As a teenager, did your parents ever tell you that if you kept drinking fizzy drinks and eating unhealthy snacks your pimples would never go away? You probably rebelled anyway, but if you’re still struggling with hormonal breakouts or other skin conditions, it may be time to finally take a look at your diet. The relationship between skin and gut health is fascinating and complex.
In recent years, there have been studies that prove inflammation is rooted in the strong connections between sugar and gut health, sugar and skin health, dairy and gut health, and dairy and skin health.
Now that you’re curious about skin health, let’s zero in on all the ways an unhealthy gut can cause breakouts and skin issues.
The Skin-Gut Connection
Did you know that the gut and skin play similar roles in our bodies? It might seem crazy to think about, but it’s true, these two very different looking organ systems work in our bodies collectively to do very similar and significant jobs. The skin is the body’s largest organ and, just like the gut, it’s made up of many tiny, living microorganisms. These microorganisms fight off harmful bacteria and keep our body’s bacteria balanced, maintain our immunity, and keep us in good overall health.
The skin’s trillions of microorganisms make up its very own microbiome too, just like the gut’s does. Microbiomes of the skin and gut work together within a direct connection which we call the gut-skin axis. The purpose of the gut-skin axis is to fight off any harmful pathogens that try to attack the body from the outside. But the only way our microbiomes can fight for our immunity and protect us from these bad guys is if they have a proper balance of bacteria and are healthy microbiomes themselves.
Since the gut and the skin are so closely intertwined, the gut-skin axis communicates to influence:
Bad bacteria that can make us sick or cause irritation
Control over our blood sugar levels
A balanced homeostasis
As you can see, the gut-skin axis not only influences our gut and skin but also our overall body.
Skin Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
We’ve all suffered from skin irritation or allergy rash at one point or another. Our skin is one of our body’s great messengers, it indicates when something may be off balance internally. Whether it's inflammation, allergies, hormones, or imbalanced gut flora causing the irritation, the skin will respond in a variety of ways: rash, hives, breakouts, discoloration.
While not every skin condition is directly associated with the gut, many unhealthy, extreme skin issues are connected to what we’re eating and the balance of bacteria in our body.
Inflammatory bowel disease, for example, leads to a greater risk of inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that is directly related to the balance of bacteria in the gut and can worsen when the gut’s bacteria is off-balance.
The list of gut-related skin conditions doesn’t stop there. Rosacea, acne, and dry skin are all skin conditions that have the same root cause, poor gut health and gut function.
Rosacea is a skin condition that causes a bumpy blush-like irritation on the face. The chronic condition is associated with a link between the skin and small intestine bacterial overgrowth.
Acne, a very common skin condition in young adults, clogs hair follicle pores with oil or dead skin. Acne can be associated with dysbiosis, a fancy word for an unbalanced and damaged gut.
Dry skin is an extremely common skin condition that is most commonly caused by environmental factors, although when chronic it can be directly linked with abnormal bowel movements.
How Does Inflammation Occur in the First Place?
Leaky gut is a condition in which toxins from the gut can leak from the small intestine into the bloodstream. This causes inflammation in the body … which certainly draws a link between leaky gut and unhealthy skin. Leaky gut is due to damage of the lining in the small intestine. The damage makes the lining thin and susceptible to letting leaky toxins into parts of the body where they don’t belong.
Certain foods can cause and further trigger leaky gut, increasing inflammation and worsening symptoms. Most commonly, these foods include dairy products. Dairy and gut health are not a good mix.
In addition to dairy causing and triggering poor gut health and leaky gut, there are foods that feed the bad bacteria that could already be present in an unhealthy gut. These sugary foods include sugar, white bread, rice, pasta, candies, sweets, and soda. When the bad bacteria is fed by these unhealthy food choices, it worsens the existing inflammation even more.
The Root Cause of Your Breakouts: Gut Health
TV commercials and online ads are full of messages about cosmetics and skin scrubbing ointments that rid the face from pimples. But how about getting down to the root of the problem instead? The true solution lies in healing your gut.
While both breakouts and gut health problems are common in teenagers, it can affect any person at any age. Hormonal acne, cystic acne, and pimples most commonly appear on the face, back, forehead, chest, and shoulders. We may find acne in these areas most often, but these aren’t necessarily the areas of the body that are the root of the symptoms problem. Gut health is not only one of the leading causes of acne but is also the main factor in making symptoms worse.
The most problematic foods for skin include cow’s milk, sugar, alcohol, and gluten. Anything that causes a spike in blood sugar can, theoretically, increase inflammation and insulin levels, therefore leading to pimples and excess oil.
Dairy and Skin Health
The link between dairy and skin is not a healthful one. Cow’s milk contains IGG-1 which is a growth hormone produced by cows to feed to their calves. Unfortunately for us as humans, our bodies don’t respond well to this growth hormone. Instead of supporting healthy growth as it does to baby cows, cow’s milk causes inflammation in our bodies, a key factor to breakouts in the skin. Not only does the IGG-1 growth hormone cause inflammation, but due to its natural sugars, it also causes a spike in glucose levels.
Sugar: The Skin and Gut Busters
Does sugar cause acne too? Yep, it sure does! Sugar is harmful to your gut, making it harmful to the health of your skin as well. You’re going to want to ditch the foods high in sucrose and glucose to clear up any skin issues: sugary snacks, fizzy drinks, flavoured coffee, energy drinks, high-carbohydrate meals, processed foods, as well as foods high on the glycemic index.
The link between the glycemic index and skin is definitely one you’ll want to be aware of for gut and skin health. Diets high on the glycemic index can result in cystic acne, a severe form of acne that blocks pores and causes infection. By eliminating high glycemic foods from your diet, your gut can heal and, therefore, so can your skin.
How to Heal Your Gut And Improve Skin Health
So what do we do to heal an unhealthy gut and get smooth, healthy, hydrated skin? At Rowdy, we always start with probiotic and prebiotic foods. As we learn more about the huge role gut health plays in our overall health, probiotics have become synonymous with optimal gut health. As a refresher, probiotics are live microorganisms in the gut that restore good-guy gut flora and fight off bad bacteria that can make us sick. But no great hero fights alone, probiotics partner up with prebiotics to tackle bad inflammation-causing bacteria.
Prebiotics are a type of inulin soluble fiber or inulin FOS (fructooligosaccharides). What is inulin soluble fiber you ask? Inulin soluble fiber is a super-strong fiber that remains undigested as it passes through the digestive system. Then once it gets to the gut, those strong prebiotic fibers become food for the probiotics, feeding them so the probiotics can do their job fighting off bad inflammatory gut bacteria. Because of their strong makeup and their relationship with probiotics, inulin benefits overall gut health … and skin health!
Where Can You Find These Gut-Healing
Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Now that you know you need to incorporate these good guys into your diet to improve gut bacteria and reduce inflammation, you’ve got to know where to find them. Probiotics are commonly found in fermented foods. Here’s a list of 7 healthy probiotics to get into your gut today:
You’ve got the probiotic foods down, now what about prebiotics? There are plenty of delicious prebiotic foods that you can easily incorporate into your meals each day. They’ll be the powerhouse to keeping your gut and your skin at its healthiest.
Here’s a list of our top 9 favorite prebiotic sources:
I also released a podcast on Beauty Unplugged talking all things gut health with Holistic Practitioner Edwige Cabanetos.