It is often said that the skin reflects what might be happening within the body. Of course, we have to consider genetics, hormones and nutrition when it comes to skin health but there is also another crucial factor in looking at the health of the gut and the trillions of microbes that live in our gut (aka the gut microbiota). In fact, many different skin conditions from acne through to rosacea, psoriasis, eczema and even premature ageing can be markedly influenced by the health of our gut. Not really that surprising when you understand that the second largest microbiome in the body after the gut is the skin!
Unfortunately, the word bacteria can have people associating it with being decidedly ‘unclean’ especially with relation to the skin and many topical products using words like antibacterial as their strap line. However, it is important to realise that most of the bacteria that live in and on us are actually really good for us and necessary for keeping us feeling, and it seems looking, full of vitality.
Let’s look at this a bit more…
Inflammation is often associated with myriad skin conditions such as acne vulgaris, rosacea and eczema which can often be linked with imbalances in the gut microbiome. In fact, it is our gut microbiome that has a crucial role in helping to manage inflammation in the entire body including the skin. In order for this to work optimally we need to have plenty of the good bugs in the gut that secrete positive substances to support this and also mitigate the less friendly bugs that can produce lots of pro-inflammatory chemicals which drive inflammation further.
In addition, the gut microbiome is an essential part of ensuring that our immune system responds appropriately to potential threats and not ‘overreacting’ to those that are not. This is often the case with certain immune related skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic eczema. Alongside managing immune responses, the gut microbiome helps to manage the integrity of the gut barrier which is a critical part of supporting the immune system. This ensures substances that should stay in the gut remain within these confines rather than moving out into the bloodstream which can then activate an immune mediated inflammatory response and can present in the skin conditions mentioned above.
And of course, the foods we eat, or don’t eat, can have an impact on the health of our skin but when we consider the role of the microbiome it isn’t always that straight forward. Having a healthy gut microbiome is a vital part of helping us to break down and absorb nutrients from our food since our gut microbes produce certain substances to assist with digestion. So, whilst on the face of it we might be eating a rich and nutritious diet we may not be reaping all the benefits if we have a gut microbiome that is, well, less than enriched. It is not therefore accurate to say you are what you eat, but more you are what you and your gut microbiome absorb.
HOW TO FEED YOUR GOOD GUT BUGS
- EAT THE RAINBOW – to support brighter and more vibrant looking skin we need to reflect that in our plate with bringing in plenty of colour with our vegetables (mostly) and some fruit. Getting diversity and a varied mix across these is the aim as that provides different types of fibre and polyphenols (the special plant chemicals that give them their colour) which help to feed the good bugs in our gut.
- PRIORITISE PILLOW TIME – lack of sleep can present most evidently on our face first but on a deeper level the quality and quantity of our sleep can have a marked effect on the balance of the gut microbiome. Therefore, focusing as much as we can to support a better night’s rest is important for both reasons. Switching off devices at least an hour before going to bed and trying to get to sleep before 11pm to get more of the restorative rest time. Also removing devices from the bedroom and ensuring it’s not too hot can all help with this.
- DAILY MINDFUL PRACTISE – the gut-brain connection is one that is incredibly important which can impact on the composition of the gut microbiome and as such the health of the skin. Some kind of daily mindful practise is therefore essential and it doesn’t need to be too laborious as it is more about aiming for consistency. 5-10 minutes of breathing exercises are doable for most of us. Think of it like you would going to the gym to get fitter, a one off won’t do anything, but bringing this in regularly will get you to a stronger mindset. We cannot change some of the stressors in our life but we can build a mind that is better placed to cope with them.
- CONSIDER EATING AND APPLYING PROBIOTICS – certain studies have linked the use of probiotic supplements with an improvement in skin conditions. You can also find sources of beneficial bacteria in fermented foods such as live natural yogurt, cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh or in formulas such as SYMPROVE. There are also a few skincare brands that specialise in topical probiotics to help to support the external balance of our skin microbiome.