Category Archives: Eczema & Rashes

Traditional Chinese Medicine: The “Cure” for Food Allergies?

If you haven’t heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine, you’re in for a treat! And if you have, you know that Henry is the author of “Food Allergies: Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Science, and the Search for a Cure”. Henry graciously offered to answer a few questions about this treatment option for eczema, food allergies, mast cells and even Eosinophilic Esophagitis!

Chinese herbs

Henry, what made you interested in writing a book about Dr. Xiu-Min Li’s research regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and her search for a cure for food allergies?

First of all, Nicole, thanks for giving me this opportunity to communicate with your readers. I hope they will find it informative.

The six most obnoxious words in the English language are “as I say in my book” so at the expense of stealing my own thunder…. I met Dr. Li when I went up to her office at Mount Sinai at the suggestion of my cousin and co-author of an earlier book, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a prominent pediatric allergist. We also had a new website,,  and he told me, “I have been practicing for over 30 years and this is the first thing that sounds new and hopeful to me.” So I met Dr. Li. When she showed me photographs of the dramatic changes her therapy had made on really bad atopic dermatitis, I knew something was up. I mean, these were bleeding, sores on the feet of a ten-year-old girl. Within a few months, the skin was clear and she was painting her nails. I have a daughter. That means something to me.

How is Oral Immunotherapy (OIT) different from TCM?

OIT, like all immunotherapy, works by essentially over-stimulating the part of the immune system that produces allergic antibodies—allergen-specific IgE—by feeding progressively larger doses of the allergen until it can’t keep up with demand, allowing the part that produces tolerogenic antibodies—IgG—to gain the upper hand. Instead of allergen-specific IgE occupying the receptors on mast cells and basophils, IgG starts to occupy them instead. Allergens that once triggered reactions by connecting with IgE on those cells are rendered harmless.

Traditional Chinese medicine as practiced by Dr. Li works on modulating the immune system. There are two kinds of helper cells involved, Th1, which helps fight infections, and Th2, which is associated with allergies. In a normal immune system, IgE is a tiny fraction of IgG. But for various reasons, Th2 and IgE gain a disproportionate share of immune response. Dr. Li’s therapies restore Th1 and Th2 to their natural equilibrium. Oh, and one thing I have to stress is that Dr. Li also treats digestion so that the gut has a better chance of breaking down allergenic proteins before they can be absorbed into the blood stream and find their way to different parts of the body.

Let me add that immunotherapy and TCM are not competitive or mutually exclusive. TCM patients are also receiving OIT, just as they are receiving shots and sub-lingual immunotherapy. There’s no single therapy that will help every patient in the long run.

How long has Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) been used by Dr. Li to treat patients for food allergies?

Her private, independent clinic got started to treat recalcitrant eczema while she did more conventional research in her “day job”. However, in the mid-1990s, food allergy mothers she met at a fundraiser for the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, where she was doing research, upon hearing of her success with eczema, told her their kids’ stories and she was so moved she set out trying to find ways to help, backed by Dr. Hugh Sampson, her boss. It was a very bold move. Dr. Li was trained in both western medicine and TCM. She looked to the classical TCM formulary for answers, and started to find them, starting with a treatment for intestinal parasites. It is important for your readers to understand that while Dr. Li is following all the NIH protocols for her investigational drugs, she is also allowed to use versions of these medicines as supplements in her clinic.

Is she working on having fewer pills to take/teas to drink as part of her protocol?

Yes, Nicole. One of the problems with these treatments is that because they are derived from plants, therapeutic doses require lots and lots for prolonged periods. Compliance is a challenge for all of us, whether we have diabetes, asthma, or even just take a low-dose aspirin (as I’m supposed to do—don’t tell my doctor). Dr. Li works with her own lab and scientists in China to refine the medicines and reduce the burden on patients. Her food allergy herbal formula-2 had a dosage of 10 pills, three times a day for a phase-2 trial. Lots of subjects had trouble. The next trial will use B-FAHF-2–refined with butanol, a form of alcohol—that will take the dose down to six or eight pills a day total. Much easier.

Have there been any patients on TCM long enough to say that their immune system has been remodeled, and they are no longer allergic to foods?

Yes there have, although most of her patients have complex co-morbidities—and it’s a work in progress for many of them. I suggest your readers also check out an article published last year in a Canadian journal about three cases of frequent severe food anaphylaxis to see how dramatic the changes can be.

In a video at last year’s Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, you and Dr. Li were interviewed for a podcast. Dr. Li mentioned using TCM for patients with Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). Has she had any success with patients with this condition?

In the new book that Dr. Li and I have co-written, there is case of this, also called mast cell activation syndrome. Just so you know, MCAD or MCAS for mast cell activation syndrome is disease in which mast cell degranulation is triggered by all kinds of things, from foods, to exercise, to heat…really lots of things. It didn’t even have a name till 2010 or a practice parameter till 2011. It can be IgE mediated or not. We have one whole chapter in our book devoted to one case of a girl of 14 who suffered for 5 years without a diagnosis even, and almost died. Dr. Anne Maitland, a colleague of Dr. Li’s, is gaining a reputation as an MCAS specialist, and the two of them are doing great work. The case we write about it the book will tug your heart strings.

What about children with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) – are they able to tolerate the herbs? Have any children been ‘cured’ of their EoE?

The short answers are “yes” and “yes”. In my first book I have a case of a boy who was successfully treated, and according to his mother now has the enviable position of being able to eat pizza every day with his friends. Before he couldn’t tolerate dairy.

Let me add a key point here—all Dr. Li’s treatments are highly individualized. You don’t go in and get the food allergy pill, or the asthma pill, or the EoE pill. You get a combination of things that help with the multiple organ systems that are involved. The herbs overlap, and so do their effects.

And one more critical point: Dr. Li is a full-time scientist and a part-time healer. The scope and ambition of her research is breathtaking. Her chemists and biologists love working for her. A month doesn’t go by when I don’t hear about something new emanating from her lab or suggested by researchers elsewhere who have been following her work.

Tell us about the new book you are writing – when should we expect it? What’s the topic?

Think The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2, where the sequel is as good as the original. This book updates the food allergy research from the last book but also goes into greater detail on ASHMI—anti-asthma herbal medical intervention, which I only wrote about briefly the last time. But it’s huge for people with this condition. It also goes into the atopic dermatitis treatment at length, Crohn’s Disease, MCAS, and some other things. I wrote the first one the way I did because I was learning the science on the fly, but this story is much bigger than any single allergic disease. Dr. Li is getting an award next year from the Future of Health Technology Institute, which is normally very high-tech and where the people obviously see this as very important for the way we understand and treat disease. The new book will be out some time in 2016. After writing two books in three years, don’t expect a third one any time soon, although I know if there is it will be better than Godfather Part 3.

(For more information about Dr. Li’s practice, see

For more information, please also see Henry’s book, Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent’s Guide and the Facebook page, Chinese Herbs for Allergies

Henry Ehrlich is the editor of and co-author of Asthma Allergies Children: a parent’s guide and half a dozen other books. He was a long-time professional speechwriter, with three grown children and one granddaughter.

Henry (3)

Henry at the 2014 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference speaking about Chinese Herbs for Allergies along with Dr. Li.


Eczema: The Itch that Rashes

Living with food allergies and eczema has become quite normal for our family. Our son, Morgan, is now almost 15 years old and has lived with food allergies his entire life; however his eczema is our ongoing battle.
From his first few months, Morgan had severe, weeping eczema across his body. It was everywhere – behind his knees, on his hands and feet, and even behind his earlobes. His skin was constantly infected, and I coated him with lotions and over the counter steroid creams to not much avail.

Morgan’s eczema was helped by using Eucerin® lotion in the paste form, and by sparingly using Elocon® lotion (a steroid) when he was an infant. The Eucerin® is almost the consistency of lard.  Wal-Mart sells a generic brand of this that costs about 1/2 the amount of Eucerin®, and we’ve found it to be equally as good.  We slathered it on him every night.  When he was a baby, we applied it every time we changed his diaper.  The Elocon® lotion is a steroid cream, so we tried to use it only when his eczema got very severe.

The eczema moved around his body as he grew older, but it has never entirely disappeared.  For a while, he had one finger that regularly sported an eczema spot if he ate any food with food dyes!

The use of heat in the winter time dries out his skin, as does swimming in chlorinated water in the summertime.  So, there isn’t a season where he gets a break.  If we forgot to use the Eucerin® paste, his eczema would crack and fissures would form.  He has been put on antibiotics, which ended up curing the fissures.  However, we tried to not allow the eczema to get this out of control.  The Elocon® lotion will sting if put on eczema with fissures.  He would cry in pain which hurt me almost as much as him – and made me more aware of staying ahead of his skin problems.

Morgan’s eczema gets worse when certain foods are added to his diet.  We notice that processed foods with yellow and red dyes made his skin much worse, so we removed these from his diet entirely when he was young.  This helped the eczema to disappear, yet it would amazingly reappear for no apparent reason. When he was a baby he was severely allergic to eggs; when this allergy disappeared, we started feeding him foods containing eggs, only to find that his eczema flared up.

We live in Colorado Springs, which has hot, dry air in the summer.  However, combining the heat with sun lotions is a recipe for disaster.  We use titanium dioxide sun lotions since they seem to be kinder to his skin.  Certain fabrics such as nylon bothered his skin when he was younger, creating eczema-like blotches.  Long ago, I began using laundry soap that is free of all dyes and perfumes.  None of this cures his eczema, but it helps it to not become worse.

Now that he’s a teenager, he’s responsible for taking care of his skin. As with most teenage boys, hygiene is a difficult daily practice! For a while, the prescription medication Singulair® cured his eczema completely. Now it doesn’t work at all. Since he started allergy shots his eczema seems to be worse, yet he is also in the middle of puberty. Our allergist had told us that some patients experience worsening eczema with allergy shots, yet his environmental and pet allergies are much better. It’s a difficult trade off!

When he has a bad eczema breakout, we have begun wet wrapping his skin with CeraVe® moisturizing cream and Fluocinonide steroid cream. (He also takes an antihistamine, such as Xyzal or Zyrtec once a day.) We apply the steroid first, then the moisturizing cream and then hot, wet gauze to wrap his skin sealing in the moisture. Adding socks or ace bandages over the top insures the gauze stays in place. Keeping the wet wraps in place overnight helps the worst eczema spots. Twice a day wet wrap treatments can do wonders for his skin!

There is a prescription drug called Elidel or Protopic that is for severe eczema sufferers.  Our allergist didn’t think that Morgan’s eczema was severe enough to warrant such a treatment.  However, if your child is really suffering – you might want to discuss this with your allergist. There have been FDA warnings regarding this drug that you might want to read here first.

We feel like detectives on most days, attempting to find the cause of the eczema. It might be food related, contact related (such as grass or clothing articles) or none of the above. We would love to find the magical cure to make his eczema disappear. In the meantime, we’ll keep searching for what works for today to ease the itch!