Gut Health and Your Skin: What You Need to Know

08.11.2018

By Ellie Eckert

Whether you add kimchi to your salads or swallow supplements each morning, probiotics have hit a fever pitch in wellness circles. And with good reason: The gut, studies have found, is the frontline of your immune system and is constantly exposed to new microbes and molecules based on the food you eat and medication you take. Lately, the link between probiotics and your skin has been a hot topic, so we tapped some experts to help decode the mystery that is friendly gut bacteria. Sounds appetizing, huh?

“A really easy way to think about the microbiome is that it’s all of the bacteria andmicrobes that are in and on the human body,” explains author and health coach, Brenda Watson. Essentially this bacteria exists in symbiosis with you—you give them a place to live and provide food for them to eat (via fermentation) and they produce nutrients for you, balance out “bad bacteria” and support immune system. Generally, the more types of bacteria present in your gut, the healthier you will be—this is called ‘microbial diversity’.  

Your gut health also has as significant impact on your skin. Your skin can literally reflect on the outside what’s going on with your microbiome inside your gut. Gas, bloating, and constipation are the more obvious signs of digestive issues, but skin rashes, acne, and psoriasis could also suggest your gut is out of whack.

“The health of our gut shows in our skin in many ways,” explains Dr. Anthony Youn, award-winning author and "holistic plastic surgeon". “For example, people with inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn's disease, have a higher incidence of rosacea and acne. There are also studies which show that people suffering from rosacea have a higher incidence of small intestine bacterial overgrowth.”

In simplified terms, inflammation from an out-of-balance gut triggers more inflammation in the bloodstream, which travels throughout the body, and can eventually wreak havoc on the skin. Getting your gut health under control can help to calm skin issues. “There are reports that improving the health of the microbiome by taking oral probiotics can help improve inflammatory skin disorders like acne and rosacea,” Dr. Youn explains. “I recommend a daily probiotic to my patients every day, with at least 2 billion [colony forming units].”

If you follow any health of wellness bloggers, you have heard of probiotics, but you also need to be schooled on the lesser-known prebiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria you need in your gut, and prebiotics are the beneficial fibers that feed that good bacteria and keep it thriving. You need an abundance of both for a happy microbiome—and happy skin.

“Without prebiotics as food, probiotics can’t properly flourish,” Watson says. “Probiotics and prebiotics work together to help improve gut microbial diversity, allowing more species to multiply and create a healthier digestive system.”

Be warned: of us aren’t getting enough of either. Dr. Youn told Prettyish: “Our standard American diet is woefully lacking in [foods containing natural probiotics],” he said. “Therefore, I recommend a daily probiotic supplement in addition to probiotic-rich food sources.”

You can also get more prebiotics in your diet by loading up on garlic, onions, and leeks, while fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as kefir and natural yogurt, will deliver probiotics. If foods are over-processed of over-cooked, you run the risk of destroying the good-for-you probiotics and probiotics.

Unfortunately, reaching for kombucha or flavored yogurt isn’t necessarily the healthiest answer. “Most Americans get a lot of their probiotics from yogurt,” Dr. Youn says, “although I recommend limiting dairy consumption due to hormones, lactose intolerance, and added sugar.  Kombucha is a popular, probiotic-rich drink but has a good amount of sugar, so drink sparingly.” Your gut bugs will thank you later.

Photo: Serene Book

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