Find out how meditation, gut health and your skin are linked
Do you meditate regularly? What was once seen as a spiritual practice reserved solely for yogis has now become widely recognised as something that can help to combat all manner of health concerns. In fact, there’s now research to support meditation’s effectiveness at helping to lower blood pressure, treat anxiety and depression, promote more restful sleep and reduce stress while increasing feelings of relaxation. When you consider that 75–90 per cent of all doctors’ visits are linked to stress, it’s no wonder the benefits of meditation are so widely sought after and celebrated.
Meditation increases the balance of good bacteria in your gut, which not only helps to promote an overall sense of health and wellbeing but can benefit your skin, too.
The effects of stress can also manifest on your skin and this is because your gut and your skin are in constant conversation with one another. When you’re stressed, your body is flooded with hormones, particularly cortisol, which sends you into fight-or-flight mode. This directs energy and nutrients to critical organs such as your heart, brain and lungs, which all play a key role in your survival. As a consequence, less important bodily functions such as your digestion and non-essential organs like your skin are deprived of oxygen and nutrients as these resources are directed elsewhere.
Meditation can help to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS and IBD by inducing the relaxation response.
So, although you can’t see what’s going on inside your gut, often you can feel it. Stress can increase gut permeability (leading to leaky gut), slow digestion, cause constipation, gas and bloating and throw the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut out of whack. It has also been closely linked to gastrointestinal disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Considering around 80 per cent of your immune system sits within your gut, a healthy microbiome is critical to your overall immunity and wellbeing, too.
As for how all this affects your skin, the symptoms of stress can be more cosmetic. Ongoing or chronic stress is particularly detrimental, leaving skin looking dull, dehydrated and lacklustre, as it’s consistently deprived of the nutrients and oxygen critical for cellular turnover. Slowed digestion can also lead to congested, red or rashy skin as your skin has to deal with the toxic burden of a system literally under stress. An influx of cortisol in your system elevates your blood sugar levels, damaging collagen and elastin — the proteins that keep your skin looking smooth, plump and hydrated — and increasing your susceptibility to inflammatory skin conditions including psoriasis, acne and dermatitis. Not to mention the damaging effects of free radicals are also increased during times of stress, leading to premature ageing.
Stress increases the production of 5-alpha reductase, which thickens the oil your face produces and this, combined with slow cell turnover, can contribute to blockages and breakouts. And when it comes to pigmentation, the sun is not the only culprit. Stress can also be a trigger. The melanocyte cells are incredibly sensitive and they react to stress chemicals by releasing melanin, which then darkens. Stress-induced pigmentation is normally mottled and focused on the outer edges of the face.
When we are under stress, our foreheads contract. Blood vessels become constricted and the skin looks tired and lacklustre. Meditation is form of relaxation that not only superficially helps the skin appear fresher and more luminous, but on a deeper level helps to keep our stress hormones in check, which can help with inflammation in the body, metabolism and weight control, as well as immune health and wellbeing.
When it comes to meditation, though, it’s not just your gut and skin that can benefit: meditation may also make you smarter. A study that followed non-meditators for a period of eight weeks discovered that just 30 minutes of meditation each day resulted in an increase in grey matter, the part of the brain associated with learning and memory.
The bottom line is, no matter what your motivation may be for developing a meditation practice, it can be as simple as carving out a few minutes a day to sit in stillness and practise deep belly breathing. While at first it may seem challenging to quieten your mind, it’s truly one of the simplest ways to improve your overall health and wellbeing.
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