The Gut/Skin Axis

The Gut/Skin Axis

If you read my blog post last week then you’re probably on your way to clearer skin already! I wanted to continue the conversation this week by diving a little deeper into the topic of skin and gut health.

Breakouts, rosacea, eczema and other skin woes can be embarrassing and stressful when they happen to you. However, they are often a symptom of a deeper issue: poor gut health. What most people don’t know is that poor gut health increases inflammation which can result in the skin issues mentioned above. The connection between the gut and the skin has been termed the gut/skin axis. To get down to the nitty gritty of this connection, let's take a dive into anatomy.

The gastrointestinal tract runs from the mouth to the anus and everything in between such as the stomach and intestines. This system is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and filtering out waste products. Three specific processes that are directly related to skin are absorption, elimination and the role of the microbiome. 

  1. Absorption: The nutrients absorbed in the small intestines provide building blocks for healthy skin cells. Think protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. 
  2. Waste elimination: Proper elimination is necessary for removing toxins, excess hormones and other waste products. Elimination encompasses bowel movements, urine, sweat and breath. 
  3. Microbiome: The complex microbial ecosystem in our intestines contains trillions of different strains of bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body and skin through signaling pathways. The signaling that occurs can be responsible for inciting inflammation that is associated with conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema. 

How To Spot Gut Dysfunction:

Besides the presence of inflammatory skin conditions, signs of gut dysbiosis (imbalance) can be bloating, abdominal pain, chronic indigestion, oily diarrhea, constipation or the presence of undigested food in stool (sorry for the unappetizing mental image). When either extreme is present, you can assume something is amiss in the gut. Take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart to see where you stand. 

What You Can Do About It

Increase your fiber consumption. To support a clear, even complexion it is vital to support gut health. Generally, this can be done with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. These foods contain high amounts of fiber that keep things moving along and allow your gut flora to thrive. Currently, the average American is under consuming fiber at about 15 grams per day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommendation include: For women, 25 grams, or 21 grams if over 50 years old and for men, 38 grams, or 30 grams if over 50. Fiber is a form of carbohydrates that are indigestible to humans but are accessible to the microbiota living in the large intestine and colon. When bacteria digest this fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which function to suppress inflammation and an energy-source to cells lining the colon. 

Luckily for us, we don’t need to search far and wide to have this beneficial fiber. Fiber is naturally present in all fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds. There are two different types of fiber (soluble & insoluble) and to get all the gut healthy-benefits, it’s important to get adequate amounts of both. Most foods contain both but are usually richer in one type than the other. To distinguish between the two, soluble fiber absorbs water and becomes gel-like while insoluble fiber does not. 

  1. Soluble fiber: helps to prevent constipation by soaking up water as it passes through digestion creating a bulked up but easier to pass stool. The gel-like consistency absorbed excess cholesterol, hormones and unwanted toxins that often lead to breakouts. Sources: Oatmeal, chia, flax, beans, apple without the peel. Benefits: Heart protection, blood sugar control, weight management, and healthy bowel movements. 
  2. Sources: Oatmeal, chia, flax, beans, apple without the peel. 
  3. Benefits: Heart protection, blood sugar control, weight management, and healthy bowel movements. 
  1. Insoluble fiber: helps feed the good bacteria so they can increase in number and keep harmful bacteria and pathogens in check. On top of that, the more microbes present in our gut, the thicker the protective mucus layer is in our intestines. This provides a barrier against foreign bacteria and allergens that may cause inflammation. Sources: Found in the seeds and skins of fruit, a good reason not to peel your produce. Also found in whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, barley, whole wheat, amaranth, etc.Benefits: weight management and digestive health. 
  2. Sources: Found in the seeds and skins of fruit, a good reason not to peel your produce. Also found in whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, barley, whole wheat, amaranth, etc.
  3. Benefits: weight management and digestive health. 

Overall, fiber contributes to a decrease in inflammation and helps remove waste that affects the skin. However, eating too much fiber can cause digestive upset, such as gas and bloating. The key is to slowly increase your fiber intake and be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid any poor digestion. Proper hydration provides hydration for the fiber to absorb as well as helps to flush out toxins. 

Sneaky Skin & Gut Offenders 

Refined Carbohydrates & sugar:Refined carbohydrates (white flour), fruit juices, and other sugar-laden foods are lower in fiber which has consequences. You lose the gut-healthy and anti-inflammatory benefits fiber provides and you’re more likely to experience blood sugar spikes with quick-absorbing processed carbohydrates. 

Dairy:Dairy products, even organic varieties, contain growth hormones that can cause hormonal imbalances and lead to breakouts. Milk hormones increase the sebum production of the follicles due to the increasing production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This can lead to clogged pores and inflammation of the skin. Some are more sensitive to the effect of dairy than others. If you suspect a sensitivity, try to reduce dairy consumption and look out for sneaky sources such as whey in protein powders or butter at restaurants. 

Dairy is often touted as a major source of calcium, which is a necessary mineral for the body. However, plant-based sources of calcium offer a variety of other vitamins and minerals, without the inflammatory effect of dairy. Good sources include beans, kale, collard greens, bok choy, and almonds. 

In short, by focusing your work from the inside out, you can have a happy digestive system and clear complexion. Who doesn’t want that?