By Geraldine Georgeou
The good bacteria in our gut does more than help digestion, it improves our immune system and our biggest immune barrier, our skin. Here’s 5 gutsy facts linking a diverse microbiome to healthy skin.
1. The gut and the skin are linked by the gut-skin axis
Italian gastroenterologist Dr Alessio Fasano said: ‘The gut is not Las Vegas. What happens in the gut does not stay in the gut.’ The gut is in fact the axis on which the rest of our health pivots, including the skin.
Our microbiome – or the thousands of bacteria that line our digestive tract – is in a constant state of flux, depending on what we eat, medications we take and lifestyle factors like stress. When the microbiome is out of balance, it can lead to diarrhoea or constipation and not being able to nourish other parts of the body, such as our skin.
2. Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity can lead to irritated skin
Most people should not go gluten-free, unless diagnosed with coeliac disease (CD) – it can result in a low-fibre diet and possible nutritional gaps. However, there are a small group of people who suffer from non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) – they don’t experience the gut damage those with CD do, but they can experience similar symptoms. They also tend to experience higher rates of skin inflammation and irritation – in fact almost half of the people with NCGS present with eczema and 35% with hives and swelling.
3. Those with an irritable bowel, might have irritable skin too
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can manifest as symptoms like stomach pain, excess wind, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation. Your skin can be affected by all of these problems: if you have diarrhoea, your gut may not be digesting nutrients properly and that will show up on your skin. People suffering from IBS have a higher incidence of skin problems, such as psoriasis.
4. Probiotics offer a promising skin solution
While the science of probiotics is more complex than grabbing a random bottle off the shelf to give your gut a boost, there is research suggesting some strains of probiotics can have promising effects on the skin.
Two very commonly sold strains of probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, appear to have a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect on skin cells and there is even some limited research to suggest that applying Lactobacillus in topical formulations directly onto the skin might help restore a healthy skin microbiome.
Different strains of probiotic can also be used to target different skin conditions; L. acidophilus and bulgaricus are recommended for acne; rhamnosus for UV skin damage; reuteri, delbrueckii and salivarius for atopic dermatitis. As always, it is best to talk to a healthcare professional to correctly assess your needs before taking probiotics.
5. Where there is gut dysbiosis, there may be skin dysbiosis
Gut dysbiosis is a term that describes the gut microbiome is out of balance and has been linked to allergies, eczema and autoimmune disorders, as well as inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea and acne. While we don’t know for certain whether dysbiosis causes disease or disease causes dysbiosis, we do know that where you find one, you’ll find the other. For example, people with rosacea are more likely to also have Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Helicobacter pylori (the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers, among other things).