You Say Glowing Skin, I Say Gut Microbiome
When we’re thinking about glowing skin, our thoughts don’t often drift to….the gut microbiome. We think about sugar scrubs, and vitamin c serums, and hyaluronic acid and maybe, if we’ve done our research, we think about skin superfoods like organic bell peppers, green tea, and dark chocolate. Maybe we even mentally go to some of the key supplements for healthy skin: omega fatty acids, zinc (if you’re struggling with acne), vitamin D, and so on. (P.S. If you’re looking for more great information on key supplements, foods, and habits for healthy vibrant living including clear skin, grab your free copy of my Vibrant Living ebook here).
But the gut microbiome?
I’ve talked about the gut microbiome before in these posts on the role the gut plays in getting acne and in managing/dealing with acne. Those posts are specific to acne, but rest assured that the gut is an EQUALLY important player in other skin conditions, like psoriasis, rosacea and eczema, for example.
How are the Gut and Skin Connected? Understanding the Gut-Skin Axis
Firstly, if you’re reading my blog, I hope you’ve embraced the idea that everything in the body is connected. In previous posts, we’ve discussed how liver health affects hormones, how blood sugar impacts acne, how tight hip flexors impact PMS, and how hormone imbalances can impact everything from weight gain to uterine cysts. Your body is a complex but integrated machine – every system impacts every other system.
Beyond that, the gut and the skin are specifically connected through something called the GUT-SKIN AXIS. The gut-skin axis is how your gut and skin communicate.
Similarities between the gut and the skin
Why would the two need to communicate at all? Well, consider how the gut and skin are similar:
- both are barriers between the world and our insides (a super important immune function)
- both are critical in keeping the body in homeostasis (a super important neuroendocrine function that enables us to…remain alive).
- both have a microbiome, the health of which is critical to the whole body
Interestingly enough, another piece of the gut-skin relationship can be found in how many gut disorders are linked to specific skin disorders: rosacea with SIBO, celiac disease with dermatitis herpetiformis, inflammatory bowel disease with inflammatory skin conditions (like psoriasis), and general gut dysbiosis with acne. Whither goest the gut, so too goest the skin.
NOTE: This is why trying to achieve your best skin is NEVER self-centred or vain. Skin health is intimately linked with our overall health and the better the health of our skin, the better our whole body.
The gut’s role in healthy, radiant skin
In addition to the therapeutic role the gut plays in addressing skin conditions like acne or psoriasis, the gut also has a role to play in the actual condition of our skin. For example, studies are showing that the gut has a role to play in:
- skin hydration (dry skin),
- skin condition (wound healing, but also keratinization – the process by which skin cells die and turnover, which plays a big role in skin dullness/brightness, and also in acne),
- reducing skin sensitivity
- helping to mitigate UV damage
- skin aging
These are all critical elements in the health and condition of our skin.
But how EXACTLY does the gut support healthy skin (the science part)?
Excellent, my sciency nerdles, you wish to know more. That makes me happy.
The microbes in the gut perform lots of tasks and have important roles to play in good health and radiant skin. Consider that:
- gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which we care about because they are anti-inflammatory (good for skin); in fact, studies are showing that butyrate, a particular type of SCFA, might have direct impacts on the skin in terms of both reducing inflammation and stimulating the synthesis of collagen (skin structure). In addition, a deficiency of SCFAs might play a role in acne. How do you help your gut microbes produce SCFAs? Feed them the prebiotic fibre they so enjoy (see Step 1 below).
- gut microbes produce important vitamins like Vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting, but also skin healing and skin condition – some studies suggest Vitamin K has anti-aging potential and might be an anti-aging superstar
- gut microbes are part of our first line of defense against pathogens or other bad bacteria that could cause health issues including skin conditions
- gut microbes have a role to play in the maturation of our immune system, important so that the body knows how to recognize itself and foods, and not cause inappropriate immune or allergic reactions (this is obviously helpful in avoiding autoimmune conditions, which are also linked to skin conditions)
- gut microbes might act as “[potent bioactivators] of dietary compounds,” meaning that the through their actions they take inactive compounds in foods and make them active, thereby ‘unlocking’ their health-supporting potential to protect against, say, carcinogens
- gut microbes produce a HUGE portion (some say close to 95%) of our serotonin, which is sometimes called the happy chemical. Serotonin plays a really important role in mood, which in turn has an impact on stress, which in turn has an impact on skin. And, it’s also theorized that our SKIN is capable of producing serotonin, possibly in response to sunlight, which means that our skin might also be involved in mood and mental wellness – yet another way the gut-skin axis comes into play. Mind. Blown.
6 Ways to Support Your Gut & Get Your Glow On
So I know I know you’re just hankering to get to supporting your gut. Here are 6 actions you can take to support your gut, and in so doing, promote the health and radiance of your skin.
FEED & FERTILIZE YOUR GUT WITH…
1. Fibre & Resistant Starch
The healthy bacteria in your gut LOVE fibre. They need it, really, and it’s how they produce the SCFAs we all want them to. So enjoy fibre-rich foods, especially those with prebiotics, like onions, garlic, leeks, artichoke, asparagus, banana, chicory, and dandelion. For general fibre-rich foods, consider sweet potatoes, chia seeds, brown rice, apples – really most whole food vegetables, fruits, and grains. Resistant starch can be found in pulses and beans, and other things like pasta cooked al dente (the wheat kind) and cold cooked potatoes. As with anything fibre-related, start small and increase gradually. And if you’re wondering how the devil you’ll manage to eat chicory or dandelion, try Dandy Blend! You can add it to smoothies, collagen hot chocolate, hot drink elixirs, and more.
2. Fermented Foods
Try incorporating a fermented food every day! Look for sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, kefir, and more. Try sourdough pancakes (using spelt flour, or gluten-free flour like coconut flour), switchel, beet kvass, coconut or dairy yogurt (if you’re struggling with acne, take caution with the dairy), gut shot beverages, and more! The world of possibilities when it comes to fermented foods is really, truly endless.
You may or may not wish to take a daily probiotic, but if you are into it, then do a little research and investigate the variety that makes the most sense for you. There are probiotics with different strains that can benefit different health conditions. If you’re taking this from the glowing skin perspective, definitely start slow and small (I don’t think you need to buy one of those 50 billion bombs and drop it right in there, especially if you haven’t been doing much gut work already). Try a probiotic with some studies behind it (Genestra makes a variety of good ones) and take it once, and then not again for another three days. If you notice no ill effects (breakouts, for example), take it again. Then wait another three days. Then move to one day on, two days off, and so on, until you’re taking it as recommended (usually daily).
PROTECT YOUR GUT…
4. Incorporate foods that protect the lining of your gut
Your gut lining, while not glamourous, is pretty darn important to keeping the rest of your body in good health. It’s possible that your gut microbes, when short of the fibres they enjoy (as happen in the traditional western diet) may decide to munch on the mucosal lining of your gut, thereby contributing to leaky gut (which itself contributes to autoimmune conditions, allergies, acne, and more). Good choices for your gut lining include: collagen (like in a delicious hot chocolate or some chocolate chip collagen balls), gelatin, and of course, bone broth. All of these also help with the health and structure of your skin too, as well as skin healing, since collagen is a high quality protein and one of the main components of your skin’s epidermal layer. If you’re thinking of supplements, L-glutamine is a good choice, as it can help repair the lining of your intestine.
5. Minimize (where possible) the things that make your microbiome cranky
Recognizing that life is life and not everything is within our control, we can still do our best to avoid or minimize:
- antibiotic/antibacterial soaps and sprays
- chemicals (in home cleaners, beauty products, etc)
- pesticides/herbicides/food additives/food preservatives
- heavy metals (as in mercury fillings, or in the fish you eat)
- artificial sweeteners (note this does not apply to things like stevia)
- sugar/refined carbohydrates
- not enough sleep/poor quality sleep
AND IF YOU’RE HAVING TROUBLE…
6. Remember your 4 R’s
If you feel your gut needs more help than just a general dietary upgrade, keep in mind the four 4’s of gut healing: remove, replace, repair, and reinnoculate.
- REMOVE: remove anything that’s negatively impacting your microbiome – stress, food allergens, sugar or other inflammatory foods, pathogens (like candida), environmental toxins, etc. This might be a place to try an elimination diet or a candida protocol.
- REPLACE: take nutrients to help with digestion and nutrient absorption, including hydrochloric acid (betaine) and/or digestive enzymes. The benefit of the HCL supplement is that it can also help kill of any pathogens that might be entering the gut via the stomach (since without effective stomach acid they might not be killed off)
- REPAIR: this is about healing the lining of the gut in a more protactive way, usually with L-glutamine and perhaps also with other supplements including zinc, an omega oil, and targeted vitamins/minerals.
- REINNOCULATE: reintroduce good bacteria to the gut, usually with a probiotic supplement and possibly with the addition of a prebiotic supplement (to help feed those good bacteria).
NOTE: Some people might require more intensive help in the ‘removal’ phase. If you have significant digestive/gut issues, like Crohns, colitis, chronic gas, constipation, etc, reach out to a qualified practitioner for help – a nutritionist, a naturopath, whomever. More complex cases can benefit from testing that can determine exactly what’s going on in your gut and how to manage it. When it comes to using herbs/supplements to help kill off overgrowths of ‘bad bacteria,’ you want to feel confident you know what you’re doing or are working with someone who can guide you.
To Sum It Up:
A healthy gut microbiome – your sum total of all the little bugs living in your gut – is essential as a foundation of general good health. Beyond that, the gut microbiome has a role to play in healthy skin and obtaining a healthy glow, and may have a role to play in skin aging, skin condition and cell turnover, skin inflammation, and more. The gut-skin axis describes how the gut and skin interact with each other, and studies have shown that a healthy gut supports and promotes healthy, glowing skin.
To support a healthy gut, we should look to fermented foods, prebiotic fibres, foods that support the lining of the gut, and lifestyle practices that support the microbiome (managing stress, for example), Many people who eat a standard Western diet – low in fibre, higher in sugars and carbohydrates and unhealthy fats – are not providing sufficient fibre, probiotics, or gut-supporting foods to optimize the microbiome and reap the skin-supporting rewards.
For all gut-related changes, it’s best to start smalls to avoid gastro upset or other bodily disruptions (worsening acne, for example). Incremental changes are best, to give your body time to adjust, and to build up your microbiome to its most robust and diverse self. While a slow and steady process might not result in overnight changes (or perhaps it will, for some of you), over time you’ll experience greater health and enjoy the digestive, anti-inflammatory, energizing, hormone-supporting benefits of a healthy gut microbiome. And of course, with that comes glowing, radiant skin that’s based on a foundation of good health.
Sources & Further Reading
- Bringing Health Through Gut: Importance of Nutrition (yes, this appears to have been sponsored by Danone, but I find the information factual and clear – just ignore the branding)
- The Gut-Skin Axis: The Importance of Gut Health for Radiant Skin
- The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis
- Skin-Gut Axis: the Relationship Between Intestinal Bacteria and Skin Health
Happy gut gardening and glowing!
Clear Skin, Balanced Hormones, Vibrant Living
Looking for more ways to get clear glowing skin and lots of energy? Grab a free copy of my e-book here. It’s all about easy daily actions for clear skin, balanced hormones, and vibrant living.
© Emily Joldersma, R.H.N. Eat Well, Live Vibrantly