Our understanding of gut health, and how it impacts other systems in our body, has blown up in recent years.
RELATED: What is SIBO?
Essentially we are learning to “biohack” our body. Re-writing our genetic story, so that our children are not burdened with an inheritance of cancer, or cardiovascular disease.
Making changes to our own genetic structure, so that we can protect ourselves from Alzheimer, or cure anything from infertility to Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
But what about our skin? The part of us that gets the most wear and tear. The part of our body on display far more than any other.
What is the relationship between skin and gut health?
Let’s explore how influencing our gut health can potentially impact a range of skin conditions from acne, to wrinkles, to eczema.
What do we mean by ‘gut health’?
For centuries humans have been debating what the optimal diet is. Since the dawn of choice, we have been arguing which is the best one.
Now we realise, our gut may have been trying to tell us itself, all this time.
Our gut is home to colonies of bacteria and other micro-organisms. We call these communities – our Microbiome, and it is massively influential in the health of our entire body.
Healthy bacteria love to eat the leftovers of food we cannot quite digest entirely. They then turn that food into products our body can use. Such as energy for cells, or chemicals which talk to genes and proteins in our body getting them to turn on or off to keep our system functioning well.
This means they can protect our cells from aging and becoming diseased, keep out immune system functioning well, as well as prevent some cancers, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and boost mental health.
Why is our skin so important?
Our skin is the first defense we have against invaders. Any virus, bacteria, fungi, or chemical has to first get past the skin. It is our shield between us, and our environment.
When our skin is not healthy and strong, these environmental invaders can find their way into our body, causing inflammation and a whole host of skin (and other related) conditions.
How are the skin and gut connected?
The gut is host to a wide range of helpful, and harmful, bacteria – as mentioned before. These bacteria influence the health of our body. From leading to a cascade of factors which potentially cause disease, through to protecting us from illness, then little gut bugs have a massive impact on our wellbeing, in particular our immune system.
When we have too many harmful or unhealthy gut bacteria, this is called dysbiosis. This imbalance of bacteria can cause damage to our cells, and trigger our immune system into a state of continual threat.
So there are two factors which influence the skin here. First, the negative impact on cells, of which your skin is made up of. If your skin cells are not getting all the nutrients they need, from the waste products of the healthy bacteria, they will start to become weak.
If you skin cells are weak, they might let in harmful toxins from the environment, sparking your immune system, causing inflammation around your skin, and in your body.
Second, if your immune system is already inflamed from the bacteria in your gut, it can impact on any body system. Your skin, being your largest organ, is particularly susceptible to inflammation.
But it is not just a one way street
A negative two-way (or bi-directional pathway) can be set up with your gut-skin axis.
We tend to overuse antibacterial and cleaning products in our lives. From washing our clothes, to our hair, to our skin and face. We are surrounded by deodorants, soaps, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, and laundry detergents which can all have antibacterial properties.
So not only is our gut impacting our skin health, but what we are absorbing through our skin, is changing our gut health.
What skin conditions have been linked to dysbiosis?
Interestingly acne is made worse by eating certain foods, it is also more common in western cultures where highly processed carbohydrate diets are the norm.
These foods high in processed sugars and fats, can turn on an inflammatory response in the skin due to the increase in insulin-like growth factor.
Dermatitis is a raised bumpy, sometimes blistery, rash. It shows up with conditions such as Coeliac’s disease where the immune system responds to the consumption of gluten. The antibodies released by the immune system bind to proteins on the skin, causing this irritation.
Rosacea is a condition where a red, inflamed, and pimply rash shows up over the skin of the face. It is a long-term condition. Studies have linked Rosacea flare ups to an increase in small intestine bacterial overgrowth. These can be usually health bacteria, which have found themselves in the wrong part of your digestive tract, leading to super uncomfortable symptoms, including Rosacea.
An itchy, raised, blistery form of dermatitis. It is commonly seen in children reacting to food intolerances, which could also be linked to dysbiosis of the gut.
So what are some tips on keeping the gut-skin axis in tip top shape?
Well anything which affects your gut microbiome will potentially play a role in your skin health.
Diet: Eating a diet high in plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, and low in animal based foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy. As well as having a good source of healthy fats, such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado.
Sleep: In short, get adequate sleep (but yes, there is such a thing as too much sleep too!) Disrupted sleep impacts food cravings, skin, blood sugar levels, cell repair, as well as our microbiome. Remember our gut bacteria need to rest too!
Limit Stress: Research shows us that stress plays an important role in skin wound healing. We know that the gut and brain are linked via the vagus nerve, and that just like the gut-skin axis, they both influence each other. This means that when we have stress responses, we send signals to our gut, which impact our bacterial community. This can be seen through increase inflammation and an unhelpful immune response. Reducing stress cuts this pathway down at its knees.
Reduce environmental toxins: These include antibacterial washes, air pollution, detergents, amongst other things. There is research to show that these chemicals pass through our skin barrier, particularly when it is already compromised, and cause dysbiosis of the gut. This dysbiosis triggers the immune system, and an inflammatory response, which further impairs the skin.
As with anything, the best way to make changes is to start small, and instead of trying to eliminate what you don’t want – try to think of it as adding what you do want.
Replace cleaning products, skin care products, and foods for options which are more skin and gut friendly.