How your gut affects your skin

There has always been a steady interest for what we consuming and how it is affecting the quality of our lives. I grew up in the late 90s where the phrase was “you are what you eat,” and “If you eat chocolate, you will sure get spots.” Now, we now so much more. Not a day goes in the world, where an influencer somewhere isn’t endorsing a super drink or gummy to their social followers, hash-tagging the phrase “gut health.” It’s all microbiome this, microbiome that. The word is out. Our gut health has control over all the important parts to our body – including our mood and our skin. This blog post will tell you everything you need to know about your gut, how it affects your skin and if and how you change your unique gut bacteria mix.

Your gut

Our bodies are about 1000% bacteria. No, really. We have 10x more bacteria in our body than human cells and 80% of this is found in our gut. 

There are 300-500 different types of bacteria living in our gut, some of it bad, but most it good. This bacteria pairs with virus and fungi in the body to make microbiota, more commonly known as “microbiome.”

  • Each person’s microbiome is unique

  • Your microbiome is determined from birth and in the first stages of childhood

  • Negative diet and lifestyle factors can have a negative effect on your gut health throughout your life

How your gut affects your body

Good Gut Bacteria

The gut bacteria our bodies depend on is often referred to as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria. This is because it plays a role in significant functions in the body including:

  • Digestion

  • Immune system

  • Communicating with the brain

Bad Gut Bacteria

Then there’s the bad bacteria. Consuming too much sugar and not enough variety of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. A lack of prebiotics (a type of fibre) in the diet, antibiotics, frequent smoking and alcohol, not having enough exercise, sleep deprivation, consuming too much animal protein and stress can also induce bad gut health. 

Symptoms are varied and common amongst those that repetitively make these unhealthy lifestyle choices. A bad gut can influence reoccurring manifestations such as:

  • Stomach disturbance (such as gas, bloating, constipation) 

  • Putting on or losing weight rapidly 

  • Fatigue 

  • Sleep deprivation 

  • Depression and anxiety 

  • Chronic skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis 

  • Food intolerance

Our gut is known as the body’s second brain, the lining controlled by in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) which uses hormones, neurotransmitters and electrical impulses to communicate with the brain. This means that our gut is closely linked to our wellbeing, and can have profound effects over our mood, metabolism, and central nervous and immune system. 

How your gut affects your skin

In the 1930s, John H Stokes and Donald M Pillsbury were the first to suggest a link between our gut and chronic skin conditions. In the publication they released, it was explained how depression, anxiety and worry can alter gastrointestinal tract function, causing the systematic inflammation that fuels acne. During the 70 years that followed this hypothesis, a great deal of non-commercial science and clinical research has been conducted to see how our gut microbiome influences the body’s organs, including our skin.

A Healthy Gut Means Better Skin

A 2013 study fed Lactobacillus reuteri supplementation to mice to find it increased the skin’s dermal thickness and manifested thicker, glossier fur. Similar research emerged a year or so later, one testing on rats, the other on humans, testing the same kind of healthy bacteria supplement. The results showed an increase in blood flow, decreased Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and decreased skin sensitivity.

How Poor Gut Health Can Negatively Impact Our Skin

It is clear that microbial imbalances in our gut negatively impact our skin. An example of this is people that have Coeliac disease, a condition where your immune system stops you from taking in nutrients, are more likely to experience compromised skin and hair disorders such as dermatitis, alopecia and vitiligo.

Another example is the link between psoriasis and IBD. In 2012, it was recorded that 11% of people with Inflammation Bowel Disease had experienced psoriasis, a chronic condition that causes red, flaky patches on the skin. 

The pathogenic bacteria, Clostridum difficile has been shown to impair skin cells and the skin barrier in clinical research. 

Other evidence to support the theory that poor gut health causes skin inflammation, is the thorough amount of investigation that has gone into understanding the connection between acne and sugar. In 2002, a study comparing the effects of the Western diet versus the diet of other cultures, revealed that the Western diet, which is typically loaded with sugar, could be the potential cause of acne. Interestingly, non-Westernised populations in the study, from Papua New Guinea and Eastern Paraguay recorded zero cases of acne as a result of a nutritious diet consisting of fresh plants and lean meat.  

Healthy Gut Bacteria May Be Able To Reduce Photo Ageing 

Studies have also tried to demonstrate how our microbiome can influence the way our body’s defence system works against UV damage. A Korean study  used the oral administration of Lactobacillus plantarum proved this theory as the healthy bacteria successful prevented UV-induced photoageing. Another study showed us that Lactobacillus sakei is capable of reversing UV-induced skin ageing.

Probiotics Are The Way Forward

Plenty of research has shown us how probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics (oral supplements containing live bacteria and yeast) help to prevent and treat chronic skin disorders such as acne, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. These supplements are marketed primarily to alleviate bad gut symptoms, but because of the powerful correlation between the gut and skin, they have also been known to decrease inflammation associated with troublesome skin disorders like acne. 

Topical and oral antibiotics are not effective for treating acne long-term and harmfully disrupt gut bacteria. A collection of studies between the 1960s  and now, show how probiotics can lower glycaemic load, decrease keratinocyte proliferation and overactive sebaceous glands, which all are all major factors in the role of acne.

How Nutrients Affect Our Skin

Nutrient absorption in the gut has been proven to alter our skin in many ways. There is evidence to show us how just by consuming a high number of carotenoids (squash, carrots, oranges) can cause a yellowing of our natural skin colour. 

Vitamin E can be delivered to the skin just by oral consumption. 

When nutrients are consumed in the body, they have an effect on hormones, which plays a massive role in the function and inflammation of the skin’s cells.

Can you change your gut microbiome?

The answer is yes, you can. Research has suggested how our ‘diet can rapid and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome’ in just 3 days. Here are just some tips to help boost your gut microbiome for a healthier body, mind and skin.

Have A Good Fibre Intake

40 grams or more a day of fibre is what you need for a happy, healthy gut. Fibre-rich foods include fruits such as berries, oranges and melon, wholegrain foods, nuts, seeds and potatoes with the skin

Choose Vegetables Over Supplements

Make sure to eat a wide variety of fruit and veg to support all types of healthy gut bacteria. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. 

Antioxidants Are Everything

Foods containing high amounts of polyphenols are rich in antioxidants, which will also help to promote a healthy gut and great skin. Top foods with polyphenols include nuts, seeds, berries, coffee, green tea, dark chocolate, soy and cloves.

Stress Less

Stress plays a massive role in our gut health, and when comprised, our skin reacts negatively from this. Meditate, practice breathing exercises, journal, write, read, exercise – do something like this each day to promote a healthier mind.

Try Intermittent Fasting

Research has shown how occasional intermittent fasting can change the gut microbiome and reduce chances of obesity.

Prioritise Sleep

The quality and amount of sleep you get also factors your microbiome, so commit to healthy sleep cycles if you are not already doing so. The better your sleep, the better your gut.

Choose Nature

A handful of studies have concluded how people who live in rural population have a ‘low-complexity microbiota’ compared to those living in the city, as a result of a simpler diet. 

Be Kind To Animals

One study has evaluated how early-life exposure to household pets can change the gut microbiome in a positive way. As well as this, dog owners are more likely to visit natural environments daily which also enhances gut health.

Despite all the information at hand, the “skin-gut axis” is still a new concept and not fully understood. The research we do have, does tell us a few things. We know poor gut health can negatively impact the skin, inducing inflammation which can lead to chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis. 

We know that probiotics can help assist treat and reduce the symptoms associated with these disorders, however adopting a healthy lifestyle and a wide variety vegan-based diet is more effective.

We know that our wellbeing, which is influenced by our gut, can control how our skin behaves. The connection between these organs is complex and trivial, and there is still a lot to learn. But the information we have does not limit us – we know what we must do for healthier, happier microbiome. 

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