Healthy skin from within
Your skin is a direct reflection of what is happening in your digestive tract. To get your head around this, consider the analogy of a beautiful, lush garden. In that garden, you’ll find a thriving eco-system filled with beneficial bacteria, insects, water and nutrients. It’s a very resilient system that’s often successful in repelling bad bacteria and any pests that may invade. However, if the soil becomes depleted and the good bacteria compromised, the garden can easily become overrun with pests and weeds and quickly degenerate. Your skin is like that garden: to grow well it relies on a healthy soil and that “skin soil” is your digestive system.
Your body has its own internal eco-system that’s home to trillions of microbes. For optimum health and for our exterior to shine, we need the predominance of these bacteria to be beneficial (as opposed to harmful bacteria or pathogens). Your digestive system is your nutrient processing centre and it requires a combination of adequate water, nutrients and beneficial bacteria to maintain health and wellbeing. An impaired or imbalanced intestinal flora is implicated in acne, premature wrinkles, eczema, brittle nails, lack-lustre hair, various skin conditions and myriad other health problems.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in the gut. They live and work in your gastrointestinal tract to help support your immune system, manufacture nutrients (and increase their bio-availability), aid digestion, eliminate toxins and free radicals and attack pathogens/bad bacteria to keep the blood clean and healthy.
A healthy digestive system alive with good bacteria helps both assimilate and manufacture enough nutrients to feed all organs of the body, including the last to receive them: the skin, hair and nails. By boosting your immunity and facilitating digestion, probiotics help restore a youthful vitality. They also metabolise and recycle hormones from food sources that can help offset hormone-related skin problems.
Unfortunately, modern living isn’t too kind to gut flora. The consumption of refined foods and those from depleted soils, stress, pollution and exposure to chemicals all compromise beneficial gut flora. If you add the over-prescription of broad-spectrum antibiotics (the opposite to a probiotic) that kill all bacteria, including the beneficial kind, your inner eco-system becomes imbalanced. With long-term imbalance, disease of the body\’s systems, including that of the skin, occurs.
In with the good
To support a healthy, thriving digestive system and therefore healthy skin, the gut needs to be colonised with a proliferation of beneficial bacteria. The proven strains of good bacteria are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. You can find them in yoghurt and probiotic drinks. However, depending on the brand, often the bacteria counts are not adequate. You need enough bacteria for a useful amount to reach the intestine, as many will be killed by the acid in your stomach.
A good probiotic supplement can help. One teaspoon in the morning and night, away from meals, is recommended — first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. Eating lacto-fermented foods rich in lactobacilli (like sauerkraut) is an excellent way of successfully colonising the gut with good bacteria. Other cultured foods such as kefir are highly beneficial.
Chlorophyll-rich green foods such as celery, lettuce, alfalfa and sea vegetables also promote healthy intestinal flora, as does slippery elm, which helps heal the gut wall. Green tea and ginseng also contain polyphenols that foster good gut bacteria.
A prebiotic is a nutrient that helps support probiotic survival. Prebiotics are found in asparagus, bananas, endive, chicory, garlic, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, kefir, leeks, onions, sauerkraut, shallots and yoghurt, to name a few. Prebiotic supplements can also be obtained, with fructo-oligo-saccharide (FOS) being the most common. Together, supplements of prebiotics and probiotics make a powerful symbiotic combination that can help to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Other ways to support good bacteria and a healthy digestive system include:
- The food you eat. Eat a diet rich in vegetables (best lightly steamed or sauteed, as an excess of raw vegies can weaken digestive strength). Although highly beneficial and high in nutrients, animal proteins can be hard to digest, so are best cooked slowly in soups and stews. This takes out the hard work for your digestive system. Spices such as garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne and black pepper can be added to animal proteins to aid digestion. Grains provide a great source of fibre to aid detoxification, but they’re best soaked overnight to get rid of anti-nutrients before being cooked. Cook them with spices or eat them with a little umeboshi plum to aid digestion. Avoid refined foods and sugars that feed the bad bacteria. Eat organically wherever possible and avoid synthetic chemicals, which also compromise gut Health.
- The way you eat. To promote good digestion, drink a glass of warm water with a tablespoon of lemon juice on waking. Eat smaller meals and chew food until it liquefies before you swallow. Avoid drinking with your meal. Try not to eat when angry or stressed. Avoid skipping breakfast and reduce snacking as the digestive system needs periods of rest throughout the day. A cup of fennel tea after lunch aids digestion.
Probiotics on the skin
Probiotics used topically in skin cleansers, creams and masks will clean, soften, smooth and exfoliate your skin, giving it a healthy appearance. Lactic acid, a byproduct of the fermentation process in yoghurt and other foods, is a gentle alphahydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin and improves moisture levels in the layers of the skin. Yoghurt and raw honey masks that can be used daily give your skin a dose of good bacteria, lactic acid and other nutrients to refine, soften, nourish and make skin tone more even.