Gut feeling about your skin

How is gut health connected to skin health?


For hundreds of years now, both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines have embraced the idea that the appearance of your skin can be linked to the health of your gut. Even in more modern times, studies in western medicine have also acknowledged that people who suffer with common skin conditions like acne, have a different gut flora composition from those who don’t1.

In another recent study it was shown that people who suffered with rosacea (a chronic skin condition which results from increased blood flow to the face) were ten times more likely to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, (SIBO) compared with those without the condition. When SIBO was eradicated, this resulted in almost complete elimination of the rosacea symptoms2.

Our skin is our body’s largest organ and it can often express a lot about our systemic health. With skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema and dermatitis being so common, Nutritionist Yvonne Wake explains why we shouldn’t ignore these symptoms:

If the gut flora remains compromised for a period of time it is possible to develop ‘leaky gut syndrome’. This is where the intestines become permeable and allow partially digested food to escape into the bloodstream. “This leads to inflammation, which manifests on the skin.” says Wake.

So, if you’re suffering from rosacea, acne of other skin conditions, what can you do to ensure your gut is in tip-top health? According to the experts, the answers lie in the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut flora. “If we’re not getting enough good bacteria to fight off the bad, the microbial load becomes imbalanced and creates inflammation in the body.” explains Wake.

Leading Consultant Gastroenterologist Simon Smale provides some practical tips to help harmonise your gut:

  • Try and eat at regular intervals to ensure regular stimulation of the gut. Don’t skip meals or save up your meals until the end of the day, Little and often is better
  • Try and minimise caffeine and alcohol intake and avoid nicotine, fizzy pop, diet drinks etc
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and try to implement fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi into your diet. These are known to be great at feeding the gut’s microbiome with good bacteria.
  • Reduced stress where possible. We know that when we’re stressed our body produces more cortisol and this can often cause outbreaks in the skin
  • Take a good clinically proven probiotic which will help boost the good bacteria in your gut.

Another common symptom of poor gut health is bloating and there are a number of reasons for this. Occasionally you might experience bloating if there is a disturbance in the movement of the muscles of the digestive system or the nerves in the gut are extra sensitive. More often it is caused by excess gas production, and surprisingly, this may be caused by some of our healthier habits – eating certain vegetables for example. According to Simon Smale, if you’re suffering from bloating you should be selective about which fruit and vegetables you should eat.

Broccoli and cauliflower are two foods that are also commonly associated with a FODMAP exclusion diet. They are both examples of cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, or sulphur-containing chemicals. As the glucosinolates break down in the intestines, they form other compounds like hydrogen sulphide, which is why gas passed after eating these foods smells like sulphur.”

“Similarly those who eat more high-FODMAP foods such as Brussels sprouts have demonstrated prolonged hydrogen production in the intestine and colonic distension because of fermentation. Which means an excessive build-up of wind in your intestine. This leads IBS symptoms such as gas, bloating and stomach discomfort.” Says Simon Smale.

Also, try to avoid eating stoned fruit such as plums, peaches, nectarines and mango. This is (no)thanks to fructose. Fructose and sorbitol (sugar alcohol) are the sugary compounds found in every fruit, and some people have great trouble digesting these and therefore will experience bloating symptoms.”

However, for an overall boost to your gut health, GP Dr Clare Bailey explains the important role of diet and why it can have an impact on your skin:

The Mediterranean diet is widely seen as the healthiest, most nutrient rich diet on the planet, containing lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lentils beans, nuts, seeds, spices and olive oil, as well as some oily fish, cheese and full fat yoghurt.

Other foods which are beneficial for our gut microbiome include live yoghurt, cheese, sourdough bread. These probiotic rich foods are also rich in vitamin C, iron and zinc, which are known to boost the health of your skin.”

Dr Bailey explains “It’s also important to try and avoid (or at least cut down) on processed foods like takeaways as these destroy the active healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Treat your microbiome like you would your skin - with care; feed it well and it will look after you. Eating loads of sugary or processed foods, on the other hand, will just reinforce and feed the “bad” microbes that also live down there.”