The Gut-Skin Axis: How an Unbalanced Microbiome Affects Acne
Did you know that your gut health affects your skin health? It's true! The microbiome (the population of bacteria and other microorganisms living in our bodies) plays a role in the development of chronic skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea.
Mounting evidence suggests that the gut-skin axis is a real thing, and that nutrient malabsorption may play a role in the pathophysiology of acne.
Factors like antibiotic use, psychological and physical stress, and diet can all adversely affect the gut microbiome, leading to gut dysbiosis. Luckily, there are things we can do to support our gut microbiome!
In this blog post, we will discuss how the gut-skin axis works and how probiotic supplementation, prebiotics, and a healthy diet can help support gut health and clear skin.
Let's begin by defining some of the fundamental terms at play.
What is the gut microbiome?
A microbiome is a population of bacteria and other microorganisms living in our bodies. The gut microbiome specifically refers to the population of microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms play a role in digesting food, producing vitamins and minerals, and keeping harmful bacteria in check.
Commensal bacteria are microorganisms that live in symbiosis with their host. In other words, they benefit from the relationship but do not harm their host. The majority of commensal bacteria are harmless, and some are even beneficial to their host.
What is gut dysbiosis?
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the composition of the gut microbiome. This can be caused by many factors, including antibiotic use, stress, diet, and more. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to a variety of chronic health conditions, including skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
What is the gut-skin axis?
The gut-skin axis is the name given to the relationship between the gut microbiome and the skin microbiome.
The microbiome plays a role in this communication, as it is thought to modulate immune responses and inflammation. In turn, these processes can impact the health of the skin.
For example, research has shown that dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiome) can lead to increased intestinal permeability, or "leaky gut." This allows bacteria and other microorganisms to enter the bloodstream, which can trigger an inflammatory response which can have a ripple effect through the body. Inflammation is a key factor in the development of chronic skin disorders like acne.
This connection works both ways; gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiome) can lead to skin problems, and vice versa.
Skin energy generation
There are several mechanisms by which the gut-skin axis works. One is through the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by gut bacteria. SCFAs can be used by the body for energy. They also have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, both of which are beneficial for skin health.
Another way the gut-skin axis works is through the immune system. The gut microbiome helps to train the immune system and keep it functioning properly. When the gut microbiome is out of balance, the immune system may become dysregulated, leading to inflammation. This inflammation can manifest as chronic skin conditions such as acne.
Finally, the gut-skin axis works through the nervous system. The gut and skin are both innervated by the nervous system, and the gut microbiome can influence the activity of the nervous system. For example, studies have shown that stress can alter the gut microbiome, which in turn can lead to inflammation and skin problems.
How does malabsorption develop?
Malabsorption is a condition in which the body does not absorb nutrients properly. When malabsorption occurs, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and gut dysbiosis. Malabsorption is thought to play a role in the development of acne, as bacterial overgrowth competes with the host for nutrients and impairs absorption of macro and micronutrients.
There are several factors associated with a modern, Western lifestyle that can contribute to gut dysbiosis and the development of acne. These include:
Antibiotics are often used to treat acne, but they can also disrupt the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut, leading to gut dysbiosis.
Psychological and physical stress can adversely affect the gut microbiome, leading to gut dysbiosis.
A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut and lead to gut dysbiosis.
Malabsorption vs Dysbiosis - The Chicken and the Egg
There is evidence to suggest that both dysbiosis and malabsorption can lead to each other. In one study, it was found that patients with acne had a higher rate of malabsorption than those without acne. In another study, it was found that patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – a form of gut dysbiosis – were more likely to have deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K).
You know the saying "It's all connected"? Well, it is! And this is why unravelling the mystery of your acne can be so challenging. It's complicated!
How does gut dysbiosis affect acne?
There are several ways in which gut dysbiosis can affect acne:
Bacterial overgrowth in the gut can compete with the host for nutrients and lead to malabsorption of essential macro- and micronutrients. This can adversely affect the skin, leading to inflammation and the development of acne.
Gut dysbiosis can lead to increased intestinal permeability, or "leaky gut." This allows bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response. This inflammation can exacerbate acne.
Some research suggests that gut dysbiosis may lead to a hormonal imbalance, which can trigger or worsen acne.
Food solutions that help balance the microbiome
Probiotic supplementation may be an effective treatment for acne by restoring gut microbiota balance and improving intestinal barrier function. Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer health benefits when consumed. They are often referred to as "good" or "friendly" bacteria because they help to keep the gut microbiome in balance.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds that serve as food for probiotics. They help to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and can also help to improve gut barrier function.
There are a number of food items that contain prebiotics and can help to support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. These include:
Bananas contain a type of soluble fiber called pectin, which serves as food for probiotics.
Garlic contains a prebiotic called allicin, which has been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Oats are a source of soluble fiber, and they also contain a type of prebiotic called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Apples contain a type of soluble fiber called pectin, which serves as food for probiotics.
Flaxseeds are a source of soluble fiber, and they also contain a type of prebiotic called lignans. Lignans have been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Including these food items in your diet may help to support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and improve gut barrier function. This, in turn, may help to reduce inflammation and the severity of acne.
Herbs that can help balance the gut microbiome
In addition to prebiotic-containing foods, certain herbs have also been shown to help support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. These include:
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory herb that has been found to help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde, a compound that has been found to help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Licorice root contains a compound called glycyrrhizic acid, which has been shown to help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Fennel is an anti-inflammatory herb that has been found to help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
A combination of probiotics, prebiotics and herbs may help to restore balance to the gut microbiome, reduce inflammation, and improve skin health. Incorporating these nutrients into your diet can help to support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and improve gut barrier function, which may lead to improved skin.
In conclusion, research suggests that the gut-skin axis is an important area to consider when addressing chronic skin conditions such as acne. The body of evidence indicates that nutrient malabsorption and gut dysbiosis play a role in the development of acne, and that probiotic supplementation, prebiotic-containing foods, and herbs may be helpful in restoring balance to the gut microbiome, reducing inflammation, and improving skin health.
Overall, it is important to consider the impact of diet and lifestyle on gut function and its microbiome when addressing chronic skin conditions such as acne.
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