The skin is a living, breathing organ - the largest one in your body. It works to regulate body temperature, fight off pathogens, and keeps all your internal muscle and organs well protected.
What many people don’t know is that your gut health can directly affect your skin, and the colonies of bacteria which live deep inside your intestines can actually have a huge impact on your skin health.
Process of Elimination
One of the minor roles of skin is the elimination of toxins<1>. The liver and kidneys are primarily in charge of processing drugs, hormones and other waste, and the bowels are responsible for transporting that waste out of the body.
When there’s a backlog of waste, it increases pressure on all of these organs to perform. Think of it as a traffic jam: if the cars at the exit refuse to leave, then the roads remain full and the level of exhaust fumes increases. It’s the same for our bodies. When parts of the digestive system aren’t working optimally, everything else starts to suffer, and backup support gets called in. In many instances, it’s the skin.
Everyone has a balance of bacteria in their gut, some helpful and some less so. With a healthy diet, the good bacteria should outnumber the others, helping to maintain an effective digestive system and a top quality immune system.
With an unhealthy diet, the “bad” bacteria begin to multiply, leaving your gut a little more like that dodgy end of town you try to avoid. While the “good” bacteria help to reduce inflammation, the “bad” colonies can actually increase it, and invite their friends along to the party. This can result in inflamed, acne-prone skin.
Probiotics are literally pro-(good) bacteria. They’re living bacteria and yeasts which help to keep the “bad” bacteria at bay and help out those that benefit our bodies the most.
Probiotics come from fermented foods such as miso or sauerkraut, but they’re also readily available in supplement form for an extra dose of support.
There are many studies<2> showing the beneficial effects of probiotics on our skin, meaning that even if you’re still upgrading your diet to a healthier one, probiotics can help to reduce acne and improve your glow.
Really just a fancy term for soluble fibre, prebiotics are the healthy soil and fertiliser that help the good bacteria in your gut to flourish. They’re the undigestible parts of plant foods which feed and fuel the probiotics so they multiply and thrive. They’re common in bananas, artichoke, apples, beans and legumes, and can also be isolated into a supplement form.
Prebiotics act as nourishment for those desirable probiotics, as well as helping the intestines to process waste. In this way, they encourage healthy skin and take the pressure off all organs to eliminate the dregs that our bodies kick out.
When fat and waste builds up in our system, it can clog our cells and block skin from functioning properly. Instead of the skin pushing out hairs, sweat and minerals with ease, it gets congested on things the bowels really should have taken out to the garbage last week, and can build up a festering of acne in place of clear, healthy skin.
Prebiotics help to move that waste along, taking the pressure off the skin and other organs, and feeding the probiotics so they can clean up properly.
Catch the Bug
It seems like such a simple process, but with so much evidence linking gut health to skin health, it’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Our gut bacterium has a huge impact on our skin, so it’s a good idea to ensure you consume plenty of pre and probiotics.
Mem Davis is a naturopath, writer, and food lover. She loves feeling healthy and strong, and is a proud vegan nutrition advocate. In her spare time she goes hiking, attends live music events and hangs out with her cuddly cat.<1> Tortora, G. and Reynolds Grabowski, S. (2003). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 10th ed. USA: John Wiley & Sons.
<2> Kober, M. and Bowe, W. (2015). The effect of probiotics on immune regulation, acne, and photoaging. International Journal of Women's Dermatology, 1(2), pp.85-89.
Nierenberg, C. (2014). Probiotics Hold Promise for 4 Skin Conditions. Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/46502-probiotics-hold-promise-skin-conditions.html .
Bowe, W. and Logan, A. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?. Gut Pathogens, 3(1), p.1. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/ .
Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N. and Ghannoum, M. (2018). The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Gut-Microbiome-as-a-Major-Regulator-of-the-Axis-Salem-Ramser/79fa884fd9ef00ee1fb916b82c0a28778a9903db .