My cure for eczema was cutting out the deadly nightshade, says MasterChef judge John Torode
'I've had eczema all my life. I was taken off milk as a baby because of it,' he says. 'I used to get it from my wrists to my shoulders. I never had it on my face but I used to get it in my hair and from the top of my thighs all the way down the back of my legs.'
John says: 'I cut out all the deadly nightshade family - potatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers - I took out ginger, garlic and stopped drinking caffeine and ate a lot more green vegetables and herbs.'
Incredibly, the eczema eased after a month and, even more incredibly, has never returned, even though he no longer follows a restricted diet or needs regular acupuncture sessions. He believes that this is because of the way the treatment helped him not just physically but emotionally, as well.
'As well as curing my eczema the acupuncture therapist talked to me about other things that were going on,' explains John. 'I changed the way I thought about things.
'I actually said to myself, right, what is important and what is not important? Relationships and friendships and family are really important, if not the most important, thing. So it's different now. I'm different now.'
John lives in Streatham, South London, with his second wife Jessica, whom he married in 2000, and their two children, Jonah, four, and two-year-old Lulu.
He no longer works in the kitchen but still runs the London restaurant Smiths of Smithfield, which he opened in 2000, as well as presenting MasterChef.
One in five children suffers from this disease - with 80 per cent of cases occurring before the age of five, according to the National Eczema Society.
The good news is that in about 65 per cent of childhood cases, the condition clears up by Eczema, which affects 12 to 15 per cent of all school-age children and 10 per cent of adults, causes the skin to become dry, itchy and flaky.
It is often red and painful, and sometimes weeps or bleeds. It is most common in the creases of the elbows and wrists, and behind the knees. It also affects the face, in particular the cheeks.
There are two main types of eczema: atopic and contact. Contact eczema is caused by substances that irritate the skin, such as detergents, soaps and perfumes, and can be avoided by keeping clear of those irritants.
Atopic eczema is thought to be caused by mutations to a gene that helps form the skin's outer protective layer.
Many sufferers find certain triggers make this kind of eczema worse, such as emotional or physical stress, illness, certain foods and even winter weather can cause severe breakouts of eczema by drying out the skin and causing it to become chapped.
The cure for John's eczema also had another, unexpected benefit. Since childhood, John has also suffered from asthma.
Around half of all eczema patients go on to develop asthma, accounting for about a quarter of the 5.2million asthma sufferers in the UK. The number of sufferers has increased by 50 per cent in the past 30 years. Experts believe the same gene mutation causes both conditions.
'I realised that asthma stops you psychologically from doing things,' says John.
'I was told I shouldn't run but then, once the eczema cleared up, I thought, "I'm going to teach myself to run."
'I went online to Nike - they have a training plan of zero to five kilometres in six weeks. The following year I ran the London marathon.
'Now I don't need to use my inhaler so much. I love swimming and I cycle the seven miles from the house to the restaurant four days a week.'
Why John's recipe for soothing his skin may work
The nightshade - or Solanceae - family of plants includes the potato, capsicum (paprika, chilli pepper), tobacco, tomato, aubergine and the petunia, grouped because of their similarly shaped flowers.
'Some patients' eczema is linked to an allergy to the trace minerals, namely nickel, naturally found in the edible parts of these plants,' says Dr Riadh Wakeel, consultant dermatologist at the Whittington Hospital, North London.
Allergies are caused by the immune system over-reacting to a substance that would normally be considered harmless - an allergen. Exposure to a potential allergen can provoke an abnormal allergic response. This may occur after first contact or often after repeated exposure.
However, once the immune system has responded in this way, it remembers the reaction and triggers it again.
Common eczema allergens include dust mite droppings, pollen, moulds, eggs, shellfish and peanuts.
'We don't know what causes eczema,' says Dr Wakeel. 'But we know it can be exacerbated by allergies to food.
'The allergy is usually acquired when the patient touches the food and becomes sensitised. Again, we don't know why this happens. Subsequently, if the food is eaten it can cause an allergic reaction, which makes the eczema flare up.
'By avoiding the foods, symptoms can be relieved and the eczema treated with other medication, such as topical steroids.
'Some patients like John find they can go back to eating normally, while others have to permanently exclude these foods.
'I would not recommend this to every patient but if they feel their eczema is aggravated by something they eat, then they could try cutting it out of their diet for four weeks to see if things improve.'
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