Our skin, gut, and brain are more connected than you may think. You’ve likely experienced a hormonal or stress breakout, or puffy cheeks and under-eyes after a night of overindulging in sweets and alcohol. The skin is the organ visibly affected, but the gut and brain are as well. Most skin conditions are inflammatory responses to a stressor (psychological, physical, emotional), revealing itself on the skin. Often, these imbalances start in the gut, or in the case of psychological stress, the gut-brain axis. The gut-centric approach to health is well known in Ayerveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, the paired organs of the lung and large intestine are reflected in the tissues of the skin and hair. In Western medicine, we can see this pattern in those who have eczema (skin) and asthma (lungs), or in dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin rash common in those with celiac disease.
What does a healthy gut look like?
One with a balanced microbiome, normal permeability, sufficient stomach acid and enzyme production. Your gut microbiome is a mixture of trillions of different species of bacteria and yeast. It influences your immune system, digestive function, mood, hormone balance, intestinal integrity, and so much more. Dysbiosis (imbalanced microbial flora) and poor digestive function leads to increased production of pro-inflammatory chemicals and the stress hormone, cortisol. Symptoms of digestive imbalances could be like heartburn, bloating, gas, and loose stools or constipation.
Or… acne, eczema, and rosacea could be the only warning from your gut that something isn’t quite right.
Just like the gut, our skin has its own protective microbiome made up of bacteria and yeast. Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes), one of the presumed causes of acne, is a normal part of a healthy microbial flora and helps produce our acid mantle. Inflammation and cortisol production triggered by gut dysbiosis can lead to lower microbial diversity on the skin, creating an environment where bacteria like C. acnes shift from protective to problematic. Microbial imbalances in the gut and skin can lead to changes in the skin pH, lipid balance, increases permeability and trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), and increases sebum production. This creates a recipe for irritated, inflamed, breakout prone skin.
Diet, medications, and psychological stress are some contributors to gut dysbiosis and chronic inflammation. Diets high in sugar, alcohol, fried food, processed foods, poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and lacking fibre and phytonutrients negatively impact the microbiome.
Chronic cortisol exposure from being overstressed and/or under-slept disrupts the gut and skin microbiomes allowing for bacterial overgrowth, free radical formation, and inflammation. Stress also contributes to collagen and elastin loss, accelerating signs of aging. We also see lower production of beneficial oils which leads to increased water loss, but also increased sebum production.
Extra sebum + bacterial overgrowth + inflammation
Some commonly used medications known to cause dysbiosis include oral hormonal contraceptives (birth control), NSAIDs (Advil, Ibuprofen, Naproxen etc.), antibiotics, antacids (PPIs- omeprazole/Prilosec, esomeprazole/Nexium), and laxatives (PEG/Restoralax). Yes, medications used to treat digestive symptoms can cause more trouble. According to research, 40% of people with acne have hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) which contributes to dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut. Symptoms of hypochlorhydria include nausea, heartburn, and indigestion, and is often treated with antacids which further reduces stomach acid production. See the vicious cycle?
It’s important to consider all aspects of health when approaching our skin concerns. Supporting your gut and brain health are equally as important for your skin health as a quality and consistent skincare routine. Healing from the inside, so you can glow on the outside.
Written by Dr. Lauren Cottom, NDDr. Cottom sees patients of all ages and genders with both chronic and acute concerns at the Centre for Natural Medicine in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She treats a variety of health concerns including, but not limited to: digestive disorders, skin concerns, thyroid and other hormone disorders, mental health, and women’s health concerns such as menstrual cycle irregularities/PMS, PCOS, vaginal health, preconception/prenatal/postpartum care, and menopause. Dr. Cottom works with her patients to understand the underlying cause of their symptoms and disease. She uses a variety of naturopathic therapies to create individualized treatment plans for each of her patients, helping them reach their optimal health. To book an appointment with Dr. Cottom, call Centre for Natural Medicine at 204-488-6528.