The Gut-Skin Axis
16 Jan 2022
Skin conditions are a common complaint amongst the population, with 85% of people experiencing some form of acne between the ages of 12-24 1 and 1 in 10 people developing atopic dermatitis during their lifetime.2
With skin complaints on the rise and without a clear-cut solution, are we looking to the symptoms as opposed to the source of the problem when it comes to our skin woes?
Emerging evidence claims that it might be what’s going on quite literally inside of us that has the biggest impact on our health, including our skin.
Countless articles are telling us what to eat for glowing skin but rarely do they explain just how our dietary choices affect our gut health and how that impacts our skin.
What is the Gut-Skin Axis?
The gut-skin axis can simply be described as the relationship our gut has with the health and appearance of our skin.
Our digestive tract (most notably our large intestine) is lined with bacteria that ferment the food we ingest to create proteins and molecules that control various processes within the body, including the function of our skin.3
The state of our microbiome is vital in regulating skin turnover, what is detoxified through the skin, inflammatory skin mediators, the list goes on! We require a healthy ratio of good to bad bacteria for our skin to function at its best.
How Does Gut Dysbiosis Affect Skin Conditions?
Dysbiosis occurs when we have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the digestive tract.
If our gut has pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, also known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), this affects the skin by metabolites produced by bad bacteria entering the bloodstream and presenting in the skin.4
A study including patients with rosacea saw significant improvements in their symptoms once patients were rid of their pre-existing SIBO.5
A harmful fungal organism, called Candida Albicans, which lives in the intestines (and other parts of the digestive tract if pathogenic), has been shown to show to proliferate on the skin in itchy, raised, and at times red pustules.6
Acne vulgaris, an inflammatory skin condition, classified by the Global Burden of Disease Study as the eighth most common disease worldwide, has also been shown to correlate significantly in those with dysbiosis.7
What Causes Dysbiosis?
The brain can exert a powerful effect on our gut microbiome, studies have shown even mild stress can negatively impact our microflora balance, leaving us vulnerable to infection and many health conditions.8
Stress has also been shown to affect the immune system which is responsible for fighting bad bacteria if it proliferates. If the immune system is dysregulated, this allows pathogenic bacteria to thrive.9
Antibiotic use has been researched for its effects on the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
A microbiome lacking diversity and abundance of good bacteria has been shown to negatively impact the immune system, which when in a weakened state cannot fight off bad microbes and keep our microflora in check.10
Studies have shown that Candida albicans can overpopulate systemically due to antibiotic use.11
Insufficient Dietary Intake
A study noted patients on an unrestricted Western diet had a high number of pathogenic microbes in their microbiome and a notably undiverse presence of healthy gut bacteria.12
Candida overgrowth has been shown to be linked with B6, essential fatty acids, and magnesium deficiency.13
An abundance of food sources rich in short-chain fatty acids such as brown rice, whole grains, and legumes can help to populate good bacteria in the gut.14
Most notably caused by dysbiosis15, harmful bacteria release endotoxins which cause damage and erode the lining of our digestive tracts.
Our gut lining, although only a few cells thick, is designed to allow nutrients in but protect us against harmful pathogens and toxins.
What should be kept out from our digestive tract is allowed in and vice versa; food particles from our gut enter the bloodstream causing the immune system to respond to said ‘threat’.
This in turn causes all kinds of inflammatory responses, including and can lead to…you guessed it – inflammatory skin conditions.
This leads to what we call leaky gut syndrome aka intestinal permeability.
How to Improve Your Gut-Skin Axis
So how can we improve our gut-skin axis to get glowing and healthy skin…
We need to populate the gut with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria in order to reduce room for bad bacteria to grow and multiply in the gut. Opt for a broad-spectrum probiotic formula with a minimum of 1 billion CFUs per daily dose.
Stress can tip our microflora and leave room for dysbiosis. Include daily mindfulness practices, take a walk in nature, get a little sun on your face, and adopt daily breathing exercises for nervous system health.
Include an abundance of antioxidant-rich foods in your daily diet to help fight free radical damage and promote healthy, beautiful skin. Increase intake of dark leafy vegetables, berries, olive oil and indulge in a little dark chocolate (a potent antioxidant) from time to time.16
Make sure to include oily fish into your diet three times a week for a healthy source of omega 3, well researched for its anti-inflammatory and skin-nourishing benefits.17
A Rich Wholefood Diet
A diet rich in colour equals a diet rich in nutrients. Vitamins can be spotted by colour i.e. red and purple fruit is high in vitamin C whilst sunny yellow and orange vegetables are abundant in vitamin A.
Aim for 8-10 portions of daily fresh fruit and vegetables. A rich and diverse diet will equate to a rich and diverse microbiota, leading to happy radiant skin.
1. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris - Bhate - 2013 - British Journal of Dermatology - Wiley Online Library
2. Eczema Prevalence, Quality of Life and Economic Impact (nationaleczema.org)
3. Regulation of short-chain fatty acid production | Proceedings of the Nutrition Society | Cambridge Core
9. Stress affects the balance of bacteria in the gut and immune response -- ScienceDaily
10. Antibiotic use and microbiome function - PubMed (nih.gov)
11. Candidiasis Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options (drugs.com)
13. Microsoft Word - 1985-v14n01-p050.doc (orthomolecular.org)