The digestive track is a fairly large organ when considered from start to end.
The skin, however, is even larger. In fact, it’s our largest organ, and the one organ that we can visually check.
Both of these organs signal to us about our health.
Our stomach lets us know about problems through gas, pain, and sickness.
The skin talks to us through rashes, dryness, and acne.
The thing that some might not have considered is the connection between our gut and our skin, also known as the gut-skin axis.
To be more specific, there’s a direct link between our gut, the bacteria in our gut, and our skin.
Both the gut and the skin are defenders against pathogens invading our body.
They’re also important in the neuroendocrine messaging system. They have nerves that send and receive signals from the brain...and they can also send messages to other parts of the body.
The gut and skin have another similarity: they both have their own microbiome, meaning an ecosystem of bacteria.
We know what we eats affects the gut microbiome, but does that continue on to affect our skin?
Around 70 years ago, dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury proposed a connection between depression, anxiety, and skin conditions such as acne.
They discovered that emotional states like stress, anxiety, and depression do in fact alter gut flora.
It’s common knowledge that stress affects our sleep, our stomach, and our thinking. People who struggle with acne know that stress can trigger it and make it worse.
If stress is throwing the balance of gut bacteria off, it’s safe to say that the bacteria cause some of the acne.
The two dermatologists Stokes and Pillsbury used a bacteria to treat acne that is now widely known as Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is the most common strain of probiotic on the market.
Although this idea isn’t completely new, it’s not been in mainstream media until recently. Numerous studies now link gut health and acne.
IBD, Inflammatory bowel disease, is associated with a higher risk of developing psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea.
People with Celiac disease very often have skin problems. One subset of the disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, actually presents with skin problems rather than gut issues.
From this list of conditions, you can see that many things cause problems in the gut flora.
Food sensitivities, which are becoming more and more common, probably due to all the additives making people more sensitive.
A poor diet, high in sugar, carbohydrates, processed and refined foods, caffeine, alcohol, bad oils, and fats.
A recent study by Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, found that eating junk food for 10 days reduced microbiota diversity by a third.
Poor digestion can create toxins and bad bacteria.
Stress, both physical or emotional and mental hurt our immune system and gut health.
Lack of sleep alters our cortisol levels and weakens the adrenals.
Medication, antibiotics, and birth control can throw off our gut bacteria, and bacteria balances in other areas.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): The long-term use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen can increase intestinal permeability and contribute to leaky gut.
Excessive alcohol intake: Excessive alcohol intake may increase intestinal permeability.
Nutrient deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc have each been implicated in increased intestinal permeability
Inflammation: Chronic inflammation throughout the body can contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
Poor gut health: There are millions of bacteria in the gut, some beneficial and some harmful. When the balance between the two is disrupted, it can affect the barrier function of the intestinal wall.
Yeast overgrowth: Yeast is naturally present in the gut, but an overgrowth of yeast may contribute to leaky gut.
*A doctor can run a stool test to check for a bacteria imbalance or yeast overgrowth.
Imagine if you’re dealing with several items from this list, and what that will do to your gut health...and your skin.
Sometimes a dermatologist or doctor will prescribe antibiotics for acne...but sadly that disrupts the gut bacteria and can cause even worse acne.
Jasmine Garnsworthy shared her story in a post called “I went on a 4-week gut cleanse, and it changed everything”.
She quickly explains that going on a 4 week microbiome diet transformed her skin.
Before, she suffered from chronic cystic acne that wasn’t improving even after using antibiotics and prescription creams.
We’ll see why those can make the problem worse soon!
A specialist concluded that she probably had an overgrowth of yeast in her digestive track, and that a microbiome diet could improve the good bacteria, therefore helping her gut biome and then her skin.
Her plan included cutting certain foods, taking a probiotic supplement, and eating a gut friendly diet.
She cut processed foods, sugar, eggs, soy, gluten, dairy, yeast, dried fruits, and fungus.
For the four week cleanse, even gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice and starchy vegetables and legumes like potatoes, peanuts, and kidney beans are off-limits, as the sugars in those foods can feed bad bacteria.
She replaced those foods with non-starchy veggies and fruits while emphasizing fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
Chickpeas and lentils are the only allowed legumes.
For protein, she ate beef, chicken, low-mercury fish, lamb, and shellfish.
This is similar to an anti-inflammatory diet, which also helps the gut and acne.
Garnsworthy’s skin cleared within a few weeks so that she only had left over red marks, and those faded as well.
A year later her skin was still clear and radiant.
You can change your lifestyle to heal your gut and therefore your skin.
That might sound overwhelming, but it’s easier if you take steps and work on one issue at a time.
You can take eat prebiotic and probiotic foods, and take probiotic supplements, while making life changes as well.
Taking Lactobacillus rhamnosus orally reduces the severity of atopic dermatitis in those with IgE-sensitive reactions, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus TB helps eczema.
There’s even more you can do to heal your gut. Functional Medicine uses The 5 Rs to treat skin problems:
1. Remove anything from your diet that might hurt your gut, especially sugar and processed foods. Also use an elimination diet to test if common triggers are bothering you. Remove inflammatory fats like omega 6 and vegetable oils.
2. Replace with gut-friendly foods like yogurt, miso, banana, sauerkraut, bone broth, oats, and almonds. Use healthier oils like extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
3. Reinoculate – introduce good bacteria into the gut with a probiotic and a diet high in fiber.
4. Repair with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fish oil, and glutamine. Vitamins good for skin include vitamins E, A, C, biotin, niacin, and zinc.
5. Rebalance – look at your entire lifestyle to see what else is affecting your gut, including the issues listed above, such as stress and sleep problems.
Using the 5 Rs will help you have a healthy gut, which leads to clearer, healthier skin.
Continue to build your healthier gut flora with the following steps.
1. Eat whole unprocessed and unrefined foods.
2. Strive to have 75% of your plate be colorful vegetables and plant-based foods. The good gut bacteria thrive on these.
3. Eat good fats such as omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats to decrease inflammation and help good bacteria flourish.
4. Eat anti-inflammatory coconut for medium chain triglyceride oils, or MCT oils.
A healthy gut also allows you to absorb the nutrients your skin needs.
Many skin problems come from deficiencies—someone with leaky gut or other digestive issues might not be able to properly absorb nutrients.
One last vitamin to think about is new—or at least it’s new to us.
Vitamin K2 MK-4 is being called the missing vitamin. It’s concentrated in the brain so it helps with brain health.
So far we know it’s also important for bone integrity, cardiovascular health, gut health, and skin health.
Vitamin K2 MK-4 promotes the healing of scars, and actually shrinks pores by reducing inflammation in the skin.
MK-4 is found in 100% grass-fed unpasteurized butter.
Look for darker, more yellow butter. That means it has more vitamin K2 because it associates with beta-carotene.
It benefits the gut because the fatty acids in grass-fed butter nourish healthy intestinal flora.
Now, we discussed cutting dairy for a microbiome cleanse, so introduce this later on if you are resetting your biome first.
We know a diet high in fiber and a variety of food helps to develop and nurture the right gut flora.
It can take some time to rebalance your gut bacteria, but the foods that heal your gut are very healthy. So you’re only helping yourself by eating them, and improving your overall health.
Changing your diet to nurture your gut bacteria isn’t like taking medication that has side effects.
Keep a food journal and snap a photo every few weeks to track how your skin is doing.
Are you ready to learn even more about how your food affects not only your skin but your overall health?
What you eat can make you sick in so many different ways—food is either medicine or poison.
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