Although I specialize in digestive issues like IBS/IBD/GERD/SIBO/etc. a huge percentage of my clients have skin issues and I do a lot of work with that.
Poor gut health shows up on our skin. It’s like a window into the gut - showing us what we can’t see with our eyes. A growing body of research confirms that inflammatory skin conditions may be caused by gastrointestinal dysbiosis (imbalances in the gut).
While I am definitely NOT an expert in skin care, skin products, etc. — I do help clients improve skin health every day by focusing on the root cause: their gut health.
The understanding that most illness originates in the gut is both ancient wisdom and cutting edge science. Every day we learn more about the microbiome and how our inner universe impacts all areas of our health.
Some common themes I see in my clients that have also been studied with promising results:
The relationship between H.pylori infection and both acne and rosacea
H. Pylori is a gram-negative bacteria that can contribute to symptoms associated with gastritis (like acid reflux, gerd, nausea, etc.), and can contribute to the development of gastric ulcers and cancers. Studies have found a correlation between the instance of an H. Pylori infection, and the development of rosacea.
If this is something that you personally struggle with, an H. Pylori infection in the stomach is definitely something worth investigating further to see if this might be at the root for you! I use the GI-MAP stool test so my clients can see where their H. pylori levels are at.
Likewise, there is a connection between hypochloridia (low stomach acid levels), and the development of acne. Low stomach acid levels can occur because of stress, a lack of the nutrients required to make stomach acid, or an H. Pylori infection in the stomach.
Intestinal permeability (aka "leaky gut") as a root cause for eczema
Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), is an inflammatory skin condition that generally causes itchy, red patches. Studies have shown that there may be a connection between increased intestinal permeability, and the development of eczema.
If you struggle with eczema, it might be worthwhile to investigate your digestive health to see if there might be an underlying cause contributing to a permeable gut lining (like an imbalance in the microbiome), which could be at the root of this skin condition.
The role of gut inflammation in psoriasis
Psoriasis is an immune-mediated, inflammatory condition of the skin. Studies show that there is a connection between inflammation stemming from the GI tract, and the presence of psoriasis in some people. There is an association between IBD patients and psoriasis, as this skin condition is often associated with inflammation occurring from elsewhere in the body.
Some metabolites produced from bacteria in the gut, create inflammatory cytokines which can also play a role in the development of psoriasis.
Everybody is unique and two people with identical skin issues can have completely different root causes! This is why we cannot currently rely on studies seeking a one-size-fits-all explanation, we have to look at this on the individual level.
6 Ways to Support Both your Gut and Skin Health
Now that you've learned about the gut-skin connection, you might be wondering “where do I start?”
Here are some nutrients/foods to focus on to support your gut and skin health:
Probiotics can be helpful in rebalancing imbalances in the microbiome, helping a permeable gut-lining heal, and in bringing down inflammation levels. Finding the RIGHT formula for you is so important when is comes to therapeutic probiotics. Food-based probiotics can be found in some fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and miso.
2. Vitamin D
This vitamin is actually a hormone and helps to keep inflammation levels down. Most people need to supplement with 1,000+ IU daily, but get your levels checked to be sure. Requires fat for absorption.
3. Vitamin A
Get this skin-loving nutrient from a combo of plant AND animal sources if possible - orange veggies, leafy greens, and red meats are highest. Vitamin A requires fat for absorption, animal sources usually contain this naturally but adding an oil or tahini-based salad dressing to your greens can help you absorb more from plant-based sources.
4. Fish (or algae) Oil
Get this skin-loving nutrient from a combo of plant AND animal sources if possible - orange veggies, leafy greens, and red meats are highest. Requires fat for absorption.
GLA is a type of fatty acid that can be found in evening primrose or borage oil. These fatty acids have special benefits for skin health, and could be worth adding into your regimen.
If you have weak digestion, supplementing with an easily digested protein like collagen can really help. This is important for the structural integrity of your gut lining as well as for skin. Amino acids are a good choice for vegans.
Herbs to Support both your Gut and Skin Health
As an herbalist, I am passionate about herbal medicines and teas are a safe and gentle way to incorporate them into your day-to-day.
Here are a few of my favs for supporting the gut/skin connection:
Ginger: helpful for skin issues and bloating
Chamomile: helpful for GI and skin inflammation
Nettle: provides nutrients and gentle cleansing
Peppermint: helpful for hormonal acne
Dandelion: leaf AND root for skin issues
Red Clover: helpful for hormonal acne
Calendula: helpful for GI and skin inflammation
Borage: helpful if your skin issues are related to stress
To get max benefits make a strong infusion of 1/4 cup herbs (or two tea bags) for 1L hot water. Always steep COVERED for at least 20 mins (up to overnight).
Try to drink a few cups throughout the day.
If you are ill, pregnant, or take medications, always check with your healthcare provider to ensure herbs are safe for you.
If any of the skin conditions mentioned in this article are something that you experience — be it acne, rosacea, eczema and/or psoriasis — and you haven't been able to get to the bottom of them, check out my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive.