Jerusalem artichokes

Why beauty begins in the belly

Balancing gut health (aka Beauty Begins in the Belly) is one of my main tenets for health and Beauty. But what does it actually mean?

When I talk about a beautiful belly, I’m not referring to a slim, trim waistline. What I’m really talking about is something far more important that relates to the state of your skin, the health of your body and your general wellbeing: the fascinating and complex ecosystem that is your gut.

Good digestive health is the key to good overall health and radiant skin. In fact, if you want naturally clear, glowing skin on the outside, you

need to be healthy on the inside, starting with your gut. This is because the gut and the immune system are intricately linked — around 70 per cent of the body’s immune tissue is located in the digestive system, making it the body’s first line of defence against harmful toxins, bacteria and diseases.

Sauerkraut, miso, kefir, natto and kimchi are great digestion-boosting foods and can help to heal the gut.

When your digestive system is working well and is in balance, it’s typically home to trillions of “good” bacteria and microbes that outnumber the body’s cells by 10 to one. These help your body to process waste and nourish major organs (including the skin) by processing and manufacturing nutrients, destroying toxins, breaking down foods and fats through the production of important digestion enzymes, creating neurochemicals, eliminating pathogens and free radicals, metabolising hormones from food sources that determine how we store fat and producing nutrients such as biotin and vitamin K, which are essential for correct nervous system function and general good health. The gut makes nutrients and antioxidants that help protect and synthesise collagen, which helps keep your skin firm and bouncy.

It is an exciting time for our guts, skin and health as the medical and scientific communities are studying gut bacteria more than ever before. Studies show that a lack of hydrochloric acid in the gut contributes to skin problems including rosacea and acne. What increases levels of this acid? Lactic acid bacteria. Other studies demonstrate the link between gut inflammation and skin inflammation and a connection between the skin’s fatty acid profile and gut health. So, no matter how many creams you put on your skin, skin moisture may be determined by your gut microbiota.

Unfortunately, there are times when “bad” gut flora and bacteria — such as pathogens, fungi and yeast (like candida) — can take over, which is when health and skin problems can occur. A bad-bacteria overload not only creates an imbalance in all of the body’s systems, which causes a breakdown in its ability to process nutrients, it can also compromise the integrity of the intestines and contribute to “leaky gut”, a condition where undigested toxins and waste particles enter the bloodstream through tiny holes that appear in the lining of the gut. This in turn causes all sorts of health issues and lowers the strength of your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness.

A bad-bacteria overload creates an imbalance in all of the body’s systems, which causes a breakdown in its ability to process nutrients.

Lots of things can alter the good-bad bacteria balance in your system, most of them side-effects of modern life. The most common triggers are: medications (yes, this includes The Pill) and antibiotics (which wipe out both bad and good gut flora); an unhealthy diet (think processed, refined foods, junk food, high sugar, fat and carb consumption, too much caffeine and alcohol); stress (mental, emotional and physical); insufficient sleep (this alters cortisol levels, which can affect your mood and boost stress); pollution, smoking, pesticides and herbicides, hormones in food and toxins in personal-care products.

The good news is you can turn your gut health around with diet, probiotics and a bit of patience. While we always recommend seeing a nutritionist who can diagnose and treat any specific condition you might have, there are some start-now, at-home ways to keep your gut flora happy or get it back on track.

  • Boost your probiotic intake. The proven strains of good bacteria are the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species, which help repopulate the gut with good flora. Avoid yoghurts and probiotic products that are loaded with gut-compromising ingredients like refined sugar, which bad bacteria thrive on.
  • Eat lacto-fermented foods. The lacto-fermentation process naturally creates loads of good bacteria that help strengthen and rebuild your gut. This is because lacto-fermented food contains lactobacilli, which line the gut with good flora and help with digestion. Sauerkraut, miso, kefir, natto and kimchi are great digestion-boosting foods and can help to heal the gut.
  • Include prebiotics in your diet. Prebiotics feed the probiotics so if you want a thriving, healthy gut you need to nourish the good bacteria with the right stuff. Essentially, prebiotics are the non-digestible food substances that provide lunch (and therefore support) for beneficial bacteria. Asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, endive, chicory, shallots, globe and Jerusalem artichokes and sauerkraut are good sources.
  • Take a break from gluten and dairy. If your gut is out of whack, your skin is lacklustre, prone to breakouts, eczema or other skin conditions, your head is foggy and you have bloating after eating bread or dairy, it could be worth eliminating these often gut-compromising culprits from your diet. Both contain proteins that are very hard to digest. Grains can also be problematic until the gut is healed. Soak or ferment your grains to help neutralise the antinutrients found in them and make them easier to digest.
  • Drink filtered water. While the water authorities help protect you from bacteria and algae by putting disinfectants such as ammonia chlorine into the water, these disinfectants aren’t removed, so your body becomes the filter when you consume them. Chlorine helps to eliminate bacteria in water and also impacts the bacteria in your gut — including beneficial bacteria. So use water filters that help remove chlorine, ammonia, heavy metals, particulate matter, giardia and cryptosporidium.

Carla Oates

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.

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