In light of World Digestive Health Day we’re homing in on different angle and one which many of us are starting to become more familiar with albeit early days. The link between the gut and the skin is an interesting link. Skin conditions are often caused by a myriad of factors and therefore we can’t always attribute them to the gut but it can be useful to know that in many cases our gut health can play a role.
Both the gut and the skin act as defence mechanisms to the body as they help to protect against the unwanted pathogens. The gut does this through the gut lining in preventing pathogens passing into the blood stream and the skin acts as an external barrier between the internal and external environment. Much like the gut-brain axis, the skin and the gut also have the ability to communicate however, this is largely done through the immune system.
The communication is most commonly seen when we see higher levels of the pathogenic bacteria (bad bacteria) compared with the commensal bacteria (good bacteria). This is otherwise known as dysbiosis, aka an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. In such cases, an immune response is triggered which increases inflammation and this is often seen through conditions such as redness or acne in the skin.
Evidence suggests that the short chain fatty acid, butyrate may have a significant role to play in managing this inflammatory response. Higher levels of butyrate help to supress inflammation and in turn can help to dial down the impact on inflammatory skin outcomes. Butyrate is produced as a result of the commensal bacteria feeding off prebiotics and fibre sources in the gut.
In addition to ensuring high levels of butyrate, supporting the health of the intestinal barrier is also key as this contributes to preventing unwanted pathogens passing through the intestinal barrier into the blood stream. When pathogens pass through into the blood stream, this can pose a risk of them accumulating in the skin and in turn this can contribute to disrupting the skins homeostatic mechanisms. As a result, this outcome may also contribute to impaired skin health.
With this in mind, supporting a healthy gut along with managing stress, consuming a healthy balanced diet and staying hydrated can all help to maintain healthy skin. Below are some top tips for supporting a healthy gut:
- Aim for 30g of fibre per day – fibre rich foods include: nuts, seeds, wholegrains, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables.
- Consume prebiotic rich foods daily – prebiotic fibres help to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. These foods include: leeks, bananas, chickpeas and garlic to name a few.
- Incorporate dietary sources of resistant starch – this is a type of carbohydrate which ferments in the large intestine and helps to increase the production of butyrate. Sources of resistant starch include: under ripe bananas, oats, cooled , lentils and reheated pasta and potatoes to name a few.
Remember everyone’s skin conditions are unique however, if you are finding that you experience periods of inflammation in the skin you may want to reassess your gut support. As always please seek personalised medical advice should you find that your skin is having impact on your quality of life.
Bach Knudsen, K. E., Lærke, H. N., Hedemann, M. S., Nielsen, T. S., Ingerslev, A. K., Gundelund Nielsen, D. S., ... & Hermansen, K. (2018). Impact of diet-modulated butyrate production on intestinal barrier function and inflammation. Nutrients, 10(10), 1499.
Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N., & Ghannoum, M. A. (2018). The gut microbiome as a major regulator of the gut-skin axis. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 1459.
Schwarz, A., Bruhs, A., & Schwarz, T. (2017). The short-chain fatty acid sodium butyrate functions as a regulator of the skin immune system. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 137(4), 855-864.