How gut health and skin interact has become a popular topic for discussion recently, with more and more research being completed every year.
In this blog post, I’m going to share with you why gut health and skin are so intrinsically linked, as well as what you can do to easily improve the quality of your gut microbiome – and in turn, improve your skin.
What Is Your Gut Microbiome & Why Is It So Important?
The gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses and fungi, and their collective genetic material that are present in your gastrointestinal tract.
To put it more simply, it’s all the living organisms that exist in your intestines and makes up the “inside” of your gut.
Although there’s still so much we don’t know about gut health, what we do know is that a healthy microbiome is critical to overall health. Your gut plays a very important part of your immune system and your mental health. Your microbiome can have a serious impact on your health, both positively and negatively depending of the balance of good or bad bacteria.
Researchers have found links between gut health and many health conditions including serious diseases such as cancers, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, depression and bi-polar.
So if you suffer from acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis or any other skin condition, you’re probably wondering what gut health and skin have to do with one another?
Well, it seems gut health can influence everything – from your mental health down to your hair, skin and nails. Unfortunately in today’s western culture, many people have an imbalanced or unhealthy gut microbiome due to the standard western diet.
Symptoms Of An Unhealthy Microbiome
How do you know if you have an issue with your gut flora? Well, you might be experiencing some of the following symptoms.
- Digestive issues like bloating, burping, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach cramps
- Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities
- Skin issues like acne, eczema, rosacea, dermatitis, psoriasis, glycation, dry skin and premature ageing
- Anxiety, depression and mood changes
- Sugar cravings
- Poor concentration, forgetfulness and brain fog
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Weight gain
- Autoimmune diseases
- Thyroid disease
- Disturbed sleep
What’s The Relationship Between Gut Health And Skin?
So how does your gut health and skin interact?
When it comes to skin health, more and more studies are linking good skin to a healthy gut.
The more research scientists do into gut health and skin, the more we’re seeing that where there is gut inflammation, there will be skin inflammation.
In fact, research shows that people with acne and rosacea are ten times more likely to have gut issues and 34% of people with IBS have skin problems too.
Think of your skin as an external manifestation of what’s going on inside your body – if your skin is unhealthy, then it’s likely you’ll have some problems inside your gut too. The saying “we are what we eat” has never been more true.
But why does it happen? Well, we don’t really know yet – but one idea is the “leaky gut” theory.
Your gut is supposed to be permeable, so it can let the nutrients from your food through into your bloodstream, ready to be transported to wherever it needs to go in the body.
But we don’t want just anything getting through.
What is a”Leaky Gut”?
The gut lining acts as a barrier so that only the right nutrients get absorbed into your body. While food particles, waste, toxins and other the unwanted substance remain safely in the digestive tract ready to be excreted.
Anything that irritates the lining of your gut can cause it to become inflamed, and when the gut gets inflamed several things happen:
1 – The barrier weakens and starts to let molecules through the gut lining, that are not supposed to enter the bloodstream. Such as incompletely digested fats, proteins and carbohydrates, toxins or bacteria. The body then recognises that it’s been compromised and mounts an immune response. This response triggers an inflammatory cascade!
2 – Inflammation can impair the integrity of your skin which, in turn, can result in the skin producing less of its naturally occurring anti-bacterial proteins (antimicrobial peptides).
These antimicrobial peptides are your skin’s first line of defence.
So this inflammation reduces the production of your antimicrobial peptides, which increases the risk of skin infections such as acne. The skin infection can then lead to another increase in inflammation… and we’re back to the beginning of the cycle – it really is a vicious circle!
The Skin Microbiome
Your skin also has its own microbiome on the surface and this is directly linked with the microbiome in your gut. Although not yet fully understood, your gut flora plays a role in the homeostasis of your skin and any imbalances in your gut health can affect your skin, leading to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.
What Can You Do To Improve Gut Health And Skin Problems?
A healthy gut microbiome is one that has a wide range of microorganisms, all in good balance to each other. So what can you do to get your gut in shape and promote a healthier variety of bacteria?
Reduce Sugar In Your Diet
Like other microorganisms, the bacteria in your gut needs to be fed. Different bacteria thrive on different things.
Whilst there is a lot we don’t know about the gut, what we do know is bad bacteria thrives on sugar! A diet high in sugar can cause overpopulation of bad gut bacteria. As the bad bacteria take over, they kill off some of the good bacteria creating a big imbalance. In fact, in the presence of sugar, the number of bad bacteria can double, every 20 minutes!
Sugar also causes inflammation in the whole body and is one of the key dietary triggers of skin problems.
For good gut and skin health limit your sugar intake. If you’ve got signs of a gut imbalance it might be a good idea to cut out refined sugars altogether for a period of time, while you feed the healthy bacteria and allow your gut to rebalance.
Eat A Varied Whole Food Diet
Variety is key when it comes to a healthy gut. Studies have shown that the more varied our diet, the more varied our gut microbiome will be too.
In western culture, even the health-conscious in society still tend to eat quite a limited variety of foods – perhaps cooking and combining them in different ways – but not really including lots of different ingredients. For example, a traditionally British recipe might contain 8-15 ingredients compared to an Indian recipe that could contain up to 35!
Herbs, spices and micro-ingredients count when it comes to variety for gut health. So try adding some little extras to your recipes to increase your exposure to more ingredients and give your gut a boost.
The variety of food types consumed seems to matter too. In the book “Clever Guts Diet” by Dr Michael Mosely, research showed that the healthiest guts were the ones with a varied, natural, whole food diet. This includes consuming meat, fish, lots of different vegetables and salads, nuts, seeds, occasional fruits and tubers. As well as healthy fats and oils like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and animal fats.
Probiotics & Fermented Foods
If your gut health and skin are showing signs of an imbalance, then adding in probiotics foods or supplements might be a good idea to boost your good bacteria count and rebalance the gut.
Probiotics are live organisms or “good” bacteria that are created during the fermentation process. Natural foods that contain probiotics include yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup and tempeh, are full of good bacteria. You can also buy probiotics as a supplement in powder or capsules.
The benefits of probiotics
Because probiotics promote a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, they have been linked to a huge number of health benefits. Over the next few years, as more and more is understood about the importance of a healthy microbiome, the link between overall health and your gut will increase.
Here are just some ways probiotics can support your health
- Balancing good and bad gut flora
- Reducing symptoms of digestive disorders
- Improving your skin health
- Easing and relieving constipation and diarrhoea
- Supporting your immune system
- Supporting your mental illness
- Easing symptoms of IBS and IBD
- Aiding nutrient absorption for foods
- Supporting weight loss
A word of warning when buying probiotics supplements, I’m not talking about the cleverly marketed “probiotic yoghurt drinks” like Yakult and Biomel that are full of sugar! I mean carefully formulated high-strength probiotics.
When it comes to probiotics, quality and variety is everything. You need to look for a probiotic that offers a high bacteria count and variety of different cultures.
For severe gut imbalances, I recommend using a months course of VSL 3. This is a super high strength probiotic offering 450 billion bacteria in each sachet. For mild conditions or to maintain a healthy gut, I like Probiotic 10/50 by Vitalzym.
Drink Bone Broth
Drinking bone broth promotes a wealth of health-boosting and antiageing properties but one of its biggest benefits is helping to heal a leaky gut. Bone broth is full of nutrients, it is anti-inflammatory and aids digestion. But the biggest benefit is that it contains high amounts of collagen, gelatine and the amino acid glutamine, that can help to seal a leaky gut.
Only Take Antibiotics When Truly Essential
Antibiotics are probably the biggest enemy of your gut health and skin health. Just a single antibiotic prescription can eliminate up to 99% of your gut bacteria!
Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics are still the greatest medical discovery in history, but as a society, we have become over-reliant on them. Often taking them at the first sign of infection instead of giving our body a chance to fight for itself.
Now, I would never recommend going against your doctor’s advice: antibiotics can and do save lives. But they do have a downside too, so it’s always best to ask your Doctor if the antibiotics are essential or if it’s safe to delay and try something else first.
Overuse of antibiotics is not just a problem for your gut, but it’s a problem for society too. You see, bacteria are smart. The more we use antibiotics the more the bacteria learn to fight them and the more antibiotic-resistant strains (like MRSA) we’re starting to see.
If you do have to use antibiotics then there are some things you can do to protect and repair your gut health during and after treatment. I would recommend taking a strong probiotic during your course of antibiotics. This will help to keep your gut populated with some good bacteria, but the real impact that can be had is after the antibiotics are finished. This is when it is vital to rebuild and repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria.
Taking a strong probiotic for 2-3 months following a course of antibiotics – whilst avoiding sugar and refined foods, and consciously eating a very varied diet – can help repopulate your gut with a nice variety of balanced, good bacteria. Improving your gut health and skin condition too.
Want To Learn More?
As you can see, your gut health is super important for your skin and your overall health.
If it’s something you’d like to learn more about (including how your gut health can seriously impact your ability to lose weight!) then I recommend reading the book I mentioned above – The Clever Guts Diet by Dr Michael Mosely and also The Diet Myth by Professor Tim Spector. You can find them both on Amazon here…