By Leila DiQuinzio
Most of us can relate to the desire to improve our skin, whether it’s acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, pigmentation, dandruff, redness, flushing or... shh... wrinkles! Whilst getting all the perfect skincare, sunshine, and sleep can only do so much, the real place to look for skin salvation is the place we’d rather just forget about – the poo factory. When the gut is working optimally the skin has a glow that the best cream can’t match.
There are So. Many. Ways. the skin and the gut interact! Think of them as a pair - the internal and external linings of your body. Both are constantly coming into contact with the external environment, so there is a lot of communication re: how to deal with bad guys, absorb nutrients, and take the rubbish out.
Even if you feel like you have great gut function, it is still playing a role in your skin health! If you’ve tried every cream and lotion with little relief, have used a lot of antibiotics or the contraceptive pill, or are eating healthy but still have bloating, think about targeting the gut as a way to settle your skin. So, what’s the link?
Emptying the trash
The skin is our largest organ, but more than that – our largest elimination organ. When our preferred methods of taking out the toxins through the gut and liver aren’t working too well, the toxins take the path of least resistance – out through the skin, meaning pimples instead of perfect poop.
The gut and liver also have an important role in eliminating excess hormones from the body, such as oestrogen. If the liver isn’t working optimally, being under strain from environmental toxins like pesticides, pollution, and less than worthy ingredients in personal and cleaning products, this can trigger premenstrual pimples!
Tip: Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage contain nutrients that help the liver eliminate oestrogen: steam, stir fry, roast or add them to soups or curries.
Like the gut with its trillions of microorganisms, the skin has its own microbiome. A unique ecosystem where bacteria, good and bad, compete for air time.
Recent research is showing that a lack of diversity in these bugs is leading to chronic skin conditions. The imbalanced bacteria activate the immune system, leading to inflammation, which equals redness, acne, eczema and the rest.
We can also see the role of bacteria in the fact that so many people who have skin conditions also have gut conditions. For example, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is 10 times more common in people with rosacea compared to those without, and people with acne are more likely to be constipated. You can get to know exactly who is at your bacteria party with comprehensive testing through a holistic practitioner.
This guy: leaky gut
The gut barrier is a major defence against unwanted substances entering the bloodstream such as bacteria, toxins and partially digested food particles. Allowing these substances through to the bloodstream means they can reach the skin tissues and trigger inflammation, which causes tissue damage.
Leaky gut can also be a cause of food reactions which are expressed through the skin, like eczema that flares after eating eggs or wheat.
Where the nutrients at?
Many gut problems can affect the nutrients available to the skin. This can be due to damage to the gut wall making it harder for it to absorb nutrients; an overgrowth of bacteria stealing our nutrients (like in SIBO); or a gut which requires extra love and uses up the nutrients before they can reach the skin.
Vitamin A and zinc are required for both skin healing and gut healing. However, most often the gut takes first pick, so a sad and needy gut using up all these nutrients doesn’t leave much available for skin repair.
This becomes a big problem for skin. When it is starved of adequate nutrition it starts to act out with dryness, cracking, redness, pimples, or slow healing time.
The devil’s in the sugar Meanwhile, here we are devouring the croissants, chocolate, and cocktails, creating even more problems for our skin.
Sugar leads straight to inflammation, cue redness and pimples. Through a process called glycation, sugar also interferes with the structure and function of skin, leading to less nutrient supply, more wrinkles and “sugar sag” – yikes!
Also watch out for excess gluten, dairy, alcohol, and a lack of fibre in the diet, contributing to inflammation and sad skin symptoms.
Now, wield your power!
Now that you know, arm yourself: limit sugar, eat a large variety of plant foods, drink plenty of water, and include these top 4 nutrients to assist both gut and skin health for an inside-out glow.
Zinc: Oysters, eggs, red meat, pumpkin seeds, cacao, nuts, mushrooms
Vitamin C: Broccoli, kiwi fruit, red capsicum, citrus, strawberries, parsley, tomato, papaya
Good fats: Oily fish like sardines, salmon, anchovies, mackerel; chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, avocado
Vitamin A: Orange vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato; eggs (yolks!), butter or ghee
Consider seeing a holistic practitioner like a naturopath for the inside-out info on all things skin including functional testing to assess for SIBO, leaky gut, food intolerances, candida and other issues that may be contributing to your skin problems.
Leila is a qualified naturopath based in Melbourne. She specialises in chronic digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut, and is passionate about eating a well-balanced diet, while still enjoying food. She believes living well doesn’t have to be a chore, and is keen to show us all how to manage our health – and enjoy it, too.