How does gut health affect the skin?

The culprit behind your nagging skin condition could be your gut.

If you’re one among the many individuals who have sought remedies for their skin ailment to no avail, then it’s possible that your condition is more than skin-deep. 

Consulting a gastroenterologist, or one of our nutritionists or dietitians could help you identify the root cause of your condition—and the most effective ways to address it—because the link between your gut function and skin is actually closer than you think. There’s a good chance your skin condition is an indication of your gut health.

The gut and skin connection

If you’re like most people, you will not automatically link a skin rash to your gut. But there is actually a solid connection between the two. 

For one, your gut and skin communicate via the gut-skin axis, a concept developed some 85 years ago which established a link between gut dysfunction and skin inflammation. 

The immune system functions of your gut and skin are also identical. They both keep pathogens—infectious organisms which trigger illness—at bay. Scientific evidence suggests gastrointestinal (GI) health and gut microbiome imbalances can affect your skin condition. Worse, the first manifestations of poor gut health often appear on your skin. 

Your gut acts as a buffer between the digestive tract’s interior and the rest of the body’s circulation. When alcohol, allergens, medications or a low-fibre, high-sugar diet irritates your gut lining, it becomes inflamed and irritated. 

Consequently, the nerves located all over your digestive tract receive signals telling them your gut has been attacked. Your body then activates its stress response and ramps up your immune system. 

When your gut gets inflamed and irritated, bacteria and other microorganisms can seep through, setting the stage for systemic or full-body inflammation. This compromises your skin’s ability to produce antimicrobial peptides, which acts as its first line of defence. Your skin now becomes susceptible to various infections.   

Manifestations of poor gut health on your skin

There are several skin conditions which are linked to your gut function:

  • Ageing skin. As you age, your gut microbes’ ability to manufacture anti-inflammatory fatty acids deteriorates. Consequently, you may develop low-grade chronic inflammation which is a precursor to premature skin ageing. 

    But there is hope. While you can’t prevent ageing, you can slow it down by prioritising your gut health. Eating foods rich in resistant starch such as whole grains and legumes help feed your gut bacteria. While the average Australian consumes roughly four grams of resistant starch daily, the general recommendation is to eat four to five times that number. 
  • Keratosis pilaris. Also known as “chicken skin,” this condition manifests itself through white or red bumps on your glutes, thighs, or arms. Two gut health issues— vitamin A deficiency and malabsorption of nutrients—are two possible causes of this skin condition. 

    Vitamin A plays a key role in producing keratin, a protein vital for healthy, glowing skin. If you have nutrient malabsorption issues, you may not be getting enough fatty acids which help prevent skin inflammation.
  • Psoriasis. This is a long-term skin disorder characterised by red and itchy scaly patches on your scalp, elbows, or knees. 

    Psoriasis has been associated with a leaky gut because endotoxins seeping through your gut wall triggers an inflammatory response from your body. 
  • Eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, this skin disorder manifests itself through patches of skin that are itchy and inflamed.

    There’s a strong link between food allergies and eczema symptoms. When your intestinal lining becomes inflamed, it can trigger an allergic response. Chronic inflammation results in a leaky gut.
  • Acne. This is a skin disease which is characterised by hair follicles teeming with oil and dead skin cells, resulting in pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads. Scientific findings have linked gut inflammation to acne.

Superfoods for a healthy gut and skin

Eating nutritious foods is important if you want to boost your skin health. While most of the superfoods on this list don’t improve skin health directly, they can make your gut bacteria healthier. Since your gut and skin are closely related, expect the latter’s health to also improve.

  1. Probiotics. Scientific evidence suggests breastfed children whose mothers consumed probiotics during their final four weeks of pregnancy and their babies’ first three months had lower chances of developing eczema.
  1. Polenta. This is a coarsely-ground yellow corn dish which is rich in fibre and complex carbohydrates. The insoluble fibre makes its way straight to your colon, where it ferments into several strands of gut flora. Polenta’s fibre content also helps boost the health of your digestive system and promotes regular bowel movement.
  1. Fermented plant foods. Foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi provide your gut with good live microbes which expel bad bacteria. They also promote mineral absorption, boost intestinal function and immunity, keep allergies away, alleviate diarrhoea, and lower your risk for colon cancer.
  1. Cruciferous vegetables. These superfoods help reduce inflammation and the risk of several cancers, including stomach cancer. Individuals who regularly consume cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale lower their risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. 
  1. Blueberries. Not only are blueberries teeming with antioxidants, but they also contain fibre which supplies your gut with prebiotics. 
  1. Beans. These superfoods contain fibre, protein, folate, and B vitamins. Black beans, in particular, increase good gut bacteria levels and strengthen the lining of your gut. 
  1. Bananas. These fruits’ excellent potassium and magnesium content may help reduce gut inflammation. Bananas are also a good remedy for an upset stomach.
  1. Onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, and asparagus. These contain the plant-soluble fibre inulin which acts as a prebiotic. When these foods reach your colon, they ferment into healthy bacteria. If you have a sensitive digestive tract, consult your nutritionist before consuming Jerusalem artichokes as they increase gas. 

Supercharge your gut and skin health

An inflamed or irritated gut spells trouble for your skin because full-body inflammation may set in. This, in turn, compromises your skin’s defence mechanism, making it susceptible to various disorders. Bottom line: your gut health drastically affects your skin more than you think. 

If you’ve been consulting skin specialists to treat your condition without any success, perhaps a serious gut check is in order. Make sure you eat foods which boost gut and skin health and reach out to a reputable physician, or any of our nutritionists or dietitians for a comprehensive gut health assessment. 

Need our help?

Reach out to us at (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm on weekdays to schedule an appointment with one of our nutritionists or dietitians who can provide you with professional assistance regarding your gut health. Alternatively, you can send us an enquiry and check out our other gut and bowel health services.