There is a gut skin access and if your experiencing gut issues you may be wearing the evidence on your face or other areas of your skin. Your digestive system and skin are intricately connected. The micro-biome of your gut and its cellular integrity set the tone for your skin's micro-biome and skin barrier integrity. There is even evidence that suggests this can also works vice versa in some scenarios such as atopic dermatitis. Acne, eczema, red/flaky dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis are all conditions where gut bug balance is of huge importance. If you’re lucky enough not to have an active skin condition, you can still enjoy the benefits of good gut health in supporting healthy aging and resilient youthful skin
However you would like to see your skin heal and flourish it can’t be ignored that gut bacteria are of special consideration. For those with overt digestive symptoms who would like to know what's going on with your digestive system and how to fix it, you are a perfect candidate for some functional digestive system testing. This functional testing vastly differs from anything you may have had run through your GP, so if you have been told there is nothing coming up in your pathology testing or that you have IBS and that’s the end of it, there is still a world of hope for your inner gut ecology and it’s probable effect on your skin. This testing is most commonly available through naturopaths and nutritionists but may not be accessible for everyone. If you don’t feel that you notice digestive disturbances or simply don’t have the resources to look at functional testing your next best bet for digestive health is taking care of your gut bacteria so they can nourish and heal your gut and skin.
When we talk about gut bacteria many of us think of probiotics and possibly fermented foods. The bacteria in these sources can be immensely useful for bringing about change in the gut and are generally really useful tools for digestive and skin balance. If you notice that generic or high dosed probiotics cause some discomfort, you may have an issue called SIBO and if you notice a reaction to fermented foods you may have a form of histamine intolerance. The good gut bacteria in these sources are commonly from the lactobacillus or bifidobacterium genus and it’s important to note that they make up only a small portion of the population of bacteria living in our gut microbiome. The bulk of the gut bacteria in our intestines are classed into 2 main phyla the Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes and then can be further classified into individual species. The important thing to note here is that there are a lot more commensal bacteria that makeup the normal ecology of the gut then what we can ingest with a supplement. So when we want to bring about positive change in the bacteria of the whole gut we need to think about what we are feeding them and how diet will cause certain species to thrive. Research shows that dramatic dietary changes over just a single day can alter the gut microbiome, changes that return back to normal if that diet is returned back to it’s former norm.
When we are eating for a healthy gut we need to be including a balanced quantity of protein, good fat and plenty of fresh produce that is high in fibre, this can include nuts seeds and whole grains for those who tolerate them but should lean heavily on vegetable and some fruit intake. The number one food category of foods that improve positive bacteria proliferation is prebiotic fibre containing foods. Prebiotics are fibres that are also known as resistant starches, this is because they resist digestion in the small intestine and are only broken down in the large intestine by our gut bugs. When prebiotics are used up for fuel by bacteria, the bacteria produce substrates called short chain fatty acids and these work wonderfully to promote gut healing and integrity while decreasing inflammation and regulating the gut immune system. The gut immune system then regulates inflammation in the body at large. The most useful of these prebiotics is called butyrate and many individuals with gut and gut related skin dysfunction are low in butyrate.
Some individuals find that when transitioning onto a higher prebiotic diet they experience some digestive disturbances. If this is severe then it’s best to work with a practitioner such as a naturopath or nutritionist on how to eat for gut health. If it’s mild you will generally find that if you introduce these foods in small portions such as 1 table spoon of cannellini beans each day for 10 days then tolerance to these foods gradually improves as the microbiome changes positively. If prebiotic intolerance continues you may have SIBO or another intestinal imbalance then it’s best to work with a naturopath to resolve. If you want to promote the abundance of positive bacteria for skin health using fermented foods or a probiotic supplement coupled with plenty of prebiotic foods especially those that increase butyrate is favourable. Remember we are all individuals and the point of a holistic approach to healing is that one approach doesn’t fit all. Listen to your body and when your not sure seek professional support.
Foods that are a wonderful source of prebiotic include Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, garlic, onion, shallots, spring onions, green bananas or plantain or green banana flour, apples, chicory root (coffee substitute), dandelion greens (salad leaves), flaxseeds, seaweed, unprocessed or bran of barley, oats and wheat, almonds, pistachios and walnuts and all legumes including chickpeas, lentils and beans of all types.
Foods that are specifically good for increasing butyrate in the gut are almonds, apples, kiwi fruit, chickpeas, garlic, soybeans, corn kernels and oat bran or steel cut oats.
Written by Elissa Roy.
Naturopathic Skin, Digestive and Hormone Specialist
Master of Applied Sciences (Traditional Chinese Medicine) -currently undertaking