Your Skin Problems Might Be the Result of Digestive Issues

Dr. Janet Zand

November 15, 2019

Did you know that the health of your gut is incredibly important to the health of your skin? An unhealthy gut is a major source of skin-harming inflammation.

But how do you know if your gut is healthy? And what can you do if it isn’t? Here are some key indicators – and tips to help you keep your gut as healthy as possible.

Certainly, the biggest indicator that your gut isn’t healthy is that you have some sort of digestive distress. Whether you regularly experience constipation or diarrhea, bloating or gas, or even acid reflux, discomfort will be a big red flag that something isn’t right.

It’s true that you might experience an increase in gas initially if you’ve been making an effort to add more fiber to your diet. But your system should adjust once you start hitting your fiber target pretty consistently. If it doesn’t – or if you notice these issues and you’re not eating much fiber – the unhealthy bacteria in your gut might be overpowering the friendly strains.

Inflammatory foods like sugar, other refined carbs, and processed meats feed the bad guys and can contribute to your discomfort. One of the many reasons to keep refined sugar at a very low roar is sugar increases insulin levels and excessive insulin stimulates excessive oil production on the skin – resulting in acne. If you have a sweet tooth and want to quiet it down, consider taking chromium picolinate or chromium nicotinate glycinate chelate.

Or you may have had bad habits in the past that your gut has never quite recovered from. If you regularly feel uncomfortable, you may need to do some work to reset.

Make Sure You Stay Regular

You should also be experiencing regular bowel movements. “Regular” can vary quite a bit from person to person. Some people go every other day. Some people go three times every day. There’s a wide range of “normal.” However, you do need to identify what’s normal for you. And if you can’t find a pattern – or your pattern starts to change – that’s a sign your gut might not be as healthy as it could be.

If you notice a negative pattern – you have digestive issues when you eat a certain type of food – you may also have a bacterial imbalance. Early research is even linking food allergies to your gut health. Don’t try experimenting with a true food allergy without a doctor’s supervision. But if you just have an intolerance, taking a break from the offending food and resetting your gut health can make a big difference in your ability to enjoy that food again in the future.

How Your Weight Impacts Your Skin

A related sign that something isn’t right in your gut is unexplained weight gain or loss. Gut bacteria influence weight in some surprising ways. Different bacteria help break down different food components. And studies have found that people eating the exact same diets will lose different amounts of weight depending on their gut bacteria.

Your gut bacteria even influences your appetite. Research shows that your gut bacteria influence your levels of satiety and hunger hormones, including leptin and ghrelin. If these hormones get out of balance, you’re likely to feel hungrier. And you’ll probably start to eat more. You likely won’t notice the difference until the number on the scale starts to change.

Of course, if you’ve recently gained weight after an indulgent vacation, your gut bacteria probably aren’t to blame. But if you haven’t made any other lifestyle changes, but your pants are feeling a little snug, you may want to think about your gut health.

Unexplained weight loss might seem like a good thing. But if you haven’t made any changes to your diet or exercise routine, it could signal a problem. An overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestines can cause you to lose too much weight – while preventing you from absorbing the nutrients you need to thrive. If you’re losing weight a little too easily, consider whether your gut is healthy.

Next Up Is Unexplained Sleep Issues

Again, consider your lifestyle. If you’re drinking coffee or alcohol before bed, don’t blame your restlessness on your gut. But your gut does help your body make the hormone serotonin, which is important to good sleep. Even if you don’t realize you aren’t sleeping well, episodes of brain fog or fatigue could also point to gut-related sleep issues.

Of course, you need to be sure you’re getting enough sleep. Yes, sleep really does affect your gut health. Research has found that getting only four hours of sleep just two nights in a row can alter the balance of your gut bacteria. More unhealthy bacteria break down the intestinal wall and create inflammation. But when you sleep, your gut can rest. It can repair any gaps in the intestinal wall that can allow toxins to escape.

It’s true that because the gut plays a role in sleep, it can be hard to get to sleep if your gut isn’t healthy. This can create a vicious cycle. But be sure you’re giving your body a chance to get the rest it needs. If you fall into bed at midnight with an alarm set for 5:30, you can’t blame your sleep woes on your gut. Gradually adjust your bedtime, your wake-up time, or both until you can spend eight hours in bed. And make an effort to decrease your stress levels too. Stress can make it hard to sleep. And you’re not imagining that nausea or knotted-stomach sensation. Stress directly affects your gut. Lowering your stress can help you get back on track for good sleep and good gut health.

Contributing to Systemic Inflammation

Of course, skin issues can also signal you that something isn’t right below the surface. When the gut is functioning at its best, the body is simply “humming” along. The skin is most often the first place to show the effects of an imbalanced, unhealthy gut. And gut issues are a major source of inflammation throughout the body. An imbalance in your gut bacteria can lead to intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” The toxins that escape this way trigger an immune system response. That response can show up on the skin in the form of psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, or even acne.

If you have leaky gut or suffer with chronic bloating and poor digestion, consider digestive enzymes. And make sure you take plenty of L-glutamine and your vitamin D level is sufficient. Vitamin D participates in many physiological functions, including maintaining healthy skin growth and repair.

It’s true that outside sources can trigger many of these skin issues as well. But the gut is a lot more important to skin health than many of us realize. So if you feel like you’ve tried every skin cream in the book with little result, you may want to start working from the outside in.

Another underlying factor to consider is candida overgrowth is often underneath more chronic skin conditions. For example, many teenagers and adults with chronic acne have a candida overgrowth lurking in their intestines. Excessive candida will also make psoriasis and eczema worse. Even dandruff, jock itch, and nail fungus may have a subtext of excessive candida overgrowth.

Additionally, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) may be at the root for many who suffer with rosacea.  I have many patients who visit with several dermatologists and then show up at my office.  We focus on resolving their SIBO and to their surprise their rosacea disappears.

Having a healthy gut can improve your quality of life in many ways. Just imagine how good it will feel to get rid of embarrassing digestive woes, sleep better, feel less foggy, and enjoy beautiful skin on top of all that! Addressing your gut health really is worthwhile. And there’s a lot more you can do than just popping a probiotic every once in a while!

But while we’re on the subject, yes, probiotics can help. You do want to make sure you have lots of friendly bacteria living in your gut. Some probiotics that come in pill form can be beneficial. And if you have significant gastrointestinal distress, you may need help from a doctor to choose the right one. He or she can help you identify the bacterial strains that would benefit you the most – and where to find them.

Consider taking a 100 billion probiotic for two weeks and then returning to 30 billion for two months.

But many people don’t realize they can get probiotics from their diets as well. Fermented foods are good for your gut because  they naturally supply probiotics. So give sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, yogurt, kefir, natto, or tempeh a try. Many pickled foods supply probiotics as well. So increase your food sources of fermented foods.

Helping Good Bacteria Thrive

Of course, all these friendly bacteria need to eat if they’re going to survive in your gut. Their food comes in the form of prebiotics. You’ll find prebiotics in fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

You probably know you need plenty of fiber – at least 25 g a day for women. And you might have a go-to strategy for getting there. However, you’ll actually help your gut more if you mix things up by eating a wide variety of plants.

If your usual snack is an apple and a handful of peanuts, try a pear and cashews instead. Switch up the berries on your oatmeal – or give a different whole grain a try in the morning. Try different greens or toppings in your salad. And switch up your produce with the season. You’ll enjoy the freshest fruits and vegetables available while giving your gut a good variety. Look for a farmers market near you to see what’s available and maybe even try something new.

Whatever you choose to fill your plate with, eat it slowly and mindfully. Chewing your food thoroughly can help you digest it more easily. And you’ll learn to recognize hunger and satiety signals. We all know how uncomfortable it can be to overeat. The gut doesn’t appreciate it.

Along with these bountiful meals, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. The gut is happiest when it’s hydrated. Alcohol or sugary fruit drinks can feed bad bacteria. But plain old water helps keep the lining of the intestines healthy and reduces constipation. It may not be exciting, but it sure makes your gut happy.

Finally, there are a few more supplements and herbs to consider. If you’re not getting enough zinc, consider a zinc supplement for two months. Take this at the beginning of a meal – preferably your largest meal of the day. Zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, and zinc bisglycinate chelate are the best forms for your gut and skin. 

The herbs, burdock, dandelion, Oregon grape root, and yellow dock can be made into a tea. Simmer for 10 minutes and then let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain and drink. You can make a large batch and keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Talking about gut health isn’t glamorous. But you need to pay attention to it if you want to look your best. Pay attention if you notice any of these warning signs. If you give your gut what it needs to function optimally, you’ll be amazed at how it can transform your health, your energy, and even your skin.

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