Beauty & The Gut

The Gut-Beauty Connection

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When a patient walks into my office, I can see what’s going on with their outer appearance – from skin conditions to hair loss – way more quickly than what’s going on in their digestive tract. But make no mistake – there’s an intimate connection between the two:

  • Studies have found that more than half of all acne sufferers have alterations in gut flora
  • Societies that eat a more indigenous diet with little or no processed or sugary foods have very few digestive problems and virtually no acne
  • Rosacea has been linked to inflammation and bacterial imbalance in the gut, and it’s one of the most common skin conditions I see in my patients with digestive disorders
  • Gastrointestinal conditions like celiac disease and Crohn’s can significantly alter absorption, and there’s no question that in addition to bloating, they can also be accompanied by skin problems and hair loss. 
  • Almost 25% of people with celiac disease also have an accompanying skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)

Your skin is especially sensitive to what’s going on in your gut: everything you eat eventually shows up on it, and skin reactions can be an important sign of an imbalanced gut. In addition to causing GI symptoms, food allergies and food intolerances can also lead to dark circles under your eyes, blemishes, rashes, and a puffy, swollen appearance. My patients who have inflamed intestines frequently also have red, inflamed skin, and as their gut heals, their skin usually does, too.

Likewise, GI symptoms can be a reflection of what’s happening on your skin, since much of what you put on your skin eventually gets absorbed into your gut. Chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate are common ingredients in cleansing products because they create a thick lather, but they’re also easily absorbed through the skin, irritating it and stripping away essential oils and moisture. Harsh chemicals may make your skin more permeable to penetration by surface bacteria, viruses, and other chemicals that can gain access to your intestines and lead to inflammation and bloating.

Here are some of my favorite Gutbliss tips that help promote an outer glow from hair to skin to belly: 

  1. Eat dark green vegetables. Arguably the single best food group for promoting healthy skin. No other food group can match the water content and pound-for-pound nutrient density of dark green vegetables, and their high vitamin C content helps the body make skin-firming collagen. I recommend shooting for one head of romaine lettuce or three stalks of kale every day.
  2. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids. Both groups of nutrients are strongly associated with healthy blood vessels, which are essential for maintaining optimal blood flow to and from your skin cells. Healthy foods that are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids include: dark green leafy vegetables, raw walnuts, wild salmon, flax seeds, and free-range eggs. Healthy foods that are naturally rich in flavonoids include: lettuce, cherries, citrus, cabbage, kale, spinach, Goji berries, asparagus, lima beans, and raw cacao.
  3. Eat foods rich in vitamin A, carotenoids, and healthy fats. Vitamin A is one of the most important micronutrients for healthy skin, since it’s needed to maintain the integrity and function of your skin cells. If your overall health is good and you regularly eat foods that are abundant in healthy fats, then chances are that your body is effectively synthesizing vitamin A from carotenoids found in dark green, yellow, and orange vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  4. Cut down on sugar. Prevent dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth in your gut and on your skin by keeping sweet treats that yeast thrive on to a minimum. Sugary foods also promote insulin release, and high circulating insulin levels are associated with inflammation throughout the body, including in your GI tract and on your skin.
  5. Don’t add salt. Adding salt to food causes water retention, making you bloated and puffy all over, especially in your face. Food manufacturers often add salt to packaged food to preserve the shelf life, so even if you put away the saltshaker, you still need to read labels to keep your salt intake in check. Aim for less than 1,000 milligrams per day to keep puffiness (and your blood pressure!) to a minimum.
  6. Avoid gluten. The gluten-containing grains of today are a modified version of what our ancestors ate and have been associated with lots of different symptoms, including bloating, rashes, and hair loss. Even if you don’t have celiac disease, you may be gluten intolerant and not even know it. A six-week trial of a gluten-free diet that excludes wheat, rye, and barley may do wonders for blemished skin and thinning hair – and alleviate any bloating you might be experiencing too.
  7. Be a teetotaler.Alcohol is metabolized to acetaldehyde, a cousin of formaldehyde and a substance that’s toxic to practically every organ system. And did I mention it can cause bloating and blotchy skin, make your hair fall out, and age you?
  8. Limit dairy. Although the party line from most dermatologists is that acne isn’t related to diet, many studies show an increase in acne incidence and severity in people who consume lots of dairy. It’s also a major cause of bloating, since more than half the world’s population is lactose intolerant.
  9. Hydrate.It seems obvious, but if you’re not measuring how much water you’re drinking, chances are you’re not drinking enough. Your thirst mechanism doesn’t kick in until you’re already pretty dehydrated, and then it’s hard to catch up. Water helps to move the products of digestion through the colon, avoiding backup, which can lead to toxins leaching into your blood supply and traveling to the rest of your body, including your skin. Drinking lots of water also helps you get rid of toxins through your body’s largest organ of elimination—your skin. Be sure to avoid caffeine and soda though, which can both dehydrate you.

While we don’t yet know all the science that goes into it, we do know that the health of your gut and your outer appearance are closely related. Continue your Gutbliss journey and your skin, hair, and bloat will all thank you!

Robynne Chutkan, MD

Robynne Chutkan, MD, FASGE, is the founder of Gutbliss Rx. She is an integrative gastroenterologist and the bestselling author of Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution, and The Bloat Cure. Educated at Yale and Columbia, she’s been on the faculty at Georgetown University Hospital since 1997 and is the founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness, an integrative gastroenterology practice incorporating microbiome analysis and nutritional counseling as part of the therapeutic approach to digestive disorders. An avid runner, snowboarder, and yogi, she is passionate about helping her patients live not just longer lives, but dirtier ones!

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