062: Eczema Food Triggers From An Eastern Medicine Perspective w/ Dr. Pamela Langenderfer

Eczema is a multifaceted condition. There is no single root cause that is the same for everyone. My guest today, a physician who put her eczema into remission, will discuss the impact on food, as well as the eastern approach to healing skin rashes.

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My guest today is Dr. Pamela Langenderfer. Dr. Pam is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist who believes that food is the foundation to optimal health. She has found that when people change their nutrition, 50% of their symptoms will often improve. As she says, “You cannot out supplement or out medicate a poor diet!”

Dr. Pam grew up on a farm and was an avid athlete. One would assume that she was really healthy, but this was not the case.  She had chronic ear infections as a child, which resulted in many rounds of antibiotics. She also had severe eczema and asthma, which resulted in chronic steroid use. This ultimately wreaked havoc on her gut, skin and hormones.

Dr. Pam spent the first half of her life feeling awful all the time, knowing there had to be a better way to live. This ultimately led her to seek out a career as a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist.

Join us as we talk about how a diet high in Omega-6s and histamine can play a role in eczema flares.

Have you seen improvements in your skin by reducing the amount of Omega-6 fatty acids in your diet? Tell me about it in the comments!

In this episode:

  • Dr. Pam's eczema story
  • Information about what is means to count macros
  • Importance of the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio
  • The concept of “wind food” in Chinese medicine
  • Temporary elimination of certain foods
  • Foods rich in Omega-3s
Dr. Pamela Before and After


“Macros are essentially tracking how much protein, how much fat and how much carbs you're eating.” [6:45]

“Eczema is an autoimmune disease.” [8:08]

“When you have excess Omega-sixes from poultry, from nuts, from seeds, it actually can convert into arachidonic acid and it becomes pro-inflammatory.” [8:47]

“The best advice I give to people is that if you don't want to have to eliminate something, then eat everything. So that way you don't develop an intolerance to it.” [13:58]


Find Dr. Pam online

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062: Eczema Food Triggers From An Eastern Medicine Perspective w/ Dr. Pamela Langenderfer FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jen: Hi everyone and welcome back. Today, I've got a guest with me. I am so excited to interview her because we were talking before our interview and some of the stuff she was sharing with me was like blowing my mind and I'm like, wait, wait, we have to talk about this on the record so that you guys could benefit from it as well. Her name is Dr. Pamela Langenderfer and she is one of the two doctors that runs this incredible clinic out in Idaho called Lakeside Holistic and she runs this with her husband. I actually met her through her husband and you've actually heard her husband on the podcast, Dr Jerry. And you know, if you haven't had the opportunity to listen to that episode, I'll link to it in the show notes. That way you can get a sense of where husband's coming from and where she is as well. I think it's really cool that you've got this, this mind, you've got a team of people that you can, you know, really utilize what they've gotten their two brains together in all of their research and knowledge. And expertise to be able to help you. And they happen to be located in it Coeur d'Alene in Idaho. So Dr. Pam is an acupuncturist and naturopathic doctor and she has a ton of experience personally with Eczema so she can also interestingly correlate some of her past. So dealing with Eczema and asthma and whatnot and how it then translated into a bunch of other problems later in life where she was. She's just had a lot of experience and I don't want to go too much into it but I feel like the things that she's going to share with us today are going to be from both a Western medicine perspective as well as the Eastern perspective as well. So Dr. Pam, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Pam: Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Jen: I didn't want to go too much into your story cause I think it's only fair that you share your story of how Eczema really ended up affecting your life.

Dr. Pam: Eczema has a, unfortunately plagued me since I've been a baby and I'm probably like a lot of people where I was put on multiple antibiotics as a baby for chronic ear infections, had my tonsils and adenoids removed. And from a very young age, super sensitive, you know, if I took a bubble bath, I'd break out in Eczema. All kinds of lotions would burn my skin and then would always have some sort of Eczema rash where maybe my ears were split open or my head was split open at one point. And then as I got older I was on a lot of steroids all the time, especially as a teenager cause I had developed asthma and I actually had grown up on a conventional farm in Michigan and was just exposed to a lot of chemicals growing up. And ironically, you would think growing up on a farm that you would eat healthy. But, I was very disconnected from my, my food and didn't realize at the time that I was sensitive to many of the foods that I had been eating. And I had went to naturopath school in 1996 is when I started. And that was really the first time I had ever heard that the food that you eat could actually be impacting your health. And the very first thing I was told was to take out wheat and dairy. And I remember looking at them thinking that they were crazy because how could that possibly be? Cause I had those things all the time. But when I was in school, I was living in Portland and there's quite a bit of mold in Portland and the compound of mold and stress. And unfortunately back in the late nineties, everybody was eating soy and I had started to have a bunch of soy and my eczema actually was probably the worst that it had ever been. So by the time I was finishing school, I was literally covered from head to toe in this Eczema and pretty much was like that for six years. It would kind of ebb and flow. So I was able to put it into remission and a lot of that had to do with diet, lifestyle, and supplementation.

Jen: Okay. And what's really interesting too that I definitely want people to know about. You share that there was a really interesting experience that you would have around the time of your period. Could you talk a little bit about that experience?

Dr. Pam: Yeah. So it was more when I was in my twenties and I was in school. And what I started to notice is that about a week or 10 days before my period, it would look like I had this sunburn. My face would be so bright red and would be like this internal sunburn. And then my skin would start peeling. And the whole time I was in school, it looked like I had a mask on my face and my face and my neck. And it would get worse right before my period and it never really completely went away, but it would calm down right after it. So there was definitely some hormonal link to it. As I've learned more over the years, we've learned more about genetics. I've definitely have a history of estrogen dominance and have the genetics to set me up for that. And I kind of wonder, you know, with all the soy I would have been eating at that point in time…was it the soy or was it that I had all this estrogen, you know, on top of it all, that was maybe a trigger for that.

Jen: That is super interesting because I've actually heard that complaint a few other times and I thought, you know what, it might be helpful people to hear that they're not alone in that experience. And so one thing I wanted to then ask you was, you said something about counting macros. So let's start this out with somebody who doesn't even know what macros are. So can you, can you just explain to us what macros are and then head in the direction because I think your whole point about fat and like the types of protein, I thought that was really interesting and I think people would love to know that.

Dr. Pam: I basically had gotten my Eczema into remission in 2002 with no steroids or anything like that. And I've never used any of that since that point. And about two years ago, I actually had hired a macro coach to help me with macro numbers. Macros are essentially tracking how much protein, how much fat and how much carbs that you're eating. So you're tracking how many grams of each of those. And I have always struggled with my weight most of my life and was at a point where I was unwilling to starve myself. So what can I do to feel good and to kind of feel balanced? So the macro tracking was super helpful for me. And what ironically happened is that as I lost weight, my eczema came back all around my eyes. My eyes would be split open and it's like little paper cuts all around them and like bright red, you know, rash around them. And it got to this point that I had lost 20 pounds over the course of six months. But even though I lost weight, I looked the worst that I had looked in years. And it took me a bit to kind of figure this out. And one of the things that I kind of had this epiphany on one day was, you know, Sarah Ballantyne, she actually had did this good blog posts about should you consume a lot of Omega-6 fat if you have an autoimmune disease. And as well know Eczema is an autoimmune disease. And so what I realized I was doing is that, even though I had lowered the amount of fat that I was eating, I started consuming a lot of chicken and turkey. And when you add chicken and turkey, any of the poultries, they have a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 of about 10 to one. And grass fed beef has a ratio of about three to one of Omega six to Omega three. So even though there's not as much fat content in the chicken and the Turkey, their Omega six ratio is so much higher. And when you have excess Omega sixes from poultry, from nuts, from seeds, it actually can convert into arachidonic acid and it becomes proinflammatory. And this started this whole cascade that I got to a point where I couldn't have chicken and Turkey for about four months. All I could eat was beef and lamb. And even at that point I had eliminated so many foods I would still react to, you know, if I would have lamb and peas. And so it changed something in my gut microbiome and in my gut bacteria, and unfortunately I could not flip it back just with food. It was when I found some certain probiotic strains that I was able to get that into remission. But the types of food that I was also having were higher in histamine. And that was the other thing I didn't realize I was doing. So when you have a skin issue and you're consuming like bone broth and fermented foods, which we're all told to do because it's good for our gut and it's good for skin our maybe, but when you have high histamine levels in your system and you're really inflamed, it can actually make those things worse. And having too many nuts can make those things worse. So when I started looking at this then from a Chinese medicine perspective, one of the things that my Chinese doctors always used to talk about was how when people had a skin to condition, to not eat chicken. And in Chinese terms we call this a wind food. Chinese medicine is like an art. And when you have a wind condition, that usually means like it changes around. It might be on your face, it might be on your legs, it's usually itchy, it comes and goes. And it kinda just travels everywhere. And what I didn't understand is that the chicken is considered that mainly because of these excess Omega-6 content in there. And the other piece to the food part of it is, and this I had figured out when I was in school. Back then what I would have been having a lot of is a lot of garlic and garlic is a very hot herb, hot food. And when you have a hot condition, which Eczema is, there's a lot of fire, there's a lot of heat. When you consume spicy foods, hot foods, it's like you're fueling the fire and you actually are going to make that worse.

Jen: And so would that apply to something like Cayenne pepper and actual spices that have that heat or kick to them?

Dr. Pam: Yep. All of that. Yup. It's going to make a skin condition worse.

Jen: So might have to part ways with the hot sauce for a little while.

Dr. Pam: Yes. I don't really like hot sauce. So that was okay because that was where like, somebody told me it was good for me. And I think there's so many times you get in your head like this is good for me. I need to keep doing it and, no, it may not be good for you.

Jen: And I think the information that you're sharing is so poignant because I think we want to believe that there is one way of eating that will just fix everything. And garlic is very antimicrobial. It's good for you. It's got sulfur. Except there are instances where it may not be the best for where you are right now. So for somebody listening to this and going, wait, Jen is not a big fan of cutting foods out cause I have to acknowledge that. I want to acknowledge because the people have listened to me for quite a while. Does this have to be forever that say somebody has these skin issues and they're working through them and they're like, all right, let me give the cutout poultry a try. Does it have to be forever or is this something where they could eventually add it back in? Like, were you able to add it back in?

Dr. Pam: Yes. I totally get what you're saying. Cause I've been there. I mean I've been in practice now for 17 years and I have done the elimination diet, not just with myself and with patients. And what does happen is people take these things out and then all of a sudden they are reacting to the things that they're eating. And then you take out more and you take out more and you're left with like nothing. And that's because you have not fixed the terrain and the terrain is your gut and your gut flora. And so once I got my gut flora fixed, yes, I could put chicken back in. I could actually eat eggs again. Cos I couldn't even eat eggs at all. I was able to put in most of the foods that I was reacting to. And I do consume them today, but I try to rotate and not have the same thing all the time. And that's kind of the best advice I give to people is that if you don't want to have to eliminate something, then eat everything. So that way you don't develop an intolerance to it.

Jen: And just in case somebody is wondering, cause I think that like you've got me on this Omega six three link and this is really the first time we've ever talked about this on the Healthy Skin Show. What if someone was thinking, okay maybe I want to focus less on what I can't have. Right? Because a lot of times I don't know if this happens with your patients, but mine go, wait, I can't have this. Well what am I supposed to eat? I don't know what to eat and they freak out. So if you were to start being a lot more aware of your omega six to Omega three ratio. What are some foods that you would recommend that are higher in Omega three is that they could maybe add in to help crowd out the Omega sixes.

Dr. Pam: You would do like your grass fed beef and any type of wild game is going to have higher amounts of Omega three in them. Fish of course is going to have a high amount of Omega three fats in it. And then also consuming stuff like olive oil, which is actually more of that monounsaturated fats and has some omega nine, that's actually going to be beneficial as well. And I think the key is not to completely take out the Omega Sixes, but people have to understand in our culture, like if you go out to eat, for example, there's a very good chance that the food is being cooked in some sort of vegetable oil, which is going to be a high omega six. We have so much of it in our food supply already. That's why it's so easy to become dominant in it. So I think if you're just more aware of consuming foods that you make. I mean, I go out to eat too. Believe me. It's not that I never ever, but I try to just be careful and I try to be aware. And if you really want to know, if you have a problem, you can actually measure these ratios with a blood test. You can check your Omega three and Omega six ratio and see if it truly is off because it's not for everybody. And that's where I feel like the value of testing can come in because so many times I can't tell you once I started really emphasizing the importance of testing with people, in this type of medicine, anything can cause anything. And you could have eczema due to five different reasons and it's never going to be the same for every single person. So it's really trying to figure out what their root cause is.

Jen: Absolutely. And that's completely in line with what I have found as well. And so, it's funny you like read my mind, I'm sitting here going, this is amazing. This is amazing. But what could they do to test? And then you shared that. So is the blood test something that they could go and ask their family doctor for or is this a special lab that they would need to purchase on their own?

Dr. Pam: Most conventional doctors probably don't test for this in their practice. If you're using a functional medicine doctor or a naturopathic physician, then yes, they have access to these through some of the specialty labs. So you can get it, but it just depends on what kind of doctor you're seeing.

Jen: Okay. What type of ratio would you be looking for?

Dr. Pam: Some of that depends on the labs. So typically the lab will give you a breakdown of the different fatty acids in there and then they will give you their ratio and tell you if that's more dominant or not. So that's where you would look at the interpretation of the lab that you're using.

Jen: Perfect. I think that's really helpful because we know that there's so much that isn't being shared in the doctor's office. And part of my goal in having this podcast is to consolidate information that we all have, but we're really not seeing that cross-talk where everyone is benefiting from the, like your experience. This is incredible information and it's something that you don't often see shared. I'm very aware of the Omega six to Omega three balance, but not a lot of people talk about that. And interestingly too, bringing in this whole component of the more eastern perspective. Dr. Pam, I just want to thank you so much for sharing this and I hope that maybe we can have you back and talk a little bit more about some of the other issues and factors that you see that impact Eczema.

Dr. Pam: Yes. Well, thank you for having me. It's great to be on.

"When you have excess Omega-sixes from poultry, from nuts, from seeds, it actually can convert into arachidonic acid and it becomes pro-inflammatory." [8:47]

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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