Updated: May 30
By Registered Nutritionist, Helen Ross mBANT CNHC
Yes, that's right, beauty begins in the gut. While moisturising creams and skincare regimes have their place, beauty is actually more than skin deep. Glowing skin is a reflection of healthy cells, and to have healthy cells, we need to be eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense, nourishing foods, with less emphasis on processed and inflammatory junk food, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
Recent research shows that a healthy microbiome is key to virtually all aspects of our health, and this includes our skin. Studies show a link between intestinal permeability or 'leaky gut' and skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. Underlying chronic inflammation is a major factor in the development of skin disease, and we know that increased intestinal permeability is a driver of inflammation (1).
The digestive tract houses around 70% of our immune system and alterations in immune responses have been linked to the development of skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis (2). It is thought that the inflammatory response that occurs when the immune system detects pathogens in the bloodstream (due to intestinal permeability), may be responsible for unwanted skin breakouts. However, further studies are needed to understand the exact mechanisms responsible in the cross-talk between the microbiome, the skin, and the immune system.
Furthermore, skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis may be due to an autoimmune response, where immune cells mistakenly identify healthy cells as harmful and start attacking them (3). Unsurprisingly, autoimmunity is closely associated with increased intestinal permeability.
The gut microbiome, or microbiota, is an ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that reside in the gastrointestinal tract, and we must keep it healthy. These microflora create a protective lining in the intestines, guarding it against harmful pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli.
Digestive problems such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea are common symptoms for many people and can be due to an imbalance of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in our gut, otherwise known as dysbiosis. This is a sign that our diet could do with some attention, and possibly even a complete gut overhaul. Recent studies have shown that probiotic supplementation (the administration of live beneficial bacteria), plays a promising role in the prevention and management of various skin disorders (4), and they may be necessary to re-establish a healthy gut environment.
A useful metaphor is to think of your gut microbiome as a garden that needs constant care and attention. When the weeds (pathogenic bacteria) take over the plants (beneficial bacteria) then health issues arise. Including fermented foods (fertiliser) and a wide variety of vegetables (fibre) in the diet supports the microbiome and the bacterial balance necessary for it to thrive.
Other factors that can contribute to poor gut health include chronic stress, a low fibre diet high in refined carbohydrates, excessive antibiotic use, toxic compounds in our environment, excessive alcohol, a lack of contact with natural biodiversity, as well as insufficient exercise (5).
Here are my 5 top tips for keeping your gut healthy, therefore supporting healthy skin.
1. Eat a rainbow
Eat a rainbow of brightly coloured fresh foods daily. Researchers have found that the wider the diversity of vegetables and fruits consumed, the wider the microbial diversity in the gut, necessary for a healthy immune system. Include high fibre vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, chard, onions, and leeks. And brightly coloured vegetables and fruits such as red cabbage, red peppers, butternut squash, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, and kiwi fruit for their antioxidants and polyphenols (5).
2. Include fermented foods
The fermentation of food and beverages has been used by many traditional cultures for hundreds or thousands of years as a way to promote good health, and to preserve food. Recent research shows us that the gut microbiome may be supported, by including fermented foods in our diet (6). The aim is to include small amounts of fermented foods and drinks on a daily basis.
Different fermented food and drink products include:
miso (a Japanese seasoning paste made from fermented soybeans)
sauerkraut (German-style cabbage)
kimchi (Korean style cabbage)
yoghurt (dairy or non-dairy)
kefir (milk or water-based)
kombucha (made from sweet tea)
tempeh (Indonesian style fermented soybeans).
Alternatively, a probiotic supplement can be used in the short-term. Look for Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
** Please note that fermented foods and some probiotics may cause unwanted digestive symptoms for some people, depending on their current state of health. It may be better to address certain health conditions such as Candida albicans and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) before consuming fermented foods.
Always monitor how you feel after consuming fermented foods and drinks, as what works for one person may not work for the next.
3. Keep hydrated
Water keeps us hydrated and helps to flush out toxins and other waste products from the body. Ensuring adequate water intake supports our digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination and excretion of waste.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and most of its' cellular structure is composed of water. Collagen and hyaluronic acid (components of the skin) rely on a fluid-like environment to function.
Aim to drink around 2 litres of filtered water a day, which can include herbal teas. Cucumber, lettuce, celery, and peppers are naturally hydrating foods to include. Collagen and antioxidants are involved in the prevention of premature ageing, slowing down the appearance of fine lines or wrinkles.
4. Omega-3 fats
Research shows that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is essential for good skin health (7). This is due to its' anti-inflammatory benefits, which may reduce the likelihood of skin problems such as acne, dermatitis, rosacea, and psoriasis. Omega 3 fats may also protect the skin from harmful UV damage from overexposure to the sun and may protect us against skin cancer (8). Foods to include in the diet are oily fish such as sardines, wild salmon, mackerel, and trout, as well as chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. Alternatively, take up to 3,000mg/day of a good quality fish oil supplement.
Bone broths are a great source of collagen-rich gelatine, which is released from the bones during cooking. It is nourishing to the gut lining and helps fight inflammation. Additionally, consuming sulphur-rich foods supports collagen synthesis, giving the skin structure, and preventing skin and cellular ageing (9). Foods such as egg yolks, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, garlic, onions, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, and asparagus are good sources of sulphur.
Beauty comes from radiating good health from the inside out.
If you are struggling with problematic skin, it's likely there is an involvement with your gut. Microbiome stool testing allows us to look at the health of the microbiome using DNA technology to analyse the bacterial, fungal and viral communities of the gastrointestinal tract. This information allows us to get the results we are looking for quicker and more efficiently, allowing for a more targeted and personalised approach.
Helen Ross BSc (Hons) mBANT CNHC completed her degree in Nutritional Science plus practice diploma in Nutritional Therapy in 2017. She has since worked as a nutritionist for retreat companies, as well as setting up The Well Life Lab, helping her clients to achieve their health goals, running cooking workshops and one-day retreats.
She specialises in gut health and digestive disorders, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the low FODMAP diet, gluten disorders, and food intolerances. Book in here for a FREE 30 minute call to discover how I can help you.