You are what you eat: How your gut impacts the health of your skin

Saturday, 20 July 2019

There’s no doubt that what we eat has a direct impact on our bodies and our health.  A healthy diet rich in nutrients has shown to improve mental health, provide energy, minimise risk of illness and increase overall health. But did you know that our diet also has a direct impact on our skin?

Teenagers are often told that chocolate causes pimples, and although we can’t make that exact claim, the message behind it is correct – what we eat impacts the health of the skin via the gut.

More than 80% of the body’s immunity is located in the gut, which explains why it’s such an essential part of our wellbeing. The gut contains hundreds of species of natural bacteria. Some of these are “good” and help with digestion, whilst others are considered “bad.” The bad bacteria is the type that causes disease. The bacteria in the gut should be well-balanced and ideally you should have more of the good kind than the bad.

Foods affecting the gut
Foods that are exceptionally good for the gut can be divided into two categories: probiotics and prebiotics. Fermented foods are a popular choice for natural probiotics (think kimchi, yoghurt, kombucha and sauerkraut). Prebiotic foods refer to fibrous foods that feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. These include garlic, leeks, bananas, onions and barley.

Sugar, saturated fat and alcohol may all have a negative impact on the gut, increasing the bad bacteria in the gut and disrupting the microbiome.

A combination of probiotic, prebiotic and fresh foods low in sugar and saturated fats is considered the ideal diet for a healthy gut.

Effects on the skin
If the gut’s microbiome is unbalanced, it is almost certain to show on the skin. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates cause insulin levels to spike, leading to a wave of inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation leads to collagen and elastin break down (cause it is not the inflammation that break them down, it is the fact that inflammation increases the MMP’s levels – increased MMP levels break down collagen and elastin.

A spike in insulin levels can also increase sebum production, leading to breakouts and blackheads. During puberty, the body produces a hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). Many researchers believe that this hormone increases sebum production and breakouts, and that certain foods raise IGF-1 levels more than others, increasing breakouts. The foods most likely to increase IGF-1 levels are dairy products and foods with a high glycemic index (think bread, pasta, potato, muesli, rice and barley).

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, so it’s no surprise that a diet rich in carbs and sugar may trigger eczema flare-ups. Not everyone is the same, but research has shown that some of the most common food allergies associated with eczema include dairy, gluten, eggs and fish.

How to restore the balance
The first bit of advice that comes to mind would be to change your eating habits. Cut back on sugar, alcohol and carbohydrates, eat plenty of unprocessed fresh foods and drink a lot of water. For a lucky few, this may solve their skin woes rather quickly. However, for many, it’s not quite that simple.

It’s important to identify exactly what is going on in the gut, and where the bad bacteria is coming from. From there, you can look at making some healthy dietary and lifestyle changes. We suggest making an appointment at your nearest Skin Renewal branch to see one of their experienced doctors for a consultation.  They’ll be able to run the appropriate tests, identify the triggers and advise on the best way forward to achieve healthy, glowing skin. Plus, if needed, they can advise on supplementation to make up for nutrients that are lacking in the diet.

The article was sponsored by Skin Renewal.

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