Your gut! It’s such an important factor when it comes to your health. Which is why I’m always talking about it.
A sick gut doesn’t just cause digestive upset. It’s also associated with many other health concerns, such as emotional distress, obesity, frequent illnesses, metabolic dysfunction, and the topic of this article–inflammatory skin conditions.
The connection between the gut and brain, commonly referred to as the “gut-brain axis,” has been heavily researched and documented. It started in 1930 when two researchers, Pillsbury and Stokes, discovered that depression was linked to a change in the bacterial composition in the gut. And this alteration was further linked skin inflammation.
So the connection between the gut and skin isn’t entirely new. Plus, it’s well known that food allergies can cause skin rashes and hives. And eating foods such as dairy and processed carbs and sugar have been linked to acne.
Nevertheless, the concept of a “skin-gut axis” and related research is emerging to help us better understand the connection.
Similarities Between Your Gut & Skin
There are several similarities between your gut and skin.
- Both play a significant role in keeping pathogens and toxins from entering your body.
- Both are rich with blood vessels and nerves.
- Both communicate with your immune, nervous, and endocrine (hormone) systems.
- Both have (or should have) a diverse microbiome. And both microbiomes must work in harmony with their host (you) for optimal health and beautiful skin.
Your Gut Microbiome
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria. In fact, your body is made up of more bacterial cells than human cells. Isn’t that crazy?! And a healthy gut microbiome is made up of hundreds or even thousands of different bacterial species.
Research is continuing to discover new roles that your gut microbiome plays. Some key roles that are well understood include digestion and nutrient absorption, vitamin synthesis, bowel regularity, and the development and workings of your immune system.
When it comes to your immune system, a healthy gut microbiome keeps “bad” bacteria at bay. In your gut as well as on your skin. It also stimulates your immune system and the production of anti-inflammatory molecules. And all of these events help fight against skin inflammation associated with conditions, such as atopic dermatitis (red, itchy skin), acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema.
A thriving gut flora also produces metabolites, byproducts, and neurotransmitters that can have anti-inflammatory effects, such as linoleic acid, short chain fatty acids, GABA, and serotonin. However, whether or not these products are synthesized relies heavily on the health of your gut flora as well as the foods you eat. For instance, are you giving your body the foods your gut bacteria need to produce these beneficial compounds?
On the other hand, research suggests inflammatory skin diseases are linked to dysbiosis–when your microbiome in your gut (or on your skin) is out of whack. For example, maybe you have too many of one species and not enough of another. Maybe your microbiome lacks diversity. Or maybe the bacteria that normally resides in your large intestine has migrated to your small intestine.
So what does this all mean? It means that healing your gut as well as protecting and nourishing your inner ecosystem are essential when it comes to healthy skin. But before we discuss how to accomplish this, let’s explore the causes of dysbiosis.
Causes of Dysbiosis
Research has discovered numerous factors that contribute to dysbiosis. And many of them are related to our modern lifestyle.
However, it’s also important to recognize the contribution of existing health conditions. For instance, many diseases are associated with dysbiosis. Especially gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease. In some cases the disease causes dysbiosis and in others dysbiosis can lead to disease. And sometimes it’s a vicious cycle. Nevertheless, most diseases are triggered by our modern lifestyle.
Three key factors associated with dysbiosis include:
Antibiotics are most detrimental to your gut flora. While the type of antibiotic used, the length of use, and the dose are all important factors to consider, in general, the use of antibiotics has been shown to decrease concentrations and/or the diversity of beneficial bacteria. And when this happens, pathogenic bacteria, such as C. difficile and candida (a.k.a. yeast) are given the opportunity to flourish.
Physiological stress has been shown to create conditions within the gut that make it more difficult for beneficial bacteria to thrive and more hospitable for pathogenic bacteria.
Short bursts of stress are normal and expected. And the bacterial composition of your microbiome is relatively resilient. However, in today’s society, most people are under chronic stress, which can result in a more permanent and harmful cases of dysbiosis.
The Western Diet is famous for incorporating high amounts of factory farmed animal foods, refined “vegetable” oils, and processed carbs and sugars. This combination is not conducive to a healthy gut and has been shown to reduce the gut’s total bacterial load. But the research on how different types of fats, proteins, and sugars affect the microbiome is mixed.
However, we do know that the foods associated with the Western diet are common gut irritants, which can ultimately lead to food sensitivities, food intolerances, food allergies, and systemic inflammation. And these conditions can all lead to skin problems.
What’s more clear is the fact that the Western Diet lacks fiber from a variety of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. And since fiber (a.k.a. prebiotics) acts as a source of food for the beneficial microbes in your large intestine, diets low in fiber have been shown to negatively affect the gut microbiome.
Fruits and vegetables are also high in phytonutrients known as polyphenols. These compounds are mostly discussed for their antioxidant properties, but they’re also antibacterial. However, when consumed, studies suggest they help boost beneficial bacteria populations while reducing the concentrations of potentially pathogenic bacteria.
Plus, fiber is necessary to keep your bowels regular. And good gut motility is essential to a healthy microbiome.
It’s also interesting to note that research suggests artificial sweeteners may be more harmful to your gut microbiome than real sugar. In fact, they are believed to promote glucose intolerance due to changes in the intestinal flora.
Nourishing Your Microbiome for Beautiful Skin
- Create a healthy gut environment for your microbiome to flourish. Two of my favorite foods for healing and maintaining optimal gut health are bone broth and hydrolyzed collagen powder. I recommend adding them to your daily diet. However, you should also avoid processed junk and any others foods that cause you distress.
- Feed your microbiome with fiber. This means eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which will also provide a good dose of polyphenols and help keep things moving along. Some of my favorite sources of prebiotics are onions, jicama, garlic, asparagus, avocados, dandelion greens, and potatoes with the skin.
- Reduce your load and better manage your stress. You can remove certain stressors by learning to say “no” to some commitments. And practicing stress-relieving activities daily is also a must. Even if it’s just 5 minutes of deep breathing a few times throughout the day. Every bit counts!
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. For healthy skin as well as a handful of other health reasons.
- Eat probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Probiotics are essentially beneficial bacteria that can exert positive effects on your gut as well as your skin as they are passing through. They can also attach and colonize to increase your beneficial bacterial load and diversity as well as crowd out harmful bacteria.
- Make sleep a priority. Because lack of sleep is stressful on the body and mind. Sleep is also when the body, including your gut, undergoes repair and rejuvenation. Plus, when you’re tired, you’re less likely to eat healthy.
While high quality, natural skincare is an essential component to healthy skin, it’s not the only factor. There is a definite link between the health of your gut, especially your microbiome, and the health of your skin. So if you’re struggling with pesky skin-related issues that aren’t responding to topical solutions, looking inward is always a good idea. And healing your gut is the first step!
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