The Relationship between Skin and Gut Health

So, what is the connection between a diet and healthy skin? Growing up I am sure you heard countless stories about foods that are good for you, foods that cause acne, and foods that are triggers for eczema or dermatitis.  If you have ever suffered from any of these conditions you will no doubt have tried to navigate the maze of information out there to find truths that you can apply to ease your personal situation.

Growing up, I suffered from eczema, dermatitis, and acne. As an adult, I still deal with these, thankfully to a much lesser degree. It was not until 2013, when my health took a serious turn for the worse that I began to understand the connection between gut health and my health. If your gut is not healthy, then it is only a matter of time before your organs start to experience the effects.  Remember the skin is the body’s largest organ and is approximately 2m2 in an adult.

There is mounting evidence to support the link between gut health and skin health. In fact, the link extends to include the brain, known as the gut-brain-skin axis. This article will focus, not only on acne, but the relationship between gut health, the brain and difference existing skin conditions.

Research Findings
In 2001, a Russian study consisting of 114 acne vulgaris patients revealed that 54% had impaired intestinal microflora. Another study with 6500 Chinese adolescents aged 12-20 found a correlation exists between the number of gastrointestinal symptoms, the severity of these symptoms and the development of acne and other sebaceous gland diseases. The symptoms observed include bloating, constipation, bad breath, and gastric reflux.

I don’t know about you, but I did not realise the risk factor for acne increases when these are present. If you are an acne sufferer you may also be realising that you probably have some of these symptoms on a regular basis, which is indicating that your gut health may be indeed compromised.

To determine if a connection existed between gut microbiota and acne, a 2018 study examined the faeces of 31 acne patients and 31 healthy controls. They found a difference in the type of bacteria present and also in the number of bacteria, with acne patients having a different percentage and population of bacteria.


What causes these differences?
Gut microbiota plays a role in the parthenogenesis of acne in several ways.

The Brain
Studies linking the brain, the gut and skin have revealed that stress, anxiety, and depression all affect the microbiota in the gut, which affects skin and acne. When we are stressed, the levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) become elevated within our body and sebum and skin cell production increases as a result. Intestinal microbes produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) when stressed. These cross the intestinal mucosa and enter the blood stream - the result is inflammation. Changes in gut microbiota can stimulate the release of insulin into the blood stream. Insulin stimulates hormones that contribute to acne. Insulin Resistance results in higher levels of insulin within the body. As Insulin also increases sebum and skin cell production, increases in insulin levels directly impacts on acne. Changes in gut microbiota may increase the gut permeability. This affects the immune system and can trigger inflammatory responses. Skin irritation is one such response.

Diet plays an important role in maintaining gut health. Low fibre and high fat diets change the gut microbiota. Diets high in sugar and carbohydrates spike insulin, our blood sugar levels, increasing gut permeability. Western diets which are typically higher in fat (Red Meats), GI (Glycemic Index) and dairy, are known to raise the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and insulin. Insulin-like growth factor mimics the properties of insulin and has a detrimental effect on acne prone skins.

When there is an imbalance of microorganisms in the intestines, the intestinal barrier is disrupted.  This can lead to leaky gut. It sounds disgusting and conjurers up all sorts of images in the mind, but the name pretty much sums it up… the gut is leaking. Leaky gut has been linked to numerous skin conditions amongst many other health conditions. Acne is one of the skin conditions associated with leaky gut. The exact cause of leaky gut is not fully understood; the chief suspects thought to contribute to this condition are aspirin, ibuprofen, diet and inflammatory foods, along with food allergies. Depending on whether you eat a lot of grains or meat in your diet, the predominant bacteria will be different. 

The role of prebiotics and probiotics
The research shows probiotics (Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces) ferment oligosaccharides are not digested. Probiotics balance the intestinal microbiota, restore the intestinal barrier and reduce leaky gut. They also inhibit a range of other pathogens. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium induce an anti-inflammatory response in the skin which helps to reduce the inflammatory burden on the body. Consumption of oral prebiotics and probiotics helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

How do we fix it?
With so many factors influencing acne it is not an easy fix; it is a balancing act. So, what can we really do?

Manage Stress: We need to eliminate stress in our lives as much as possible. I don’t mean to walk away from our lives, but rather find ways to relax, meditate, exercise and manage the stresses we face in our daily lives. Find something that will work for you and your lifestyle and make it a habit.

Review Your Diet: Eat foods rich in Omega 3. Omega 3 not only reduces symptoms of depression, which we now know effects gut health and skin health, it also reduces the risk of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) which is associated with acne.

  • Reduce or eliminate sugar from your diet. Yikes!
  • Reduce your carbohydrate intake.
  • Consider prebiotics and probiotics in gut health and skin health.

 Use Skin Care: I am assuming you are already using an effective skin care system and that you have eliminated everything, and I do mean everything, that is comedogenic.

It is up to you: We can all look at our diets and learn new ways to manage stress.  Ugggh.  I know.  Changes are hard. I like the food I eat. I don’t have time to prepare healthy foods. I hate exercising and I don’t have time. I can think of a million reasons why I have procrastinated on this, but the truth is that I only need one, yes one, reason to change. Do I really want my acne to improve? Do I really want all the other health benefits that will come with a healthy change in my diet? Only you can answer this. If you are not ready to make changes, nothing will change. As Anthony Robbins says, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”