BLOG BY Dr Ruth Cammish

Does a Happy Gut Mean Happy Skin?

'We show you how eating blueberries, a skip of avocados, a teaspoon of kimchi, almond dusted kale crisps and dark chocolate dipped cucumbers is the only way to achieve that dewy and radiant skin you lust after….’. Sound familiar?! Is information overload leaving us more confused than ever about which skin health advice is worth following?

What is gut health, in a nutshell?

Our bowels are not merely a transit organ for our waste products. We know that this complicated organ is responsible for digesting and absorbing energy and nutrients from our food, and recent research has shown that the good and bad bacteria in our gut contributes to our immune system, metabolism and even our risk of obesity and mental health issues. 70% of our immune response happens in the gut which means keeping it happy is important! The ‘gut microbiome’ is the term used to describe the combination of bacteria, yeasts and fungi in our gut. A ‘diverse microbiome’ (one with lots of these organisms) is thought to be a good indicator of a ‘healthy’ gut, which research has linked to the prevention of some diseases, such as diabetes.

The skin microbiome is different and research about it is in its infancy. In skin conditions like eczema, sufferers have different amounts of certain bacteria, which can lead to flare ups. Better understanding this balance could lead to potential treatments. Some people first experience psoriasis after streptococcus throat infections, suggesting that our immune system does have an effect on skin diseases. We are just beginning to explore this link, and more research is needed in this area.

What can we do for a happy gut and can we influence the appearance of our skin?

The gut microbiome is greatly influenced by diet. The diversity of the plant-based foods we eat is key, so try to aim for 30 different varieties a week of fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes. Furthermore, make food colourful! Prebiotics are the fertiliser for our gut bacteria and consist of fibre, found in potatoes, wholegrain bread and oats, as well as in fruits and vegetables. Mix in some probiotic foods too which contain live bacteria, like kimchi, sauerkraut and some yoghurts. No fancy supplements required, just a colourful, diverse diet. Its also worth noting that there is no fixed skin diet supported by current research. No individual food is a skin superfood, instead the diversity of what we eat is likely to be more important to increase the antioxidants which prevent skin damage. Processed foods affect our gut diversity, so moderation is key. Vitamins and minerals such as A, C, E, zinc and selenium are important for skin health and a varied diet provides these without the need for expensive supplements. Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish (supplements if you’re vegan) help with skin inflammation.

Additionally, from a non-diet perspective:

  • Keep antibiotic use to a minimum where possible, and we’re just beginning to understand how stress affects our gut too, in addition to our general wellbeing.

  • How our skin appears is influenced by a number of factors. Your grandmother is 55 but looks 35? Well, you have won the genetics lottery, cue a slow, envy ridden clap…

  • Wear sunscreen all year round as UVA is still present in winter and leads to premature skin ageing.

  • Stop smoking, as it affects collagen and elasticity.

  • Sleeping beauty had her priorities right. Poor sleep or not enough, affects how our skin repairs itself and lack of sleep can lead to dullness and dark eye circles.

  • Keeping well hydrated is good for digestion and skin, although drinking above the recommended amounts is unlikely to make your skin any plumper. Excessive alcohol can also lead to dehydration or swelling the next day.

  • Regular exercise improves blood flow to the skin and is great for our general health as well.

  • Oily and dry skin both need external moisture to improve the barrier function of the skin.

At this stage , can we be black and white when it comes to the effect of good gut health on our skin?

No, not yet.  Research will improve our understanding of the complex links between them, but a diet that is good for our general health is likely to be good for our skin too. Keep it simple with a variety of foods, moisturise, look after your general health and stress levels, embrace your good skin days and remember that people are rarely looking at you in the same detail you scrutinise yourself. Holding your head high and feeling happy and confident is the best filter you can ever apply.

*This advice does not replace the support offered by health professionals. Please seek advice from a registered nutritionist or dietitian for more information.

References:

  • Waldes, A. Walter, J. Segal, E. Spector, T. The role of gut microbia in health. BMJ 2018;361:k2179

  • Salem, I. Ramser, A, Isham, N. Ghannoum, M. The gut microbiome as a major regulator of the gut-skin axis. Front microbiol. 2018; 9: 1459.

  • Lee, S. Lee, E. Mee Park, Y. Hong, S. Microbiome in the gut-skin axis in atopic dermatitis. Allergy asthma Immunol Res. 2018 Jul; 10(4): 354-362

  • Enders, G. Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under rated organ. Vancover: Greystone books. 2015.

  • Haffner, T. Food fact sheet, skin health. The Association of UK dieticians. 2016.

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