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The short answer: yes!
A healthy digestive system can give you great skin. How? Here’s a non-scientific crash course in what’s called the “gut-skin axis.”
Recall a version of the song kids are taught: “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone. The shin bone’s connected to the knee bone….” and so on, until we get understand that our body’s parts are all connected to one another. Thus, if we hurt our foot, the injury also might cause pain or weakness in the ankle, or vice versa, because of their internal connection. That’s basically the gut-skin axis, or gut skin connection. In more scientific words, it’s a term that refers to the processes by which digestive health can impact skin health.
In recent years, in both traditional, western medicine and naturopathic or holistic medicine, mounting evidence has shown that gut health impacts skin health. As you’ll see in this study, much research has been conducted on the positive affect probiotics, like those in yogurt, have on the intestines and on skin conditions, like acne, as well as on the brain.
For now, we’ll set the brain aside. Let’s consider three ways a good gut can help give you a great complexion.
Haven’t we been told that acne is not caused by what we eat? If so, why would eating foods with probiotics help? Aren’t topical treatments, such as Neutrogena, Murad and Proactiv, enough? As this review explains, they may not be.
Everyone’s heard the buzz about probiotics and the tummy. We know that yogurt, kombucha and other probiotic-rich foods as well as supplements can help balance the good varieties of bacteria in your intestines with the bad bacteria. This balance decreases inflammation in the gut lining and thus increases absorption of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, stops bloating, helps manage diarrhea and improves bowel regularity.
Well, turns out that imbalances in gut microbia, which either are a cause or a sign of inflammation in the intestines also tend to co-exist with skin conditions like Small wonder: acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Evidence indicates that when the gut, which is home to much of our body’s immune function, is inflamed, our bodies are usually suffering systemic inflammation and impaired immune function. This includes the skin’s ability to both act as a barrier to pathogens entering our bodies through it and properly fight bacterial infections like those that cause acne. Eating processed foods and refined sugars tends to increase bad bacteria, thereby causing gut and skin inflammation and immune impairment.
Here are two takeaways that can gradually help improve acne: 1. consult with a dermatologist about which probiotic-rich foods to eat or supplements to take; and 2. decrease the amount of processed foods and refined sugars from your diet, e.g. cut back on pasta, bagels and sugary baked goods and substitute in colorful fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Sun Damage Protection
We all know that slathering on our daily SPF 30+ sunscreen is essential to skin protection. Some of us even wear sun-protective hats and clothing, which shield our skin from damaging UV rays. What we may not know is there are also internal avenues to boost our skin’s ability to protect itself. What are they? For the answer, we must look to the gut.
If we decrease inflammation in the gut with probiotics, we will have better absorption, as noted above. Better absorption is essential for healthy skin. Research is also showing that optimizing blood levels of Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer. The vitamin is also generally known to help build strong bones and boost immunity.
What does all that mean for our skin? Once we get in the habit of taking our probiotics so our gut can better absorb vitamin D, the vitamin will get into our bloodstream and into skin cells, creating a stronger barrier against sun damage.
Here are two takeaways regarding sun damage protection: (1) consult with a dermatologist or primary health care provider about your vitamin D levels, and ask the doctor both to test for deficiency and what kind (D2 or D3) and amount is appropriate for you to use as a supplement; and (2) continue to apply sunscreen and take other external sun protective measures.
As far as we know, no one has found the “fountain of youth.” Barring that discovery, the best way to fight aging skin might be in the tummy. Again, consider the improvement in gut absorption from the use of probiotics described above. With better gut absorption of at least two things, you can help yourself retain both your skin’s elasticity and softness. Resilient, soft skin is just how young, healthy skin appears.
The first of these two age-defiers is water, or more specifically, proper hydration. Water and other fluids are absorbed mostly through the lining of the large intestine. They are then filtered through the kidneys. Finally, they go into your bloodstream and into your skin cells. If your intestinal tract is unhealthy, that is, if you have constipation, bloating or diarrhea on a frequent basis, your body is likely experiencing a level of dehydration.
Dehydration visibly impacts the skin. In the short term, it can make the skin around the eyes appear darker and sunken, and in other areas the skin simply won’t be as elastic as normal. In the long term, dehydration contributes to wrinkles, sagginess and dryness. In part, this happens because the body and the skin specifically are not getting the water, electrolytes and other essentials to remain healthy, moist and resilient.
The second of the two age-defiers is Omega-3 fatty acid. Like the intestinal tract’s absorption of water or anything else, it must be functioning properly to break down and absorb fats to keep the skin healthy. Without nourishing fats, your skin cannot retain its protective lipid-layer. Additionally, the fatty acids, like those in fish oils, supply the skin with hydration and help decrease inflammation. In terms of appearance, they contribute to your skin ability to retain moisture and suppleness, so it wrinkles less easily and maintains a healthy shine.
Here are two takeaways from this section on age-defiers:
- 1. stay hydrated, remembering that skin hydration requires not only drinking more water, but also getting enough electrolytes and nutrients from hydrating foods; and
- 2. consult your dermatologist on how much fish oil or, if you’re a vegetarian another source of Omega 3s, to take so you avoid excessive supplementation.
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