The Gut-Skin Axis: Health from the Inside Out
Right now, your skin is covered with trillions of bacterial cells. Don’t panic! If you have been following our series on gut health, you know that healthy bacteria is an important part of our overall health and wellness. The bacteria on your skin is no different.
Your skin microbiota is like a microscopic, invisible suit of armor. The healthy bacteria on your skin supports a strong immune response which fights harmful germs and assists in healing. If you don’t polish a suit of armor, though, it can get rusty and break down. You might find it surprising that “polishing” your skin microbiota isn’t just about what you put on your body, but also what you put in your body.
The healthy bacteria on our skin is an essential part of our overall health. It needs to be kept healthy so that it can assist our immune system in healing and fighting off disease.
Skin and Stomach... Not As Different As You Think!
Joyce started the Betr Health program to lose weight (and she did, 20 pounds…congrats Joyce!), but Betr Health also improved her skin. She’s not the only one who noticed this benefit, many members who adopted the Betr Health eating program report improvements in their skin health.
You might not think that your skin and your gut have much to do with each other. After all, one is on the outside and one is on the inside, right?
Think about what both of these body systems actually do, though.
- Do they both interact with our environment? Sure.
- Are they both part of our immune system? Yep.
- Do they both contain trillions of miraculous bacterial cells that are essential to our everyday health and functioning that we need to maintain with the same love and attention we show other body systems that seem more obviously connected to our overall well-being!? I think you see where I’m going with this.
Because of these similarities between our skin and our gut, it’s no surprise that their health is also connected. Scientists have a name for this relationship between our skin health and gut health…the Gut-Skin Axis (GSA).
Our skin and our gut both play major roles in our immune system and responding to our environment. The relationship between our skin health and gut health is called the “Gut-Skin Axis” (GSA).
The Healthy Gut-Skin Axis (GSA)
If you’ve read any of Betr Health’s other articles related to gut health, you may have already guessed that the microbiota in our gut is the sun around which the solar system of the GSA rotates. When your gut is full of a diverse community of healthy bacteria, everything is working fine.
Healthy gut bacteria (fed by a high-fiber, plant based diet) produces substances known as metabolites. Metabolites act as messengers or building blocks for the production of hormones and other materials needed for our body to function properly.
An important area that these metabolites affect is our skin. When our GSA is functioning correctly, these metabolites keep inflammation low and allow our skin to protect us from harmful bacteria. It also allows our skin to produce healthy skin cells, which it has to constantly replace.
The bad news is that when our gut bacteria is off balance, all of these processes can be affected.
A healthy gut supports the normal function of our skin. These functions are primarily related to protecting us from disease causing bacteria in our environment, and constantly repairing and replacing old skin cells.
Dysbiosis, Inflammation, and Skin Health
Dysbiosis is what happens when your gut microbiota is reduced, out of balance, or generally unhealthy. When dysbiosis occurs, your healthy gut microbes no longer produce healthy metabolites. Instead, they begin to produce unhealthy metabolites that result in inflammation.
Inflammation causes an increase in cell wall permeability in your gut and your skin. What this means is that the walls between your cells in your skin and gut let more stuff through.
Think of a brick wall. When it’s working right, nothing is getting through. Inflammation is like a chisel to that brick wall, it scrapes out the mortar between the bricks to allow substances through to help “fix” the inflammation. This is why you’ll see swelling, redness, and heat around an injury, it’s your inflammatory cells rushing to the problem and working to fix it. This is acute inflammation, and it’s a normal, healthy process.
What happens in cases of long term cell wall permeability though, is that things start to slip between the cracks and go to parts of the body where they don’t belong. Gut bacteria ends up in the skin, causing further inflammation. This inflammation causes even more harmful substances to enter the skin, which can result in redness, itching, and burning or long term skin problems like acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema.
This ongoing inflammation also results in stress. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, your “freak-out” hormone. Like inflammation, cortisol has a role in normal, healthy functioning. When cortisol sticks around for long periods of time, though, it has a damaging effect on our immune system. Because our skin and gut play a huge role in the immune system, the ongoing presence of cortisol further interferes with their function. Which results in more inflammation. Which starts the whole process over again.
Another problem with inflammation in the skin is that it interferes with the building of new, healthy skin cells. In a state of inflammation, your stressed skin will produce cells that are weaker and less able to fight off harmful substances. What happens when harmful substances get into places where they shouldn’t? Inflammation and disease.
Finally, there is evidence that the metabolites of healthy gut bacteria can directly battle unhealthy bacteria on the skin. This, combined with their anti-inflammatory properties, keep the skin cells healthy and provide a comfortable environment for maintaining a balanced community of helpful skin bacteria.
An unhealthy gut microbiota can have negative effects on your skin. These effects include inflammation, increased cell wall permeability, and decreased immune function in the skin. All of this can lead to unhealthy symptoms, chronic inflammation, and disease.
“Maybe She’s Born With It” or...Maybe it’s a healthy gut microbiome
We’ve covered how healthy gut bacteria supports healthy skin. We’ve also talked about how unhealthy changes in your gut microbiome can have negative impacts on your skin health. Now let’s talk about action that you can take to improve your gut microbiome and maintain healthy skin.
- Diet: According to Dr. Sudhir Shah, founder of OM Botanicals, “What you ingest is as important as what you put on your skin”. The Western Diet, heavy in simple carbohydrates and fat, is downright bad for the health of our gut bacteria. Food additives, such as artificial sweeteners can also alter your gut microbiota. The bacteria in your gut need fiber to produce the healthy metabolites to support both gut and skin health. The best way to feed your microbiota is with a diet containing lots of fruits and vegetables, and other high fiber foods such as nuts and legumes.
- Pre and Probiotic Supplementation: Another way to support a healthy microbiome in the gut is through probiotic supplementation. Probiotics are commonly seen as oral preparations of healthy bacteria, but probiotics can also be foods. Fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut contain healthy bacteria that can support your microbiome. There is also some evidence for the topical application of probiotics in the form of creams or ointments to treat skin conditions. Prebiotics are foods or supplements that aren’t bacteria, but are needed to support and nourish healthy bacteria. Supplementing with pre and probiotics have been shown to help the treatment of numerous skin problems including acne, psoriasis, eczema, and UV-damage.
Take care of your skin: We’ve talked about how caring for your gut supports healthy skin, but caring for your skin to support your overall health is important as well. Because your skin is such an important part of your immune system, keeping it healthy can prevent inflammation and disease.
Betr Skin Care
You’re probably already taking care of your skin, right? Most of us have a row of serums, creams, and lotions in our medicine cabinets that promise “redness-reducing”, “wrinkle-reduction”, or “anti-aging”. Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients? Even if you did, you likely couldn’t read them. That’s because many skincare products contain plastics and other petro-chemicals produced from crude oil.
In 2004, there were several reports that showed that common beauty products, including makeup, nail polish, and lotions, often contained chemicals without proven safety data. In fact, some of the chemicals found in these products were even shown, in animal studies, to produce birth defects and reproductive problems.
Betr Health has the same philosophy on skincare as it does on gut health. We believe that you should use healthy, natural, plant-based products to support skin repair and health. That’s why we’ve partnered with OM Botanicals, a natural skincare line designed by molecular biologists and Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. Sudhir Shah.
These products take the knowledge of Ayurvedic Medicine, a traditional practice that has proven safe and effective for thousands of years, and apply it to skincare. OM Botanicals contain naturally-sourced vitamins, essential oils, and plant-based extracts to repair and nourish your skin.
What have we learned about the relationship between our gut and our skin?
- Skin and gut health are linked through the “Gut-Skin Axis”
- An unhealthy or imbalanced community of gut bacteria can cause inflammation and other negative health impacts on your skin
- Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is essential to maintaining healthy skin
- Many of the skincare products on the market contain synthetic, possibly harmful chemicals
- You should treat your skin with the same care as you treat your gut using natural, healthy products, such as those found in OM Botanicals
The Betr Health program is designed to support full-body health, starting with your gut. Part of that whole-body philosophy is offering the OM Botanicals line of healthy, natural skincare products. If you’ve followed the Betr Health method to fix and repair your gut, maybe it’s time to ask yourself…are you doing the same for your skin?
For the in-depth discussion of skin health between Dr. Shah and Dr. Ferro, and other great topics related to your health, check out the Quacks and Hypochondriacs podcast.