“Help me, Kellyann,” a new patient said to me the other day. “I hate my skin!” She told me she’d tried creams, lotions, drops, and even injections—and her face still looked dry, old, and blotchy.
Luckily, I knew how to give her back her glow and take at least a decade off her face. I told her, “Here’s the secret: It’s an inside job.”
You see, beautiful skin doesn’t start on the outside. It starts with a rock-solid gut.
How Does Your Gut Affect Your Skin?
To understand the gut-skin connection, you need to know a little about what’s going on in your GI tract. So here’s a crash course. You have about 25 feet of intestines—and thousands of different species of microbes live in them. That’s trillions of gut microbes, and you need to have just the right balance of them.
I know it’s strange to think about all of these alien beings living in your gut. But in reality, they’re busy earning their keep. They help your body digest food, clean up toxins, produce hormones, and synthesize vitamins. So if you’re healthy, thank your gut flora.
And here’s something else that’s crucial to your well-being: Peyer’s patches. These little areas of thick tissue in your intestines are fierce warriors, producing antibodies that fight off bad bacteria and other pathogens. If you’re healthy, you have at least 30 or 40 of these little patches, and each one is a critical part of your immune system
When your good bacteria are happily at work and your Peyer’s patches are fending off bad guys, you have a healthy gut. Now, let’s look at how a good gut goes bad… and why this leads to blotchy, wrinkly, spotty, acne-riddled skin. Here’s the sad scenario, step by step.
1. Your gut’s ecology becomes unbalanced.
Did you ever get a prescription for an antibiotic and find yourself running to the bathroom every few hours? That’s because in addition to slaying bad bacteria, antibiotics kill off trillions of good bacteria. Without those beneficial bacteria standing guard, bad bacteria and fungi that are resistant to an antibiotic can take over, inflaming your gut.
While antibiotics are big offenders when it comes to unbalancing gut microbes, there are other culprits as well: Stress. Lack of exercise. Antacids. And the biggest culprit of all is an unhealthy high-sugar, high-carb diet that serves up a non-stop banquet for the microbes you don’t want while starving the good guys.
2. Your gut biochemistry changes.
When your good gut microbes dwindle, they can’t keep your digestion up to speed. So you get fewer nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids, which feed your skin cells and keep them young.
Also, these sad little troops are too depleted to synthesize hormones and certain vitamins efficiently. So your skin may get dry or wrinkly, or dull and gray, as your levels of anti-aging hormones, B vitamins, and vitamin K drop.
3. Your Peyer’s patches come under attack.
When bad microbes take over your gut, they churn out toxins that inflame your Peyer’s patches. These patches grow weak, allowing toxins to stream in and causing “leaky gut.” As your gut barrier becomes more and more permeable, toxins that should stay safely tucked away in your intestines escape into your bloodstream.
In addition to putting you at risk for obesity, these toxins wreak havoc on your skin. They send your immune system into wild overdrive, causing rashes and dermatitis. They break down your skin’s natural defenses, leading to acne. And they create body-wide inflammation, turning your skin red, puffy, and spotty.
Here’s an interesting story showing how internal inflammation manifests itself in “sick” skin. Years ago, I was standing in a line in London waiting for President Bill Clinton to come out of a fish-and-chips place. As we all waited, I struck up a conversation with a physician behind me. Then the president came out, said hello, and shook our hands.
After he left, the doctor leaned over and said, “A shame, your president. The poor bloke.”
Puzzled, I asked, “What do you mean?”
The doctor replied, “He’s in big trouble.” He went on, “He’s got terrible signs of inflammation. He’s got a red, bulbous nose and red eyes. His skin is red. He looks a little puffy. I would bet he even has heart problems, because when you see inflammation outward, it’s inward.” Clinton had triple bypass surgery shortly after that.
So if you need added incentive to fight for clear, radiant skin, don’t just think about how attractive you want to be on the outside. Think about how healthy you want to be on the inside.
How to Heal Your Gut and Reclaim Your Beautiful Skin
Here’s the bottom line. If you look in the mirror and see blotchy, puffy skin, accelerating wrinkles, or raging acne, you can bet that your gut looks just as bad right now. Your bad microbes are on the attack, your good microbes are cowering, your Peyer’s patches are suffering, and your gut is leaking toxins into your blood.
But wait—don’t panic. You know I wouldn’t tell you all of this without handing you a solution. And the solution I’m offering won’t just give you beautiful skin—it’ll give you a beautiful body inside and out.
Here’s what you need to do.
- Banish sugar, flour, and other high-carb foods from your diet. These foods are bad for your microbiome,and your skin hates them. In fact, an article in a leading dermatology journal recently branded carbs as the “main culprit” in acne. So center your diet around low-carb proteins, veggies, and healthy fats, and kick donuts and sugared cereal to the curb.
- Drink bone broth every day. Bone broth mainlines collagen and other anti-aging nutrients to your skin.
- Repopulate your good flora. Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt, which recharge your gut with helpful bacteria. Take a high-quality probiotic supplement daily. And eat lots of veggies, which feed your existing bacteria the nutrients they need.
- Get more exercise. Last year, researchers in Ireland reported that exercise increases the diversity of bacteria in the gut. In particular, the exercisers they studied had higher levels of a bacterium called Akkermansiaceae, which lowers inflammation.
- De-stress. Stress kills off good gut bacteria and causes potentially harmful ones to proliferate. To fight stress, practice meditation every day.
- Take antibiotics only if you need them. These drugs won’t do you any good if you have a virus—and the damage they do to your gut flora is long-lasting. If you do need to take them, load up on prebiotics and probiotics afterward, and hit the kimchi and sauerkraut hard.
When you put all of these pieces in place, you’re going to see big changes in your skin. It may take a little time—after all, we’re talking about changing an entire ecosystem here!—but you’ll end up glowing with health, both inside and out.
Keep thinking big and living bold!