“Beauty is skin deep" is a nice statement, but when it comes to getting glowing, supple skin, beauty actually goes much deeper — and a lot of it comes down to what you eat! Specifically, having a healthy gut microbiome could be your ticket to beautiful, healthy skin. The way your gut reacts to your eating habits can impact the body's inflammatory response, which may trigger a host of skin diseases. Here's what you should know about keeping your gut in great shape.
What is a Healthy Gut?
The gut and microbiome support the healthy functioning of the rest of our body – facilitating absorption of nutrients from food, regulating our immune system, processing and excreting toxins and signalling to the rest of the body to maintain homeostasis.
The microbiome (that is, the 100 trillion organisms living on our skin and in our gut) comprises many species of microorganisms – mainly bacteria with some 'good' and some 'bad'. In an ideal world, our microbiome lives together in harmony and balance to support our overall health and wellbeing.
What is the relationship between the Gut and the Skin?
The intimate relationship between your skin – your body’s largest organ – and the microbes that live in your gut is referred to as the ‘skin-gut axis’. Both are important organs for keeping the body in a stable state and protecting against the invasion of infectious organisms.
What you’re putting into your body in terms of food and nutrients can have a huge impact on your gut and if you suffer with anxiety and/or depression, this again can have an impact on gut health and exasperate problems.
What you eat isn’t just nutrition for you, it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut.
Lifestyle factors such as a poor diet, lack of sleep, chronic stress, drugs, alcohol and certain medications can disrupt the delicate balance of the microbiome.
An imbalance in the microbiome - or 'dysbiosis' - and poor gut health can lead to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, suboptimal nutrient absorption and poor waste excretion.
These can have wide ranging effects throughout the body, including on our skin - and an unhappy gut on the inside often reveals itself as unhappy skin on the outside.
1. Psychological Stress/Anxiety
Being healthy isn’t only about diet, physical activity and adequate sleep. High stress levels can also have harmful effects on the body. In the gut, stress can increase sensitivity, reduce blood flow and alter the gut bacteria.
2. Medication/ Drug Use
Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat infections and diseases caused by bacteria, such as urinary tract infections and strep throat. They work by either killing bacteria or preventing them from multiplying. However, one of their drawbacks is that they affect both good and bad bacteria. In fact, even a single antibiotic treatment can lead to harmful changes in the composition and diversity of the gut flora.
3. Tobacco Use and Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is addictive, highly toxic and can have harmful physical and mental effects when consumed in large amounts. In terms of gut health, chronic alcohol consumption can cause serious problems, including dysbiosis. Cigarette smoking is also one of the most important environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel disease, a disease characterized by ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract.
4. Physical Activity
Physical activity can help gut health by:
1. Increasing diversity in the microbiome
2. Improving bacteria ratio
3. Increasing microbial diversity in the stool
5. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep is so important that your body has its own time-keeping clock, known as your circadian rhythm . It’s a 24-hour internal clock that affects your brain, body and hormones. It can keep you alert and awake, but it can also tell your body when it’s time to sleep. It appears that the gut also follows a daily circadian-like rhythm. Disrupting your body clock through a lack of sleep, shift work and eating late at night may have harmful effects on your gut bacteria. To know more about how sleep affects your skin, click here.
What are the Common Skin Conditions Linked To Gut Health ?
Did you know that people with rosacea and acne are at least ten times more likely to have gut issues? And that 34% of people with IBS show skin manifestations? Gut inflammation is also linked to premature ageing of the skin, also known as inflammaging.
While there are a myriad of skin conditions linked to gut health issues, here are a few of the most common.
Acne can be an incredibly complex skin condition to treat, as its underlying causes can be either hormonal, digestive—or both.
Hormonal acne may be the result of fluctuations in hormone levels or sensitivity to a certain hormone, such as testosterone. In fact, excess testosterone is a common contributor to acne, as it stimulates the sebaceous glands in the skin, resulting in excess oil production and clogged pores. Our stress hormone, cortisol, can also wreak havoc on our complexion by triggering inflammation in our gut, which then manifests on the skin.
Digestive acne is closely implicated with gut disorders such as leaky gut and SIBO. SIBO is ten times as prevalent in people with acne, and leaky gut syndrome may also contribute to local skin inflammation, which is seen in people with acne.
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As one of the most complex skin conditions to diagnose and understand, eczema—or atopic dermatitis—can be triggered by seemingly anything. However, for many, food allergies and intolerances, as well as leaky gut, play a major part. To help keep symptoms at bay, it’s essential to avoid trigger substances—which may include gluten, dairy, corn or soy—and foster a diverse and balanced microbiome, as microbial diversity is linked to a more robust immune system and reduced skin inflammation.
Similar to acne, those with SIBO are 13 times more likely to have rosacea—the redness or flushing that most commonly affects the cheeks and nose. Microbial diversity again plays a role in keeping symptoms at bay, so nurture your gut by enjoying a wide range of fibrous plant-foods and steer clear of potential triggers, like caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods, which are known to exacerbate rosacea.
Like eczema, this dry, flaky skin condition is thought to share a link with a leaky gut. When endotoxins and other compounds leak through the gut wall, the body stages an attack, which causes an inflammatory response in the body, and subsequently, leads to skin manifestations. Stress and emotional upset can exacerbate psoriasis, so be sure to incorporate meditation, breathwork and similar strategies into your everyday life to keep symptoms under control.
5. Keratosis Pilaris (KP)
Keratosis Pilaris typically appears on the back of the arms and thighs. The cause is also mysterious, but research suggests that our gut health may be a contributing factor, with KP linked to malabsorption issues and/or nutrient deficiencies.
6. Ageing Skin
As we age, Collagen—the protein in our skin that keeps it looking firm and plump—naturally declines. But what we may not realise is that our gut changes too, as our ability to produce anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids also declines. These age-related modulations in our microbiome can trigger low-grade chronic inflammation which, as we’ve explored, can be the underlying cause of many skin and gut health issues. While the ageing process is unavoidable, by promoting a healthy gut and encouraging microbial diversity, we may help to slow down the effects of ageing.
How to Improve Gut Health?
1. Sweat it out because Less exercise, less microbes
If you want a diverse, enriched, and happy gut microbiome, you need to get your sweat on, because like you, your bacteria thrive on exercise. It’s true! Sedentary people tend to have a less diverse microbiome than people who are physically active. Importantly, physical activity increases the abundance of beneficial bacteria in your gut, enriches the diversity of the microbiome, and can enhance the production of beneficial compounds and anti-inflammatory metabolites.
2. Manage stress cause it hurts the gut too
Psychological stress is implicated in the alteration of your gut microbiome. If you’re feeling stressed, some of your beneficial microbes may be affected. In short, stress is linked to changes in both abundance and types of gut bacteria. And, with the gut and brain having their own communication system, your gut can have profound effects on your mood.
If you want to build a healthy gut microbiome that can help maintain supple, beautiful skin, consider adding more probiotics and prebiotics to your diet. They can help address a number of different skin conditions. Just remember, it's always wise to consult with your physician before making any changes to your diet. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrate compounds that stimulate the growth of certain bacteria in the gut. These occur naturally in foods like yogurt, asparagus, garlic, onions, wheat, oats and soybeans. They're also in foods with carbohydrates, like psyllium, bananas, whole grain wheat and whole grain corn.
4. Eat more whole grains, nuts, load up on veggies, beans and fresh fruits
A) Leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, are excellent sources of fiber, as well as nutrients like folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin A. Leafy greens also contain a specific type of sugar that helps fuel growth of healthy gut bacteria. Eating a lot of fiber and leafy greens allows you to develop an ideal gut microbiome.
B) White or brown rice? Whole-wheat or white bread? If you want your gut to work better, choose whole grains. Optimal colon function requires at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Compared to refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, whole grains provide lots of fiber, as well as added nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids. When gut bacteria ferment fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids. These molecules encourage proper function in the cells lining the colon, where 70 percent of our immune cells live.
C) If you’re somebody who’s prone to gas and bloating, you may need to reduce your consumption of fructose, or fruit sugar; foods like apples, pears and mango are all high in fructose. Berries and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, contain less fructose, making them easier to tolerate and less likely to cause gas. Bananas are another low-fructose fruit that are fiber-rich and contain inulin, a substance that stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
D) Avocado is a superfood packed with fiber and essential nutrients, such as potassium, which helps promote healthy digestive function. It’s also a low-fructose food, so it’s less likely to cause gas. Foods like nuts and avocados are really nutrient-dense. They also have a lot of fat, so you have to eat them in moderation.
Read more about how foods affect the skin here.
5. Drink filtered water
Some tap water is purified with high levels of chlorine, which can kill off the good bacteria in your digestive system, throwing it into imbalance. When in doubt, filter it out!
6. Limit unbalancing and inflammatory foods
Certain foods can interact poorly with the natural environment in your gut and should be consumed in moderation.
7. Limit Artificial Sweeteners
The consumption of sugar-free foods is growing because of their low-calorie content and the health concerns about products with high sugar content. Sweeteners that are frequently several hundred thousand times sweeter than sucrose are being consumed as sugar substitutes.Most artificial sweeteners travel through your digestive system undigested and pass out of your body unchanged hence disrupting your gut microbiome.
8. Eat foods rich in Polyphenols
Polyphenols are micronutrients that naturally occur in plants. They’re included in many supplements, though they’re also easy to get in your diet from foods like fruits, vegetables, teas, and spices. Certain studies show that polyphenols are powerful antioxidants and help prevent or reverse damage in your cells caused by aging, the environment, and your lifestyle. Over time, this damage is linked to an increased risk of many chronic diseases.
9. Avoid Excessive use of Antibiotics
Your intestines contain around 100 trillion bacteria of various strains. While some can be deadly, there’s a natural balance in the gut that can be thrown out of whack by antibiotics. These helpful bacteria, known as gut flora, support immunity and proper digestion. Aggressive antibiotics, while helpful if you have a serious infection, can wipe out many good gut bacteria while leaving those immune to antibiotics to flourish.
Instead of looking at all the foods you cannot eat, choose a different approach by thinking of all the foods you can eat! Focus on adding a lot of rich color to your plate in the form of different fruits and vegetables, plenty of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and fatty fish, as well as leaner sources of proteins like beans, quinoa, eggs, and chicken.
We overlook how many vegetables we should be eating. These are the foods that will give you a lot of fiber, vitamins and minerals to help you feel your best. Try to fill half your plate with vegetables and then use those basic guidelines of less than 4 grams of saturated fat and added sugars per serving. These simple changes can make a big impact over time without overwhelming you, if you stay consistent.
Incorporating more fiber into your diet to nourish your health-promoting bacteria, and taking part in some cardio-based activities can positively influence your gut microbiome. Even taking steps to de-stress or remove yourself from stressful situations is a great step to a healthy gut.
- Drishti Khurana