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The Skin Series - Is a healthy gut the key to healthy skin?

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Welcome back to another blog in the skin series, and final one for now in this series. I have personally enjoyed covering these subjects, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them!

I have so many more subjects I wish to cover. My main aim to educate and help others gain awareness in such a diverse subject that is nutrition, as it can impact so many aspects of our lives.

As I have said many times before, nutrition and our diet is not a miracle cure but it can certainly influence particular elements of our health and bodies. Very importantly it can make us feel great inside and out!

This week I am going to cover gut health and skin, which is one subject that fascinates me and I am eager to watch the research grow in this area.

Gut health is a trending topic right now, but with seemingly endless advice out there about what it means and how to maintain it, it can be hard to separate fact from myths. This blog should fill you in on the basic facts surrounding healthy gut bacteria, as well as offering some tips for your own gut health.

How often do you see advertising convincing you to shot that disgusting drink, or banish X, Y and Z from your diet and expect that healthy and glowing skin you have always wanted? Does it really work? Or is the information just too confusing?

So let's dive in...

First of all, What do we mean when we say gut health?

The gut or gastrointestinal tract (or the GI tract or GIT for short) also known as the digestive system (the lower part of the digestive system), or the bowel. Loads of names I know, but as always the research never keeps it simple for us. The bowel goes from the stomach to the anus.

This organ is so much more than just an insignificant organ for our waste products. We know that this complicated organ is responsible for digesting and absorbing energy and nutrients from our food, so pretty key.

Gut health in particular refers to the physical state and physiologic function of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract or the gut. So how well it works, and how it is looked after.

Recent research has begun to show us the importance of the “good” and how “bad” bacteria within our gut can affect key elements to our health, from the immune system, to metabolism and even contributing to mental health issues and obesity.

The ‘gut microbiome’ is the term used to describe the combination of those bacteria, the yeasts and the fungi in our gut.

A ‘diverse microbiome’ (one with lots of these organisms) is thought to be a good indicator of a ‘healthy’ gut.

The skin microbiome is a bit different and research in this area is in its early stages. In skin conditions like eczema, sufferers have different amounts of certain bacteria, which can lead to flare ups in the skin.

Understanding this balance could lead to potential individualised 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 more and more, but further in depth research is needed.

How can we keep the gut or the digestive system happy and healthy through our diet?

The gut microbiome is positively impacted by diet, mainly, the plant based foods.

What we do know, is it is the diversity of those plant based foods we eat that influence this. Research says, to aim for 30 different types per week, of fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes. This doesn't mean you have to go fully plant based, just getting a range in, whilst making it as colourful as you can. It doesn't have to be complimented. Many of these foods you already eat.

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 plant based rich diet.

Can we improve our skin through a healthy gut diet?

Unfortunately, there is no one dedicated skin health diet that is supported by current reliable research.

And no singular food is a skin superfood, instead the overall diversity of what we eat is likely to be more important to increase the nutrients and antioxidants which prevent skin damage, appearance and overall health.

Additionally, particular processed foods can impact our gut diversity, so moderation is key. I usually dislike using the word processed, as it can be confusing, in theory most things are processed through the journey in the food chain.

Not all processed food impacts health. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria. Even actions like freezing are a process.

So what is meant here?

Foods that have ingredients added such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to extend their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food's structure, such as salt in “fast foods”, savoury snacks such as sausage rolls or sugar in cakes.

What I like to do though, is focus on what you can add into a person's rather than what you can take out. So remember those plant based foods, the pre and probiotics.

Some other important nutrients to think about, are vitamins and minerals. These are known as micronutrients, which are in various foods we eat everyday. 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.

Also, one of my favourite nutrients, omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish (supplements if you’re vegan) help with skin inflammation. I always rave about Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s one of my favourite nutrients. Due to the Anti-inflammatory properties Omega 3s have, I’d highly recommend increasing the amount of Omega 3s in your diet, as this is useful not just for irritated or inflamed skin, but think of all the little niggles and achy joints or rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown, not only do Omega 3s have those properties they have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, eye function, hormone function, and cognition (in particular memory function and mood).

There are three types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA are found in fish and seafood, the 3rd form ALA is the vegan friendly foods. Dietary sources rich in omega 3s include oily fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Trout, herrings, kippers, fresh crab, and tuna +more), flax seeds, chia seeds, plant oils or I usually recommend a high quality Algae for vegan clients.

Additional non dietary related information in protecting our gut or skin health:

  • Keep antibiotic use to a minimum where possible, as this does affect our gut. This is obviously not always possible and I do not recommend dismissing illness, it is best to consult with your GP.

  • We are just beginning to understand how stress and general well-being affects our gut too. Mindfulness or exercises which help to maintain stress could be useful in this area. They also support other aspects of our lives so might be worth a go anyway!

  • How our skin appearance and health is impacted by many factors. One of those being genetics. Some lucky ones just win the genetics lottery.

  • Wear sunscreen all year round even in winter and to prevent premature skin ageing.

  • Stop smoking or cut right down on, as it affects collagen and elasticity.

  • Poor quality of sleep or not enough, affects how our skin repairs itself and lack of sleep can lead to dullness and dark eye circles. Check out my instagram to see my sleeping top tips.

  • Hydration and maintaining this is great for digestion and skin, although drinking above the recommended amounts is unlikely to make your skin any plumper. Check out my previous blog. 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.

What can we take from this?

This is a generalised overview of this subject, and individual advice will always be key like all areas in nutrition. If you are looking to work together for individualised advice and support, click here.

Future research will improve our understanding of the complex relationship between here, but a diet that is good for our general health is likely to be good for our skin too. As the research grows we will get a better overall picture on the way.

We need to stay realistic here, there is not one perfect diet for everyones "problem" areas they want to work on. Not one particular food either that can lead to a quick fix. But there are foods we can include that can benefit us, and support some of those areas. Helping us feel confident!!!

Keep it simple with a variety of foods including a few of those key nutrient dense plant based ones, get in those omega 3s and hydrate. Remember other non diet related factors affect our skin too, moisturise, look after your all round health and stress levels.

Importantly, embrace the days you feel great in your own skin and remember people don’t criticise you like you do yourself.

I hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it!

I will be back soon :)


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