-81). Korean ginseng can also help. In a five-year study during which 137 cases of cancerous tumours developed, those who had taken fresh Korean ginseng regularly had a significntly lower risk of developing cancer (Int J Epidemiol, 1988; 27: 359-64).
Eczema nummulare, characterized by coin-shaped patches of inflam-mation, curiously often improves in chronic cases when the patient becomes infected with Helicobacter pylori and develops stomach problems (J Epidemiol Commun Health, 2007; 61: 638-40).
Eczema parasiticum describes an eczematous eruption precipitated by parasitic infestation, which needs to be identified and treated to clear the skin reaction.
Eczema pustulosum is a later stage of vesicular eczema in which the vesicles are secondarily infected, resulting in purulent lesions covered with (sometimes impetigo-like) crusts. Here again, the infection needs to be treated.
Eczema squamosum ('rodent ulcer') can be either a basal cell (BCC) or squamous cell (SCC) carcinoma. BCC often arises on the face and neck, and is not especially dangerous, but should still be treated to avoid its spread. SCC is not as common as BCC, and typically affects areas exposed to sunlight such as the face, arms and back of the neck. SCC is also not dangerous, but can become so if not treated in time.
Eczema vaccinatum is an outbreak of eczema, frequently severe, following vaccination. As a symptom, it still needs to be treated.
Psoriatic eczema is secondary to psoriasis, and supplementing with fish oil-specifically, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 12 g/day)-can result in significant improvement (Lancet, 1988; i: 378-80). This amount of EPA is equivalent to 150 g of mackerel or herring, and men who regularly eat such oily fish are less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who donot (Lancet, 2001; 357: 1764-6). Phyto-estrogens can also help to prevent prostate cancer (Nutr Cancer, 1999; 33: 20-5).
For allergic eczema (atopic dermatitis), I usually prescribe an ointment comprising 0.50 g of Solanum dulcamara homeopathic mother tincture, 0.10 g of Hydrastis canadensis homeopathic mother tincture, 5 g of Acidum boracicum
and 100 g of Paraffinum mollum album cum Calendula arvensis at 10 per cent qsp. This is a 'magistral preparation', made up each time according to my written prescription (not mass-produced) and dispensed in 20-g tubes. Only a thin application to the affected skin is needed; it should not be used over broken skin, or on the eyelids or other sensitive areas (such as in the vagina).
Harald Gaier, a registered naturopath, osteopath, homeopath and herbalist, practises at The Allergy and Nutrition Clinic, 22 Harley Street, London, and the Irish Centre of Integrated Medicine, Co. Kildare ( www.drgaier.com ).