Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and your first defense against the outside world. It is directly connected to your whole-body health. Cumulative evidence has demonstrated intimate, bidirectional connection between the gut and skin.
Acne, eczema, and psoriasis can all be signs that something is going wrong in the gut.
Methods by which the gut can negatively impact the skin include:
- Low stomach acid (can lead to SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Eating foods that cause inflammation
- Malabsorption of nutrients that protect the skin (especially folic acid, zinc, chromium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids) and reduce inflammation
- Alterations in neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine. These neurotransmitters can increase intestinal permeability, leading to both intestinal and systemic inflammation
Sugar: A 2017 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that carbohydrate-heavy and sugar-rich foods (like bagels, white rice, and that chocolate cake) may be related to acne and its severity. A short-term randomized control trial found that a low glycemic index diet and glycemic load diet decreased IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor), which could explain the reduction in symptoms.
Dairy: There is also research linking dairy consumption and acne. The evidence is still weak, and none of these studies establish a clear cause and effect, just an association. A small amount of data suggests a link between taking whey protein powder and developing acne, but more high-quality research is needed.
Chocolate: Emerging research supports a link between eating chocolate and developing acne, but the reasons why and strength of the relationship remain unclear. I would propose it is because Cocoa is a prebiotic, which is food for bacteria or because chocolate can often have added soy and sugar; two components that can be a trigger for some people.
Gluten: People with psoriasis have been found to have increased markers for gluten sensitivity. If you have psoriasis and a gluten sensitivity, try eliminating gluten for 30 days and see if your symptoms improve.
Fast food: This doesn’t necessarily just mean McDonalds. Food that is prepared away from home is typically cooked in oils like corn, sunflower, and peanut; which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. A diet high in omega-6 fatty acids without a proper balance of omega-3’s is associated with increased inflammation.
Stress: Experimental studies show that psychological stress stagnates normal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the barrier of our intestines. SIBO [small intestinal bacterial over growth] is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, while eradication of SIBO improves emotional symptoms. Refer to my previous blog post on meditation and gut health.
The tricky part is that the community of microorganisms in our gut is different from person to person, and different foods may trigger flare ups in individuals.
How does improving gut health improve skin conditions?
- Decreasing skin sensitivity
- Increasing skin barrier function
- Reducing inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs, like corticosteroids, are effective treatments for severe acne and that people with acne have elevated levels of inflammatory molecules in their blood.
- Normalizing skin expression of genes involved in insulin signaling.
- Stimulation of serotonin release from intestinal cells which increases vagus nerve activity.
- Balancing hormones
- Eliminating toxins
Topical creams and pills are typically addressing symptoms, rather than the root cause.
Therefore, if you have tried everything for your skin health and nothing seems to budge, you should take a look at your gut health. My clients typically see their skin improve within the first month of healing their gut.
Here’s my quick checklist for acne:
- Make sure you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. These are anti-inflammatory fats found in salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies, and a few other varieties.
- Probiotics from food and/or supplements can help promote a more balanced microbiome.
- Control your blood sugar by eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day filled with lean meats, nuts, and a variety of colored fruits and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of clear filtered water. Your urine should be light yellow (unless you take B vitamins).
- Get moving. Daily activity, especially one that encourages sweating, is incredibly beneficial for skin health.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
In great health,