Here’s all you need to know about the gut-skin axis and more
Longing for that elusive lit-from-within glow? Us too. As it turns out, it’s not as simple as a sweep of vitamin C or a splodge of hyaluronic acid, wonderful though they may be. Although our skincare routine plays a vital role, what’s going on way below the surface may be just as – if not more – important. Yes, it might not sound all that glamourous, but supporting our gut health could be a key part of achieving a radiant complexion.
A good place to start? Introducing you to the wonderful world of the microbiome…
What is the microbiome?
Our bodies naturally provide a home for trillions of live microbes – also called microbiota or microorganisms. We’re talking bacteria, viruses and fungi galore. Which sounds a little gross, right? Wrong. While we often think of bacteria as consisting of harmful germs, the reality is that many coexist peacefully and are seriously important for our health and wellbeing. But where can we find these bacteria?
‘Some live on our skin and others live in our mouths and noses,’ says Boots nutritionist, Vicky Pennington. ‘But the majority thrive in our gut, primarily in the large intestine.’ It’s these gut bacteria – often referred to as the “gut microbiota” – that make up a whole community totally unique to each of us. Their specific role? ‘They act as a chemical factory, helping to break down food, and producing vitamins and chemicals that are helpful for our brain and immune function,’ explains Vicky. The microbiome is even labelled a supporting organ, because it plays so many key roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body.
What is the gut-skin axis?
Some studies have shown that there may be a link between gut health and skin health. For example, one found a connection between gut health and skin issues like acne, while another found that patients with inflammatory bowel disease may experience skin lesions. However, further research is needed for greater clarity around this up-and-coming field.
As mentioned earlier, the microbiome plays a number of roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body – the benefits of which can extend to the skin – and so it may be worthwhile making gut health maintenance a more holistic part of your skincare routine.
How can you best support it day-to-day? Lifestyle is key, with everything from stress to sleep playing an important part. Here are five ways that could help aid healthy digestion and gut health.
Brilliant ways to support your gut health
Trying to keep your lifestyle as stress-free as possible can be helpful for supporting gut health. If you’re someone who notices a feeling of unease in your stomach during stressful times, you’re not alone. This is because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance in the gut, and may cause more than just a few trips to the loo. It’s good to keep meal times happy and relaxed if you can, as getting angry or stressed can put you off your food or make eating harder.
‘What we eat and drink can impact the diversity of bacteria in the gut and this, in turn, may impact on health and wellbeing,’ says Vicky. ‘However, there’s no such thing as the ideal gut microbiota, or indeed, the ideal diet.’ Luckily for us, the occasional fry-up or glass of prosecco is unlikely to impact on your gut microbiome too much. The key here is being sure to keep treats to a minimum in favour of a balanced diet. As a starting point, it's a good idea to try to eat more fibre, as most people in the UK do not get enough. Wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats, and fruit and veg are all great options.
Keeping hydrated is extremely important when it comes to gut health. According to the NHS, we should drink six to eight cups or glasses of fluid a day, with water being the most important. This is because it encourages the passage of waste through your digestive system and helps soften stools. Fibre acts like a sponge, absorbing water – and without water, the fibre cannot do its job. The end result? Constipation, which – we’re sure you’ll agree – is never fun. It’s good practice to have a glass of water with every meal. Get glugging!
Being wary of symptom triggers
Be mindful of particular foods that may upset your gut health. Acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, salad dressings and fizzy drinks can cause heartburn, while foods like wheat and onions may be a trigger for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. If you develop wind or diarrhoea after consuming dairy products, you might find you’re unable to digest lactose, which is the sugar in milk. Try to stay away from foods and drinks that trigger your digestive symptoms. A good way of doing this is keeping a food diary – it can be helpful when it comes to tracking what you’ve consumed.
And if you’re concerned about any of your symptoms, book an appointment with your GP who can carry out further investigations and may refer you to a dietitian for specialist advice.
The key takeaways
A little lifestyle TLC goes a long way when it comes to supporting your gut health. Whether that’s making some small tweaks to what and when you eat, being mindful of minimising stress or being sure to get enough sleep, there are options out there sure to support your gut health and your skin.