If we are intent on achieving glowing skin, the truth is that we need to look beyond what we see reflected back at us in the mirror—and first and foremost, consider the state of our gut.
As the center of our immune system, our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms and over a thousand species of bacteria, it’s where we make neurotransmitters, regulate hormones, eliminate toxins, neutralize pathogens and manufacture some essential nutrients. And given its many varied roles—it’s easy to see how the overall state of our gut microbiome may also have a profound impact on our skin, mood, immune health, brain health and overall sense of wellbeing.
At The Beauty Chef, we know that ‘beauty begins in the belly®’, but if you’re still on the fence, here’s what you need to know about the power of the gut-skin connection…
Our Gut & Skin Speak To Each Other
Put simply, where there is gut inflammation or dysbiosis, there is also likely to be skin inflammation—manifesting as redness, sensitivity, irritation or skin conditions such as eczema, acne, rosacea or psoriasis. And just like the gut-brain axis—where our gut and brain communicate with one another via the vagus nerve—our gut and skin also communicate directly via what’s known as the gut-skin axis. This bidirectional pathway allows the gut and skin to communicate via the microbiome, which means that if our gut is unhappy, imbalanced or inflamed in any way, our skin is often one of the first places to show symptoms.
But How Does Gut Health Affect Our Skin?
To fully understand how our gut can affect our skin, we like to use the analogy of the gut as a garden. Put simply, if the soil in a garden is healthy, balanced and thriving with an abundance of nutrients and bacteria, then the plants that grow within its soil will continue to blossom. If, however, the soil is nutrient deficient, imbalanced or overrun by pathogens, it’s unlikely that any plant-life will be able to thrive. For glowing healthy skin, we therefore need to first turn our attention to our gut and ensure its ‘soil’ is healthy.
Despite almost all skin conditions being either caused by, or linked to, gut health issues—it can still be a tricky task diagnosing this link. This is because the symptoms of skin health issues are often similar to those we experience when our gut is out of balance. As an example, if we eat something that we’re allergic to or that causes inflammation in the gut, we may also experience a skin manifestation such as a rash or hives. When we understand this link it may seem obvious, but in the moment, determining that what we ate also triggered our skin issues, can be a little more difficult.
In the same way, if we experience leaky gut we may also be unable to fully absorb and utilize some of the key nutrients, vitamins and minerals required for healthy, glowing skin. Unfortunately too, if we have leaky gut, endotoxins and other food antigens that would ordinarily be processed and eliminated correctly may escape and ‘leak’ into our bloodstream—subsequently putting extra pressure on other elimination organs such as our liver, and cause our skin to pick up the slack. Furthermore, leaky gut also contributes to systemic inflammation which is linked to most skin issues, including acne, eczema and psoriasis.
To heal our skin and ensure it glows, we therefore need to nurture our gut garden first.
Skin Conditions That Are Linked To Gut Health
Unfortunately, there are many skin conditions linked to gut imbalances—but what you may not know is that those with rosacea and acne are ten times more likely to have gut health issues and that 34 percent of those who experience IBS, also experience skin manifestations. Worse still, gut inflammation is also linked to premature aging of the skin, known as inflammaging.
Here are a few other common skin conditions that are linked to gut health...
Complex to diagnose, acne can be caused by hormonal imbalances, digestive issues—or both. Hormonal acne is often the result of fluctuating hormone levels or a sensitivity to a certain hormone—such as testosterone—which is a common contributor to acne. This is because testosterone stimulates the sebaceous glands in the skin, leading to an overproduction of oil and clogged pores. Cortisol, our stress hormone, also wreaks havoc on our skin by contributing to inflammation in the gut—and triggering skin inflammation as a result.
Digestive acne, on the other hand, is linked to gut disorders such as leaky gut and SIBO—which is 10 times more prevalent in people with acne. Leaky gut can also cause a vicious cycle of skin issues as an imbalance of bacteria combined with leaky gut can trigger inflammation and cause malabsorption issues, leaving the skin deficient of the essential nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Certainly one of the most frustrating, complex and painful skin conditions to diagnose and treat, eczema—or atopic dermatitis—can be triggered by seemingly anything. For many, however, food allergies and intolerances, as well as leaky gut, plays a major part so to keep symptoms under control, it’s essential to avoid food triggers if you have a diagnosed intolerance or allergy to foods (such as gluten, dairy, corn and soy) wherever possible. The second step is to foster microbial diversity as a diverse and well-balanced microbiome is linked to a more robust immune system and reduced skin inflammation.
Like acne, those with SIBO are also 13 times more likely to experience rosacea—a skin condition characterized by redness or flushing of the cheeks and nose. Once again, microbial diversity is a key factor in limiting symptoms so ensure that your plate always contains an abundance of fiber-rich wholefoods and avoid common triggers like caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and spicy foods.
Thought to be linked to leaky gut, psoriasis is a dry, flaky skin condition that can be tricky to manage. When toxins leak through the gut wall, this triggers an inflammatory response in the body and can subsequently lead to skin manifestations—such as psoriasis. What we also know is that stress and emotional upset can exacerbate this skin condition, so paying close attention to your lifestyle practices can help to keep it under control.
Keratosis Pilaris (KP)
Sometimes referred to by sufferers as ‘chicken skin’, KP typically manifests on the back of the arms and thighs. While the cause is a bit of a mystery, KP may be linked to malabsorption issues and nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A. If you suffer from KP, try including an abundance of healthy fats in your diet, as essential fatty acids help combat skin inflammation. Good sources include fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel, avocados, nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately as we age, our body’s ability to produce and synthesize collagen naturally declines. But our gut also changes as we age and our ability to produce anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids also reduces, meaning that these modulations in our microbiome can also trigger low-grade chronic inflammation. When it comes to our skin, this ongoing inflammation is known as ‘inflammaging’ and can contribute to premature aging of the skin and body as well as imbalances in the gut and a weakened intestinal barrier function.
Although aging is a natural process and largely unavoidable, research shows that by nurturing our gut and fostering microbial diversity, we may be able to slow down the impact of inflammaging and ameliorate some of its symptoms.