Most of us are probably familiar with what our tummies can easily break down... or rather what they can't. With the human body being a host to over a trillion microbes, over 8 million microbial genes and harbouring over 10,000 microbial species, no wonder gut microflora research has become a hot topic in the last few years. In fact, microbial cells far outnumber human cells in your body. Microorganisms are found on or within a number of different tissues and bodily fluids, including the skin, saliva and the gastrointestinal tract.
Numerous studies have uncovered the complex but direct links between gut function and overall digestive health. However did you know that 'bad' bacteria in the stomach and gut health issues are also associated with skin disorders – like leaky gut and cystic acne?
Poor digestion and skin problems
Both the gut and skin are colonised with distinct microbial communities and act as important contact organs by which the body communicates with its environment. They're also big players in the immune defence system. Both diet and gastrointestinal disorders like leaky gut may have an impact on the skin and have been associated with dermatological conditions including acne vulgaris2, rosacea, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema3.
More severe gut health conditions like Crohn’s Disease and ulcterative colitis4,5 can also cause skin problems. As our understanding of the GI tract and the skin (or the 'gut-skin axis') grows, it may provide an avenue for new therapeutic skin treatments in the future. Multiple studies have shown that eczema symptoms may be affected by probiotic supplementation and has also been linked to the integrity of the gut lining or intestinal permeability.
What's more, the prevalence of Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is thought to be higher in rosacea patients, and a study in 2013 showed that some sufferers’ skin symptoms improved when their gut condition was treated with the antibiotic, rifaximin6. It's thought that gastrointestinal symptoms are present in about 28% of patients with psoriasis and studies have linked this skin condition with gut bacterial balance and overall intestinal health.
The science behind the body's communication between the gut and the skin is still in its infancy. However, we do know that our intestinal health and our gut bacteria are not only important for digestion and absorption, but also influence inflammation and play a huge role in regulating our immune responses. In turn, these both have an impact on skin health.
Different types of bacteria have been studied in relation to different skin conditions. If you suffer with a specific skin issue, it's best to see a trained practitioner (Dietician, Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapist) who help with diet advice relevant for that particular problem and perhaps suggest specific probiotic supplements with strains of bacteria that have been studied for their ability to help.
Best foods to eat for a healthy gut
Foods that promote healthy gut flora naturally contain the '3 P’s' – Probiotics, Prebiotics and Polyphenols:
1. Incorporate probiotic foods to your daily diet
Unsweetened natural yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, olives and fermented foods like miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut are helpful sources of probiotics.
2. Add prebiotic foods as well to support microflora balance
Garlic, leeks, onions, artichokes, wheat bran and bananas are great sources of undigestible plant fibres called 'prebiotics' which feed the 'good' gut bacteria.
You may already be familiar with the potential for probiotics and prebiotic foods to support gut health, but did you know that polyphenol antioxidants are also gut-supportive foods?7 Polyphenols are compounds found in plants which are associated with the taste and colour of fruit and vegetables, their ability to support health and their antioxidant capacity. Gut bacteria play an important role in transforming dietary polyphenols into absorbable biologically active compounds in our guts. Some studies have shown that consuming foods rich in polyphenols helps to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli7.
3. Colourful foods nuts and spices help boost your intake of Polyphenols
Fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, dark chocolate, coffee, nuts and seeds and whole grains are all just some of the many food sources of polyphenols that help improve your overall gut health.
So next time you go to the grocery store, you'll know exactly what to pick to improve your gut health flora naturally and hopefully see and feel the difference in your digestion and skin!
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2. Fabbrocini G., et al (2017) “Supplementation with lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 normalises skin expression of genes implicated in insulin signalling and improves adult acne” Benef. Microbes 16(1): 1-10 doi: 10.3920/BM2016.0121.
3. Nibali, L. & Henderson B. (2016) “The Human Microbiota & Chronic Disease: Dysbiosis as a cause of Human Pathology.” Published by Wiley, Blackwell.
5. O’Neill et al. (2016) “The gut-skin axis in health and disease: a paradigm with therapeutic implications.” Bioessays 38: 1167-1176
6. Ali, IA, Follad N, & Sivamani RK. (2014) “Considering the Gut-Skin Axis for Dermatological Diseases.” Austin Journal of Dermatology 1(5): 1024-1025