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Discover the power of the gut-skin axis


What is the connection between gut health and your skin?

Credit: Daria Litvinova

The skin, your body’s largest organ, is responsible for much of the hard work that goes into eliminating the toxins and wastes you accumulate. Every day, you come into contact with a myriad of chemicals and toxins, from cigarette smoke and urban pollution to cleaning and personal care products — even through the food and water you consume.

While juggling its elimination duties, your skin is also your body’s protective barrier and its first line of defence against harmful bacteria and pathogens. It has been shown that healthy microbial balance is linked to a healthier fatty acid profile in the skin and therefore a more robust protective barrier. This, along with many other reasons, is why it’s important to look after your gut health.

Put simply, your skin has to cope with a lot; what you may not realise is that your skin’s health is intimately linked to your gut health.

The link between gut health & skin health

Funnily enough, when your skin breaks out, gets inflamed or irritated, it can be one of the first signs that something’s up with your gut. It’s also interesting to note that many gut and skin issues share similar symptoms. Just like the gut-brain axis, whereby your gut and brain communicate with one another via the vagus nerve, your gut and skin enjoy a regular dialogue, mainly via the microbiome. This powerful pathway is known as the gut-skin axis.

Skin conditions such as acne, eczema and rosacea manifest in a similar way to gut issues so, if your gut is out of balance or feeling irritated, your skin could be sending you a big red flag.

The importance of gut health for skin health

My favourite way to describe the gut is like a garden: if the soil is healthy with diversity and a balance of nutrients, plants will likely thrive and proliferate. The same goes for your gut. When it’s in balance with an optimal number of beneficial bacteria, your health, wellbeing and skin will benefit. This is called eubiosis.

However, if your gut is under stress and there is an imbalance of bacteria, called dysbiosis, your skin can suffer. There is an increasing amount of research that illustrates this link. Patients with irritable bowel disease (IBD) are said to be 40 per cent more likely to suffer from skin issues while those with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) are also more inclined to experience acne and/or rosacea.

Leaky gut is thought to be one of the leading causes of gut health issues and skin complaints. In terms of skin health, leaky gut can be influential in a couple of different ways. Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, effectively means that the delicate gut lining has been compromised, allowing endotoxins to make their way into the bloodstream. These endotoxins would usually be processed by the liver and eliminated. This can mean that the liver becomes overburdened and the skin must ramp up its elimination duties. But not only that, if the gut lining becomes inflamed and irritated, you will absorb less of the essential nutrients you need for glowing skin.

Happy belly, happy skin

When it comes to skin health, it’s essential to turn your attention inwards and nurture the relationship with your microbiome. If glowing, healthy skin is the goal, understanding the power of the gut-skin axis is imperative. While regular exercise, optimal sleep and meditation can help your gut stay in balance, ultimately food will have the most notable impact on your gut as well as your skin.

Choose fibre-rich, nutrient-dense wholefoods

Research shows that organic seasonal produce is more nutrient-dense than its commercial counterparts. Choose fibre-rich vegies, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds as they contain an abundance of skin-loving vitamins and minerals. Fibre undoubtedly has the most profound effect on our gut as consuming dietary fibre produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate. SCFAs are anti-inflammatory so they not only help strengthen and repair the gut lining but also help decrease skin irritation and inflammation. Inulin, found in artichokes and leeks, and pectin, found in apples and carrots, are good examples of fibre-rich foods that boost SCFA production.

Wholefoods rich in skin-loving minerals and vitamins are also important. Zinc, found in pumpkin seeds, chicken and lean red meat, vitamin D, which can be found in salmon and mushrooms, and vitamin A, found in liver and eggs, are all integral to skin and gut health. Because they contain a good dose of probiotic bacteria, adding fermented foods to your daily diet is a simple way to support your gut health and nourish skin from within. These beneficial microbes not only encourage microbial diversity but also break food down, making the nutrients more bioavailable for the body and skin to use. Kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir are all delicious fermented foods you can find at your local supermarket or health food store.

Avoid gut irritants

When loading up your plate, it’s vital to pay attention to allergens and irritants. Avoid foods that are problematic for you such as gluten, dairy, soy and corn. These substances are common allergens and can exacerbate existing gut health issues. Refined or processed sugars, meats, carbohydrates, vegetable oils, unfermented dairy and alcohol are also worth avoiding if you are battling with skin or gut health issues.



 

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.