From birth (in 2004), Arthur had terrible eczema. We had to put mittens or socks on his hands all the time to stop him from scratching himself. Even with very short nails, this was what it was like for him:
I wasn’t vegan then, and I was eating dairy. I was in hospital for about six days (emergency caesarian) and I was breastfeeding and it just wasn’t going anywhere. Back then, I wasn’t clued about breastfeeding and I relied heavily on the advice of the lovely midwives, which was to introduce formula.
Arthur’s eczema started in hospital. Nobody raised the issue of his diet, instead we would end up seeing dermatologists and the allergy clinic at the Royal Childrens (which was a horrible experience for us). For two years we applied steroid ointments, did all the compress/bathing/wrapping stuff (which apparently is not the advice given out nowadays) and still Arthur’s body was covered in eczema. I was getting concerned about the ointments and when we went to the allergy clinic I asked about elimination diets as I was now thinking his eczema was a result of what he was eating. I had one of those terse unfriendly my-poop-don’t-stink specialists who told me, rather rudely “forget the diet”.
Fast forward to around April 2012, when I went vegan. The dairy I was eating was pretty much cream now and then in Indian or Italian dishes, ice cream, parmessan cheese and those diet yoghurts “for calcium”. CRINGE. For smoothies and cereal I had been using soy for years but I was definitely not dairy free. After eating those tubs of yoghurt, I would be terribly constipated the next day. Cream began to make me feel sick. I stopped eating them and then a few months later ordered a cream pasta entree at a restaurant. Halfway through my meal I had to stop because I felt so sick. I then started to take note of ah, bowel movements, when I would eat and not eat dairy. When I’d eat dairy, like one of those yoghurts, I was *always* constipated the next day. I’d be massively bloated too and feel sick. My skin had always been rubbish too and I had the odd adult zit now and then, as well as these awful boils once every few months.
So when I went vegan, I noticed straight away how my stomach aches stopped. No more constipation. My skin cleared up. Bowel/tummy wise, I felt so much better.
Arthur still had eczema, though it was mostly kept under control with the creams and ointments. But I was still frustrated that nobody would understand that I wanted to find the *cause* not just treat symptoms!
When I went vegan, I started phasing out dairy in the house. Initially this was really difficult for Arthur, as he loved milk and toasted cheese sandwiches and he wouldn’t eat much else. Eventually it got better and he was not eating dairy at home, but would still eat it when going out or if he saw grandparents and they went out for icecream. His eczema had improved but I would notice flareups after he ate dairy.
So we made a deal. For five weeks, he was to have zero dairy. He would tell friends and family that he could not eat dairy. If, at the end of the five weeks, he was completely dairy free, he would earn $30. It pretty much worked, his skin improved dramatically. We started off with this:
Sometimes he would scratch so much that he would cause bleeding. In other areas, his skin would crack then bleed. I took him to the doctor and asked the doctor to talk about dairy allergies and intolerances.
Most of the time now, both Arthur and DeeW are dairy free. They’re not vegan, I want them to make their own choices in that regard, but the rule is all food prepared at home by the cook (ie, me) will be vegan. They’re fine with that now, though we did have rough patches in the beginning.
I’m really pleased to say that Arthur’s skin is completely clear and does not look anything like these photos, which were taken about a year ago. He has finally seen once and for all how his skin flares up like this when he has dairy. He also gets patches of eczema on his face. Last month he had a dairy ice cream when he was out somewhere. Two hours later at home, he had patches of eczema around his mouth and on his cheeks. He hadn’t had eczema on his face in ages. The same thing happened when he had dairy cheese.
Unfortunately one of his favourite foods is Hawaiian pizza, which is cheese, ham and pineapple. I make a vegan version at home which he requests a lot, but he loves going out to get pizza and of course they’re not vegan. However now with vegan pizza joints available to us, perhaps we can make the switch. I think the appeal of dairy-cheese pizza is the whole melty stretchy mozarella thing (which always tasted like plastic to me).
I wanted to write this post because I am fed up reading skincare advice on blogs and magazines in waiting rooms, where people write in about having bouts of eczema or acne. And the response is always based on what you can apply to your skin. In some cases expensive products are recommended. And I want to just go GAAAHHGGGRRRGGRRRRR because I think people should also suggest looking at one’s diet. For instance, a trainer at my gym told me about a client who had eczema (the flaky, bright red sort like Arthur had on his cheeks) from head to toe and he had to apply creams every hour or so. His eczema would crack and get so bad that he would be house bound. Eventually he went to a dietician as a last resort and was put on a vegan diet. The trainer said this guy went back to the gym three months later and people didn’t recognise him, because his skin was clear.
I’ve met other vegans who had skin problems that went away when they stopped dairy. I’m one of them myself!
Looking at Arthur’s baby photo up there brings up a mixture of feelings. Guilt, sadness and anger, anger especially at myself for not sticking to my guns more and pushing for elimination diet. Or not eliminating dairy myself for him, because I was still too intimidated to do anything other than what the doctors and child health nurses told me. Friends of mine have gone through this too and when they’ve eliminated dairy from their child’s diet, they’ve noticed the eczema goes away. Bring back the dairy and the eczema flares up. This is what happens to Arthur.
Now, I’m not suggesting that dairy is at the root of everyone’s eczema. In our case, dairy is the trigger for Arthur’s skin issues and he would be in the toilet for ages too. It was the same with me: the bad skin and bad stomach aches. When my brother in law has dairy, he has bad sinus and headaches. My uncle had migraines that would land him in hospital. Once he eliminated dairy, his migraines disappeared. Because of all this, I get so annoyed when people are not told “hey, why don’t you look at your diet and perhaps eliminate stuff and see how you go”. Instead, people are encouraged to spend heaps of money on things to apply to their skin, instead of being encouraged to look at *why* this is happening.
All I know is that my little boy had a pretty horrible time with his eczema. And in his case, all it took to fix it was getting rid of dairy. I wish I had done this when he was a baby!