Skin is the largest organ in our body and plays multiple key roles including protection, water and electrolyte balance, thermoregulation, immune response, metabolism and homeostasis. A balanced diet plays an important role in the proper functioning of the human body, including the skin. Interestingly, research has found that our gut health plays an important role in skin health due to the gut-skin axis. We interviewed expert dietician Chloe McLeod to tell us more about how good gut health can make you feel better, inside and out. Keep reading for more!
Here’s How You Can Take Care of Your Skin With Good Gut Health
What is the gut-skin axis?
The gut-skin axis refers to all of the connections between our skin and our digestive system. There is a bidirectional link between Gastrointestinal (GI) health and skin homeostasis (balance) which is modulated by the immune system. So basically, the gut communicates with the skin and the skin communicates with the gut through the skin and gut microbiomes. The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria, funghi and other living organisms that inhabit the gut and skin. Both the gut and skin host diverse fungal, bacterial and viral species thrive when in harmonious balance (known as symbiosis). When there is disruption to skin and/or gut microbiota, this is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can lead to impaired barrier function and has been associated with various skin disorders and gut disorders due to the involvement of the immune system and inflammation.
Conditions associated with the skin microbiome
Various skin conditions have been associated with the skin microbiome including:
- Acne vulgaris
- Atopic dermatitis
It isn’t yet known whether the altered skin/gut microbiome is a cause or consequence of the skin condition (a bit like the chicken or the egg). As the gut-skin axis is bidirectional, skin also plays a role in the gut microbiome. For example: skin exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) and therefore indirectly to Vitamin D levels increases the α and β diversity of the gut microbiome.
Optimizing gut health
Given what we know about the link between gut health and skin health, let’s look at ways to optimize the gut microbiome to improve skin health.
- Plant diversity: Plant diversity is one the best ways to optimize gut health. Research has found including over 30 different plant foods per week is ideal for the optimal gut microbiome. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, legumes and extra virgin olive oil. Boost your plant diversity with simple swaps such as brown rice for mixed grain rice, blueberries for mixed berries, walnuts for mixed nuts, white bread for mixed grain, and chickpeas for four bean mix.
- Fiber: Fiber plays a key role in maintaining and optimizing gut health. Include at least 25-30g fibre daily (ideally 30-50g) for good gut health. Good sources of fibre include fruits and vegetables (leave the skin on wherever possible), legumes, wholegrain breads/cereals, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, nuts and seeds, and rolled oats. Remember to increase fibre gradually with plenty of water!
- Limiting processed food: Reduce intake of highly processed foods such as chips, chocolate, biscuits, cake, fried foods, lollies, and soft drinks. Regular intake of highly processed foods has been negatively associated with gut health.
- Prebiotics: Prebiotics act as excellent fuel for our gut bacteria. They are present in all plant foods but are particularly rich in onion, garlic, wheat, legumes, asparagus, chicory root, artichoke, and cashews.
- Hydration: Adequate hydration is important for both gut and skin health. Individual needs vary but aiming for 2 – 3 L or 35 – 45 ml/kg (0.6-3.1oz/lb) is a good rule of thumb. Use urine as a guide — it should be pale straw to clear in color when well hydrated.
- Sleep: Inadequate sleep can negatively impact gut health. Prioritize 7 – 9 hours of good quality sleep each night. To optimize sleep limit screens to one hour before bed, cap caffeine at lunchtime, and aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (yes, including weekends!)
- Manage stress levels: High levels of stress can also negatively impact gut health. Manage stress levels to the best of your abilities. Some helpful stress management strategies include regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, and yoga.
Meet Our Expert:
Chloe is an expert in nutrition for optimizing your health and wellbeing. Chloe has more than 12 years of experience in the industry, and her expertise in gut health, food intolerance and sports nutrition makes her one of the most sought-after nutrition experts in Australia. You can visit Chloe’s website here to learn more and follow her on Instagram here.