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The connection between our gut and skin health

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We're joined by Registered Nutritional Therapist, Jessica O’Dwyer, who is explaining more about the connection between our gut and skin health. Find out what skin symptoms to look out for that could indicate poor gut health, as well as more expert advice on the importance of taking care of the gut through healthy eating habits and other lifestyle choices.

What is gut health and what does it have to do with skin?

"Gut health is a term that refers to the balance and optimal functioning of the digestive system. The digestive system plays an important role in overall health, as it is responsible for breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food. The gut also houses trillions of microbes that make up the gut microbiota, which plays a crucial role in the immune system, skin health, metabolism, and even mental health.

The gut and skin are two organs that are closely interconnected. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it serves as a protective barrier between the body and the outside environment. However, the skin is also highly sensitive to changes in the body’s internal environment, including the gut. The gut and skin are connected through the gut-skin axis, a complex network of biochemical and signalling pathways that allows the two organs to communicate with each other.

When the gut is healthy, it can contribute to healthy skin, but when the gut is unhealthy, it can contribute to a range of skin problems. Some food categories can have a significant impact on gut health. For example, foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can promote the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, which can lead to inflammation and damage to the gut lining. Foods high in saturated and trans fats can also have a negative impact on gut health."

"In contrast, anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant and lean proteins can help promote gut health. These foods are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals that nourish the gut microbiome and support the digestive system. There are other foods such as probiotic and prebiotic foods that can support optimal balance of the microbiome by adding to and feeding the beneficial bacteria."

What foods are gut health friendly?

"Examples of probiotic foods that are good for gut health are kefir, a fermented drink that contains live cultures of lactobacilli and bifidobacterial, sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage that contains live cultures of lactobacillus plantarum, kimchi which is a Korean fermented vegetable dish that contains live cultures of lactobacillus and yogurt that contains live cultures of lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus.

Examples of prebiotic foods are, garlic that contains a prebiotic fibre called inulin that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, onions that contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a prebiotic fibre that feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut, chicory root a source of inulin, Jerusalem artichokes are also a good source of inulin. Individuals with long-term IBS may not tolerate these particular foods. If this is the case, it's important to work with a Registered Nutritional Therapist or Dietician.

Some specific trigger foods that can negatively impact gut health include gluten, dairy, and artificial sweeteners. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it can be difficult to digest for some individuals. Dairy can also be difficult to digest for some individuals, and it can lead to inflammation and gut irritation. Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, can disrupt the gut microbiome and lead to digestive problems."

What foods should be avoided?

There is some evidence to suggest that dairy consumption may be linked to certain skin conditions. One study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that a high intake of milk and milk products maybe associated with an increased risk of acne in adolescents. Another study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that women who consumed more milk and dairy products had a higher incidence of adult acne.

The exact mechanisms by which dairy may contribute to skin issues are not fully understood, but there are several hypotheses. One possibility is that dairy products, particularly skim milk, may contain hormones that can stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin and increase oil production, leading to acne. Another theory is that dairy products may cause an immune response in the body that triggers inflammation, which can exacerbate skin conditions.

However, it is important to note that not all studies have found a link between dairy consumption and skin health. Some studies have found no association between dairy intake and acne, while others have even suggested that consuming dairy products may have a protective effect against certain skin conditions. As we mentioned before, yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that can support gut health. Overall, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between dairy consumption and skin health. If you are experiencing skin issues and suspect that dairy may be a trigger, it may be worth experimenting with reducing dairy from your diet, under professional supervision, to see if it makes a difference. On the other hand, anti-inflammatory foods that can promote gut health include leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish. These foods are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the gut and support healthy digestion. When it comes to skin symptoms that could indicate poor gut health, there are several to look out for. These can include acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and hives. These skin conditions are often associated with inflammation, and research suggests that inflammation in the gut can contribute to inflammation in the skin. In addition to skin symptoms, poor gut health can also manifest in other ways, such as digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhoea, as well as immune system problems, mood disorders, and even autoimmune diseases.

Overall, the connection between gut health and skin health is an important one, and it underscores the importance of taking care of the gut through healthy eating habits and other lifestyle choices. By prioritising gut health, we can support healthy skin and overall well-being.

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