Did you ever think that the secret to plump, clear, and radiant skin might be a healthy gut?
While we know that stress, a high sugar diet, and hormone fluctuations can have a negative impact on our skin, recent research has been trying to establish the complex link between the gut microbiome and the skin.
Similar to the gut-brain axis, the gut and epidermis are linked and in continuous communication through the gut-skin axis.
Dietary adjustments, including these 5 nutrients for a healthy gut and skin, can help you reach healthier skin.
From the inside-out: gut to skin microbiome
When prebiotics (i.e insoluble fibre) are fermented by the gut bacteria, a series of beneficial anti-inflammatory substances are released. Some of the more notorious include short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFA), butyrate and acetate (source).
In this past article, I shared how gut microbiome imbalance can cause or exacerbate common skin conditions.
Disorders that affect the skin can in fact be non-digestive signs that your digestive system might need some tender loving care (source).
From a personal experience, improving my diet and working on my gut health has improved my skin tremendously. Severe acne was 70% gone when I understood and eliminated my triggers. I talk in more depth about my health and skin journey in this podcast episode.
The following 5 nutrients for a healthy gut and skin can be an extremely helpful addition to your skin regimen
5 nutrients for healthy gut and skin
1. Vitamin C
Widely used in skincare and cosmetics, vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant, which protects from cellular aging and free radicals. When applied topically it can help brighten the complexion and reduce hyperpigmentation and scarring.
Consumption of vitamin C from food can also have a remarkable effect on the outside, as vitamin C is essential for the biosynthesis of collagen.
Better known as the “building blocks” of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and skin, collagen can also be extremely helpful to maintain or restore the intestinal mucosa lining and prevent the formation of a ‘leaky gut’.
A leaky gut allows small particles of food as well as bacteria to enter the bloodstream and accumulate under the skin, where they may cause inflammation, like in the case of acne.
To increase your consumption of vitamin C look out for bright coloured fruit and veggies, such as yellow bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, cantaloupe melon, citrus fruits, berries, and parsley. Guava, rosehip buds, and acerola cherries are some of the unusual but best sources of vitamin C.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for healthy epithelial cells that make up the gut lining as well as our epidermis, the most outer layer of the skin.
Concentrated preparations of Vitamin A, sold under the name of isotretinoin or Roaccutane, are widely used and prescribed for the treatment of severe acne.
These act on the sebaceous glands by slowing down the production of sebum, which interestingly is associated with a more diverse skin microbiome and healthier-looking skin (source).
However, it is quite common to experience side effects from using these.
A better and safer alternative might be the daily consumption of vitamin A-rich foods.
Two main forms of this occur naturally in foods:
- Retinol, or pre-formed vitamin A that does not require conversion.
Good food sources include beef liver, cod liver, oily fish, eggs and dairy products, such as butter.
- Carotenoids like alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are vitamin A precursors, meaning they can be converted into the active form, retinol.
Good sources are easy to spot, thanks to their bright yellow and orange tones and vibrant green shades. Sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, bell peppers, mango, cantaloupe melon, collard greens and kale are all great sources of beta-carotene.
When choosing these there’s also the added benefit of the fibre content, which can feed “good” strains of bacteria and support a healthy gut microbiome.
However, the conversion from carotenoid to retinol is not so simple and a high percentage of the population carries a genetic mutation that reduces the ability to convert these to retinol, so combining different sources is key for some.
Zinc is an essential trace element, necessary for the correct functioning of the immune system and in particular for wound healing and skin integrity, not to mention it’s also a powerful antioxidant and can protect the skin from UV damage (think of zinc oxide in many SPF nowadays).
Although we only need a small amount (the recommended daily intake is 7mg for females aged 15 and above), a lot of us don’t meet our daily needs.
Supplementing is of course an option (always check with your GP or nutritionist first), but why not try and up our intake through food first? Like with most nutrients, zinc in food is available in a form that our body knows exactly how to use, plus some of the food sources are just delicious.
Think oysters, beef, chicken as animal sources as firm tofu, pumpkin seeds, lentils and shiitake mushrooms as plant-based sources.
On top of being key for adequate immune function, zinc is also essential for optimal digestion and breakdown of foods. This is because adequate production of stomach acid is strictly correlated to zinc (and B6) levels in the body and insufficient amount of zinc is linked to low stomach acid. This knockdown effect can lead to imbalances in the gut microbiome, such as dysbiosis and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
4. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3s are most known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
They are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies cannot make it and it is therefore vital that we get some of it daily through our diet.
Omega 3 and omega 6 are necessary for optimal cell membrane structure and function, hormone production and healthy blood vessels.
This is an extremely simplified explanation but generally, omega 3s are considered anti-inflammatory while omega 6s tend to be more pro-inflammatory.
With a lot of people being weary of fat consumption, it is totally possible to incur an omega 6:omega 3 ratio imbalance in favour of omega 6, with the consequence of causing more inflammation in the body. And of course, this can show in our gut and in the skin.
Supplementing with omega 3 has been shown to decrease inflammation in the gut of people affected with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) (source) and decrease lesions in people with acne.
As always my advice is to try and incorporate more of the good stuff through food.
There’s plenty of delicious, excellent sources of omega 3 you can incorporate daily.
Choose oily, cold water fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines (a personal favourite), herrings. Plant-based sources are also great and include walnuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and chia seeds. It sounds like you might have to eat loads of it, but it all adds up in the end!
Polyphenols are the naturally occurring plant chemicals responsible for the funky colouring of fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, whole grains and spices.
Deep-coloured foods such as berries, grapes, some varieties of rice, beans and pulses, as well as green leafy vegetables own part of their health boosting benefits to these phenolic compounds.
There is a wide variety of polyphenols and although they differ slightly in their mode of action, they all are extremely beneficial for our gut microbiome. They are considered prebiotics (as they feed strains of beneficial bacteria in our gut, which in turn produce SCFAs) as well as being powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties.
A good rule of thumb is the ‘30 a week’ rule: include at least 30 different plant foods a week to support and promote variety in the microbiota. It might seem a lot but it’s easily achieved when you start incorporating more herbs, spices and new ingredients in your favourite meals
These were my top 5 nutrients for healthy gut and skin 🙂
Healing the gut and getting to the root cause of your skin complaints is BY NO MEANS a fast nor easy thing to do and, depending on what you are trying to address, it might need more than taking a couple pills.
But having adequate levels of the aforementioned gut and skin loving nutrients could be hugely beneficial whether you’re going through a flare up or if you’re just looking at maintaining supple and clear skin.