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The Gut-Skin Axis: How What You Eat Affects Your Skin

Updated: Aug 19, 2023


gut microbiome

Growing up, I was no stranger to the struggles of acne. Imagine dealing with breakouts before even stepping into 2nd grade! As the years went on, my acne only intensified, greatly impacting my self-confidence.


To find a solution, I began a dietary self-experiment during elementary school, cutting out dairy for a month. The results? Clearer skin. However, my diet lapsed, and I found temporary relief with tetracycline – a medication prescribed to treat acne. But this was merely a band-aid, not addressing the root cause. As an adult without health insurance, I had to find another way. Through trial and error, I realized that a diet devoid of dairy, gluten, high sugar, and excessive fats worked wonders for me. So, when people commend my self-control regarding food, it's mainly because of my desire for clearer skin! Even now, in my 40s, I remain vigilant with my diet mostly to avoid major breakouts.


The Connection: Gut and Skin

Recent scientific studies have thrown light on the profound relationship between our gut and our skin – a concept now known as the gut-skin axis.

graph depiction showing how gut health and skin are connected, gut-skin axis or gut skin axis

Our Skin and Gut: Microbial Powerhouses

Both our skin and gut are teeming with trillions of microbes. While our skin spreads over about 25 m², our gastrointestinal (GI) tract extends across nearly 30 m². These areas house a complex community of microorganisms, which play a vital role in our overall health.


Diving into the Gut-Skin Axis

The gut-skin axis describes the interaction between the gut and skin. Changes in one can directly impact the other. For instance, an imbalanced gut can lead to skin disorders. The underlying mechanism is the interplay between our immune system and the microbes present in our gut and skin. Additionally, many people with skin problems often have gut-related issues, further solidifying the connection between the two.


Diet's Role in Skin Health

What we eat can either help or harm our skin. High-fat and high-sugar diets can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, causing inflammation and subsequent skin problems. On the other hand, nutrients from a balanced diet can maintain both gut and skin health.


Slim dark-skinned woman is lounging in the pool, soaking in the rays from the sun, in a blue and white one-piece swimsuit.

Beyond Diet: The Broader Perspective

Our modern lifestyles, particularly our hygiene practices, can impact the gut-skin relationship. Over-cleaning and reducing exposure to beneficial microbes can result in inflammatory skin conditions. Also, our internal gut health can be affected by external factors, such as sun exposure. It might seem surprising to mention the sun in this context, but there's a clear intersection:


Vitamin D Synthesis: Sun exposure boosts our skin's vitamin D production, which in turn fortifies gut health and balances its bacteria.


Immune System Modulation: The sun's UV beams can dial down inflammation, and with much of our immune system in the gut, this indirectly benefits gut health.


Circadian Rhythm Regulation: Daylight keeps our body's internal rhythms in check, influencing gut health and its microbial residents.


Stress Reduction: The sun's rays can alleviate stress, which has a positive ripple effect on our gut.


Of course, there's a flip side. Excessive sun can cause inflammation, potentially upsetting our gut balance. So, there's a need for a balanced approach to maintain skin and gut health.


Acne Vulgaris: More Than Just Pimples

Several factors, like hormones and diet, influence acne. However, there's a growing understanding of how gut health and acne are linked. Imbalances in gut bacteria can disrupt the skin, potentially causing acne. Recent studies indicate that improving gut health could be a key strategy in acne treatment.


Realizing the link between gut and skin is changing our scientific approach to skin health and has been key in my personal journey to clearer skin. Recognizing this connection allows for a holistic view on skincare and overall health.

 

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