20 Dec The Gut Skin Connection
Having experienced the joys of a chronic inflammatory skin condition myself I thought this would be an interesting subject to start exploring here.
In this blog I look at:
- 1. The basics of the gut skin connection
- 2. A dietary addition to improve gut and skin health
- 3. A simple habit for gut and skin health
1. The basics of the gut skin connection
Conventional medicine approaches skin problems largely from an external prospective, often using topical steroids and antibiotics as a first solution. These may have a role in dampening the symptoms and helping you leave the house every day, but research is showing that skin issues may be reflection of imbalances inside our bodies often due to hormones, liver function, gut function and stress1,2.
The skin is often the first place that may show that there is a problem in your gut even without any gut symptoms. If we only treat the problem externally skin issues are likely to constantly recur. We need to find the root cause by looking deeper within.
What could be affecting your gut and driving skin symptoms? Poor digestion, low stomach acid, pathogens/ parasites, an inflammatory diet, food intolerance and stress (to name just a few) can ultimately contribute to a disrupted intestinal barrier.
Your digestive tract, starting at the mouth and continuing all the way down to the anus is actually external to your body despite being inside. The intestinal wall polices the substances coming into contact with the blood and immune system via tight intercellular junctions. This wall is highly selective allowing nutrients through but protecting from pathogens and undigested food molecules. The cells of this wall are protected by an inner and outer mucus layer which is influenced by the microbial ecosystem living in the intestinal tract. However, if this ecosystem of microbes is disturbed, the protective mucus barriers may be broken down exposing the intestinal wall and increasing the risk of disruption to the tight intercellular junctions and increasing permeability. This may allow unwanted bacteria and their byproducts to travel in the blood stream and accumulate in the skin3. The influence of the gut microbiome on complex immune mechanisms has been seen in the skin and changes to the microbiome with prebiotics and probiotics has proven beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases including acne vulgaris, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and rosacea2,4.
2. A dietary addition to improve gut and skin health
How can you feed your microbiome for better intestinal barrier protection and better skin?
Include prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics)!
These are non-digestable compounds within certain foods that feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. While all plant-based foods contain prebiotics to some level, science suggests that the ones below have the highest amounts of these non-digestable compounds. Go slowly when introducing these as they can cause discomfort to begin with as the bacteria get busy4,5!
|Vegetables||Mushrooms, Jerusalem Artichokes, Chicory, Garlic, Leek, Onions, Spring Onion, Asparagus, Beetroot, Fennel, Green Peas, Snow Peas, Cabbage, Dandelion Greens, Burdock, Aubergine, Endive, Radicchio, Seaweed.|
|Legumes||Chickpeas, Lentils, Red Kidney Beans, Baked Beans.|
|Fruit||Nectarines, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Dried Fruit (like dates or figs in small amounts), Apples, Bananas.|
|Whole-Grains and Other Products||Barley, Rye, Wheat, Oats, Wheat Bran, Couscous, Cocoa, Flaxseed, Buckwheat, Maize, Millet.|
3. A simple habit for gut and skin health
Thinking about your food!
To optimize the digestive process I like to take a top down approach. It is not widely known that the first stage of digestion actually begins before the food enters your mouth. Simply thinking about, smelling and seeing the food you’re about to eat triggers the production of saliva and release of stomach acid ready to breakdown the food you eat. This process can be interrupted simply by eating on the go, scrolling through your phone or watching tv while you eat. This is such an important and often missed stage of digestion which can have knock on effects further down your digestive tract and systemically (in the skin).
- Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N., & Ghannoum, M. A. (2018). The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, p.1459.
- O’Neill, C.A., Monteleone, G., McLaughlin, J.T., & Paus R. (2016). The gut-skin axis in health and disease: A paradigm with therapeutic implications. Bioessays. 38(11), pp.1167-1176.
- Bowe, W. P., & Logan, A. C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?. Gut pathogens, 3(1), 1.
- National Eczema Association. (2021). Leaky Gut and Atopic Dermatitis: Does the Concept Hold Water or is it full of holes? Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/leaky-gut/
- Hutkins, R. W., Krumbeck, J. A., Bindels, L. B., Cani, P. D., Fahey, G., Jr, Goh, Y. J., Hamaker, B., Martens, E. C., Mills, D. A., Rastal, R. A., Vaughan, E., & Sanders, M. E. (2016). Prebiotics: why definitions matter. Current opinion in biotechnology, 37, 1–7.
- Santana Vaz Rezende, E., Carielo Lima, G., Veloso Naves, M.M. (2021). Dietary fibers as beneficial microbiota modulators: A proposed classification by prebiotic categories. Nutrition, 89.