How Gut Health Affects Skin: From The Inside Out
Have you ever wondered if you can improve your skin from the inside out?
Emerging research into the way our gut interacts with our skin suggests the food we’re eating may be having a bigger impact than we realised.
Keep reading to find out how our gut affects skin. How they influence each other and how we can use this to our advantage!
Understanding the gut microbiome?
Definition of the gut microbiome
More than a trillion bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms inhabit our gut, mainly residing in our large intestine. We call this collection the gut microbiome. So, why does it matter? Because gut health affects skin in significant ways.
Importance of a Diverse and Balanced Gut Microbiome
Though it may seem odd, ‘good’ microbes predominantly populate our gut, bolstering our health. A healthy gut microbiome boasts a diverse range of bacteria types and maintains a favourable balance of good versus bad bacteria. (1)
Consider your gut microbiome as a garden; you aim to cultivate a variety of vegetables, flowers, and fruits (good bacteria) robust enough to keep the weeds (bad bacteria) in check. The balance is essential because gut health affects skin.
Exploring the gut-skin connection?
Overview of the gut-skin axis
We understand the link between our gut microbiome and our skin, a connection known as the gut-skin axis. This means they can communicate and interact, instead of operating independently.
Disruptions in the gut microbiome can affect skin health
Hence, issues with one could impact the other. Specifically, disruptions or imbalances in gut microbiome microbes could affect skin health. (2)
Unpacking Gut Microbiome Imbalance:
Factors leading to dysbiosis
Studies have shown that imbalances in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, could lead to skin problems. An imbalance might arise from:
a decrease in microorganism diversity,
an excess of harmful bacteria,
or a lack of good bacteria.
Mechanisms behind the Gut-Skin Connection
This remains a new and evolving research area, so the mechanisms aren’t fully clear yet. However, researchers have proposed a couple of explanations.
Inflammatory immune response: The role of the immune system
We believe the gut and skin interaction gets driven by the immune system, which makes sense as 70-80% of immune cells reside in the gut. (3)
An imbalanced gut microbiome can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation.
This inflammation can then transmit messages to the skin, potentially causing flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis in some individuals. (2)
Gut bacteria as a ‘factory’ for skin health
Our gut’s enzymes can’t break down all the fibre we consume, but gut bacteria thrive on digesting it.
These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as by-products when digesting fibre in our gut.
The skin can then use these SCFAs to improve its fatty acid content. (4)
Thus, we can think of gut bacteria as a ‘factory’ producing substances that constitute our skin’s structure.
Supporting Your Gut for Healthier Skin?
Our diet significantly impacts our gut microbiome. So, how do we eat to bolster our gut and in turn, enhance our skin’s health?
The goal is to diversify and increase the good bacteria in our gut microbiome through our diets.
Consume a diverse range of plant foods
The variety of plant foods you eat feeds your gut bacteria, which thrive on this diversity.
A key 2018 study by the American Gut Project suggested that consuming 30 different plants a week optimises gut bacteria. These plants provide fibre and polyphenols (plant chemicals) for the bacteria. (6)
30 plants a week: what counts?
Although 30 different plant foods a week can sound like a lot, many different foods count such as: fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grain carbs (e.g. brown rice and brown bread) and herbs and spices.
More information on: Eating 30 Plants per Week: How To Do It and Why (joinzoe.com)
It’s the variety of plant types you consume, not the quantity of each, that makes the difference.
Gradually increasing fibre intake is crucial. Sudden large increases might cause discomfort, like wind and bloating.
Fibre digestion requires water, so aim for 6-8 cups of fluid daily.
(Note: High-fibre diets may not suit everyone, so follow personalised advice from a healthcare professional)
What are prebiotics and are they useful?
Prebiotics, a fibre type, serve as ‘food’ for good gut microbes.
Common prebiotic foods include artichokes, asparagus, tomatoes, berries, onions, and garlic (7)
Prebiotics also come in synthetic forms, added to foods or as supplements.
These prebiotics have shown skin benefits and are already in therapeutic use for conditions like acne and sun damage-related issues. (5)
What are probiotics and are they useful?
Probiotics are live, gut-friendly micro-organisms which are consumed and can add to the population of your gut microbiome.
You can find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, or take them as supplements.
Emerging evidence for probiotics:
Exciting new evidence into the role of probiotics for skin health is emerging.
Ageing: As we age, free radicals (which are produced by our body) damage our skin. Yet new evidence suggests that probiotics may be able to fight these free radicals and thus slow skin-ageing.
UV damage: UV exposure from the sun also causes skin damage such as wrinkling. Recent research carried out on mice and now humans has found that probiotics may play a role in preventing UV skin damage. (8)
These areas of research are promising and new evidence is likely to emerge in future.
The key takeaways & top tips:
The gut and skin share a complex relationship, known as the gut-skin axis.
An imbalanced gut microbiome can potentially harm skin health.
Dietary choices can support a healthy gut microbiome, thus positively influencing skin health.
Our top tip for a healthy gut-skin axis is to eat a variety of plant foods containing pre and probiotics and to hydrate your skin adequately.