How can gut health affect your skin and why?

21 Feb 2019
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer
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In the past two decades, numerous studies have shown links between your gut health, your immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer. As your largest organ, your skin needs as much TLC as any other body part.

More than 80 per cent of the body’s immunity is in the gastrointestinal tract, and we all have hundreds of naturally occurring microorganisms in our gut. Some of these are harmless “good bacteria” that help with digestion, while others are not so harmless “bad bacteria”, which may contribute to causing diseases. The gut is also where we make nutrients, metabolise hormones, detoxify enzymes, neutralize pathogens, and make neurotransmitters.

Can conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema be a result/worsened/improved by bad/good gut health?

If you have an unhealthy gut, it can significantly impact your overall health and your skin care, including breakouts of spots, dry skin, psoriasis, inflammation, atopic dermatitis (eczema) and rosacea. The gut microbiome is the bacteria in your intestines that influences your overall health, especially your skin.

Skin disorders like eczema may be related to a damaged gut. If the gut flora is compromised for some time, it is possible to develop “leaky gut” syndrome. The intestines become permeable, allowing partially digested food to escape into the bloodstream. This leads to inflammation, which manifests on the skin. Inflammation is common if you have a bad gut and usually presents symptoms including bloating/cramping, diarrhoea and sometimes blood in the stools.

The digestive tract and skin have a relationship known as the gut-skin axis. Symptoms of gut health issues can vary, and the skin can be used to measure what’s going on inside the gut. Your diet is the most important factor in getting a clear complexion because the gut microbiome, the bacteria living in your digestive system and intestines, influences your overall health, ultimately improving your complexion and giving you healthy skin.

How can we improve our gut health? Some ideas (it would be great to get comments on the below):

  • Every person is different, but diet plays a huge role. It would help if you tried to have a balanced diet including lots of plant-based foods, food which is rich in fibre because fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains feed healthy bacteria
  • Highly processed foods should be avoided as they often contain ingredients that either suppress good bacteria or increase bad bacteria
  • Being exposed to harmful environments can have an impact on your gut health
  • Extra-virgin olive oil contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols
  • Artichokes, lettuce, chicory, leeks, shallots, onions and garlic are all helpful to gut bacteria
  • Exercise promotes the movement of the gut
  • Try not to get too stressed or anxious. If you suffer from anxiety and/or depression, this can impact your gut health and make problems worse

By consuming fibre daily, your gut microbes ferment the fibre as they feed on it. This creates anti-inflammatory compounds called short-chain fatty acids that are essential for skin, metabolic, brain, and immune health.

Probiotics supplements – can this work/how?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Everyone’s body is full of bacteria, both good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are often called good or helpful because they help you keep a healthy gut.

Probiotics have been proven to have health benefits. These include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus, Akkermansia and their associated species and strains.

Adding a prebiotic supplement to your diet may be a great way to improve your gut health too. Prebiotics provide food to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic fibre modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Antibiotics – important to take probiotics when taking them? Why in terms of health/skin health?

The gut microbiome contains bacteria, yeast and other microbiota in a state of balance with each other. An unhealthy gut, or dysbiosis, occurs when these microorganisms are out of balance, e.g. after taking antibiotics. Your microbial gut bacteria levels might be lower than your gut yeast and other microorganisms. An unhealthy gut can manifest in many ways, such as tiredness and disturbed sleep. An unhealthy gut is visible through the appearance of your skin. Eczema, acne, inflammation, and oily skin are all signs of an unhealthy gut.

Eating/drinking fermented food/drinks?

What you put into your body regarding food and nutrients can have a huge impact on your gut. What you eat isn’t just nutrition for you. It also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut.

Reducing the amount of processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods can contribute to better gut health. Additionally, eating plenty of plant-based foods and lean protein can positively impact your gut. A diet high in fibre has been shown to contribute tremendously to a healthy gut microbiome.

Good bacteria in fermented products have been linked to improving digestion, boosting immunity and promoting a healthy weight. Fermented foods include yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and kefir. These are rich in probiotics, and the bacteria grow during the fermentation process.

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