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Time for a Gut Check

By J.Maxine MacGwyre, Licensed Aesthetician, Nutrition Specialist 1/7/2024

We have long been taught to “check your gut” to test if something, or someone (smirk), is good or bad for us. Right? But here’s the spin…did you know that when our gut is unhealthy, it can have a huge impact on the condition of our skin? This connection is known as the “Gut-Skin Axis”. Skin is often treated exclusively from the outside (topically), but a more whole-istic approach, which is our methodology at Woodside Studios, is to treat skin from the inside out…or as I like to say the SKINside® out! I hear you asking, “Maxine, could gut health be the key to having flawless, radiant skin?” Yes! There is significant evidence to suggest an intimate, bidirectional connection between our gut health and the health of our skin, particularly with four common skin disorders: acne, atopic dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis.

The GUT-SKIN AXIS…and SKINflammation As stated above, several skin disorders go hand in hand with an unhappy gut. One study found a higher number of patients with rosacea who also tested positive for a gut condition called Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). When the SIBO condition was treated without providing any corresponding supportive skincare, 70% of participants saw an improvement in rosacea, demonstrating more than just a strong association between the two. Simply stated, treating SIBO alone improved the skin. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is also associated with a greater risk of inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea. This relationship is likely due to the fact that both IBD and skin conditions like psoriasis have similar inflammatory pathways that may begin in the gut. Research has also found a strong association between gut health and acne, with several studies linking an imbalance in gut bacteria with higher prevalence of acne. Therefore, healing the gut is one of the best ways to treat chronic SKINflammatory issues.

What is a MICROBIOME? EVERY area of the body (skin, mouth, underarms, gut, etc), is home to unique bacterial colonies based on the location where they live. Each specific colony is called a microbiome. Gut bacteria, AKA the gut microbiome, live in the digestive tract and are found primarily in the large intestine or colon. After the body absorbs the nutrients it needs from food in the small intestine, the “leftovers” move into the colon. That remaining fiber feeds the gut bacteria. As the bacteria ferments this non-digestible fiber, it creates short chain fatty acids which nourish the colon cells, decrease the risk of gastrointestinal cancers, modulate the immune system, and help decrease inflammation throughout the body, including the skin, which is our largest organ.

Research now suggests that inflammation is a significant factor in most chronic diseases. Almost two-thirds of the immune system lives in the intestinal tract. When we feed our gut microbiome the things that it needs to be healthy, we can improve our own health in a very big way.

What is DYSBIOSIS? The imbalance of our gut microbiome is known as dysbiosis and can cause the immune system to suffer, while simultaneously increasing inflammation throughout the body and skin, causing SKINflammation, as previously mentioned. Gut bacteria regulate many functions in the body, including fat metabolism, intracellular signaling, and cell growth. When bad bacteria outweigh the good, they can disrupt these regulatory pathways causing inflammation. Less than optimal dietary choices are THE primary contributor of dysbiosis. Processed foods, sugar, alcohol (sigh), artificial sweeteners, and low fiber can all negatively impact our gut…and don’t forget eating GMO foods which are known to contribute to inflammation. Non-dietary factors with a negative impact on gut health are stress, poor sleep, and environmental toxins.

Can I BOOST my MICROBIOME? The number of Microbiome cells in our body outnumber our human cells by 10:1…so maybe taking care of our gut isn’t such a bad idea after all. To maximize skin health, we need to consume a plant-based-fiber-rich diet, organic whenever possible. Research shows that a wide variety of plant-based foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, can improve the diversity of our gut bacteria. Eating 5-7 servings a day of a rainbow of colored vegetables and 1-2 servings a day of fruit is optimal. Does that mean you need to go vegan or vegetarian? Au contraire, mon frere! But do stick with lean meats and chicken (grass-fed, grass finished, growth hormone and antibiotic free) as well as wild-caught, not farm raised fish.

What are PROBIOTICS? To further enhance our microbiome, probiotics can be taken as a supplement or consumed via certain foods, to help balance the gut bacteria and restore healthy skin. In one of the first studies examining the Gut-Skin connection, 80% of participants showed clinical improvement after using probiotics, because they help boost the immune system, reduce both oxidative stress and inflammation. Probiotics found in foods have bacteria present to cause fermentation of the food, such as yogurt (look for unsweetened or low sugar varieties), kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, natto, miso and kombucha. Just one tablespoon a day of a probiotic food is enough to introduce healthy bacteria to your gut. Thus, eating a variety of fermented foods will introduce new bacteria to your microbiome.

What are PREBIOTICS? In addition to probiotics, prebiotics are also a key for a healthy gut microbiome, as well as healthy skin. Prebiotics contain fiber that you don’t digest, but bacteria love to eat and help feed a healthy microbiome. Foods rich in prebiotics include brined vegetables, dandelion leaves, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, and raw foods such as garlic, onion, leeks and asparagus. Whole oats, whole barley (not pearled), beans, bananas and other fruits and vegetables also contain prebiotics. Cooking can destroy the beneficial compounds that feed your microbiome so eat some raw foods every day. If it helps you eat a higher quantity, try steaming veggies until they are bright in color but still crunchy to retain some of the healthful prebiotic material. Changing your diet can improve your microbiome in as little as 24 hours…now that’s a fast track to BEAUTYfull® skin!

For physician-grade probiotic supplements, you can click on the Fullscript shopping link to find my best picks, RAW Probiotics from Garden of Life available in different formulations for everyone in the family.

Resources : Dr. Eckroth, Samaritan Heartspring Wellness Center, Albany, NY Associated Skin Care Professionals, Skin Deep Publication

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