The quest for beautiful skin is ubiquitous in Western society: we all want to have young and healthy skin. It seems reasonable that what we put on our skin would influence its appearance, but science is showing us that it may actually be what’s inside our body that has one of the largest impacts on skin health: our gut health, which is directly impacted by the health of our gut microbiome.
The Gut Microbiome
There are 3-5 pounds of bacteria that live in our gut, depending on how big we are. And those bacteria can determine a lot about how healthy we are, including our skin health. Most of those bacteria live in our colon or large intestine, and they ferment food that we have eaten but cannot digest. We depend on that bacteria to maintain our gut health and keep us healthy overall in return for feeding them. There are hundreds of species of bacteria in our gut, and some are good guys, while others are not so good.
Competition For Space
Did you know that there’s fierce competition for real estate brewing in your gut? That’s because there’s a limited amount of space, so bacteria are always trying to take over and get more room so they can grow. We want the good bacteria to win the fight, and we can help them by feeding them what they need: fiber! That’s one of the reasons why a diet high in fiber is so important. We can’t even digest fiber, but our good gut bacteria can. So to improve our gut health we need to feed the good bacteria, so they can survive and grow.
When we eat sugar, refined carbohydrates, and fat, we feed the “not so good” guys. And when we take antibiotics, we wipe out large colonies of bacteria, both good and bad, and whoever is left fights for more territory. It’s like when you arrive at the pool on a hot summer day at a resort, and there are no lounge chairs left. You lurk around, waiting for someone to get up and leave so that you can pounce and put your towel down to claim the spot. Well, our bacteria do the same thing. And once they’ve taken hold, it can be hard to get them to leave.
Benefits 0f Good Bacteria
Why do we care who wins the battle for real estate in our gut? Because our health depends on it! Yes, even our skin. The beneficial bacteria supports gut health and our overall health in many ways. For example, here are just a few of the things our gut microbes do for us:
- Keep bad bacteria in check
- Keep inflammation in our body at a minimum
- Support a healthy immune system
- Produce vitamins: vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, and folic acid
- Help digest food
- Regulate our hormones
The term “leaky gut” gets thrown around a lot today, but it is important to really understand the concept in order to understand how gut health relates to skin health. We are a tube from our mouth to our anus, and the purpose of that tube is to extract nutrients from the food we eat. We then need to send those nutrients out to every cell in the body to provide nourishment so they can survive, which is why our bloodstream is connected to our intestinal cells.
The tiny cells in our small and large intestine have a big job: they have to let through very small molecules into the bloodstream, like vitamins and minerals while keeping out bad bacteria and large molecules that don’t belong in our blood. For this reason, our intestinal cells have “tight junctions.” Tight junctions are what they sound like: they bind one intestinal cell very closely to the one next to it so that nothing gets through.
When we eat, the tight junctions get a signal to “open up” so that we can let nutrients through, but then they close back up so that nothing else can breach the barrier. Leaky gut happens when these tight junctions get compromised, and instead of being able to close back up, the channels are always open and are too big. Then bad things like undigested food or bad bacteria can get through and “leak” into our bloodstream. This is the leaky part of leaky gut.
Leaky Gut Leads to Inflammation
Once our tight junctions are compromised, and we have leaky gut, inflammation will follow – affecting your gut health. This is because the body must respond to all of the bad stuff that is now flowing into the bloodstream. The body naturally produces inflammation to fight intruders, but ideally, the situation is only temporary. For example, when you get a paper cut, you have just introduced bacteria into your bloodstream.
Your body will note the invasion and send immune cells, such as neutrophils and macrophages, to come to create inflammation and kill the invading bacteria. Bacteria will also call the necessary cells to heal the cut in your finger. But then, once the threat has passed and your finger has healed, inflammation goes away. The problem with leaky gut is that the bad stuff keeps on coming. If the body can’t fix the tight junctions and stop all the bacteria from leaking into the blood, then it just has to keep fighting. And that leads to chronic inflammation.
Healthy Microbiome, Healthy Gut!
This is why the makeup of the bacteria in our gut is so important. The good bacteria help keep tight junctions intact and nurture healthy cells so that we don’t have leaky gut. The “not so good” guys do the opposite. So if we want a healthy gut, we must maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
There are specific keystone species that we want in particular such as Akkermansia muciniphila probiotic. Akkermansia is a good bacteria that help our gut produce a protective mucosal layer over our intestinal cells. It actually eats some of the mucous layer, but when it does this, it signals special cells in the gut, called goblet cells, to produce more mucous. So we have a symbiotic relationship with Akkermansia that actually enhances the mucosal layer in our gut.
Another star bacteria in our gut is Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Its main job is to produce butyrate, which does several beneficial things, such as: feeds our intestinal cells, decreases inflammation, and enhances tight junctions.
Skin: The Largest Organ
Our largest organ is our skin and its connection to a robust blood supply providing a constant stream of nutrients. The skin we see on the surface is actually dead. It is the layers underneath that we cannot see that are alive and determine the health of the skin that eventually makes its way to the top. The skin is nourished by what we eat, so of course, our diet contributes to our skin health. But as we’ve already discussed, if we have a leaky gut, then whatever has leaked into our bloodstream is flowing around our whole body.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Skin
The skin really is a window into what’s happening in the gut. There are numerous studies that show many different types of skin disease are connected to the gut microbiome. These include: eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne. Studies show that people with dermatological disease have higher levels of leaky gut than normal healthy controls.
Studies also show the microbiomes of people with eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne tend to have too little good gut bacteria and too many bad bacteria. As we learned, this leads to inflammation, and this is a part of the root cause of dermatological disease. Inflammation is also bad if our goal is to have healthy, youthful-looking skin. It increases the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, which leads to wrinkles and droopy skin.
Feed Your Friends!
So while there are some topical products that can help improve the look and feel of your skin, if you really want healthy skin from the inside out. Start giving your gut microbiome a little love and make sure you’re eating at least 35 grams of fiber a day to make sure you’re feeding your good gut bacteria!