With all the buzz, information and misinformation surrounding gut health and its effects on the skin, we thought it would be good idea to clear the air and get the facts from an expert.
We contacted Dr. Heidi Roles to get the insider info on gut health, its holistic effect on the body and how it can impact the skin.
There is a lot of buzz out there about “gut health” but what exactly does that mean?
Gut health is the ability of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to effectively digest and absorb food, and the ability to maintain normal and stable microbiota and an effective immune status. If your gut is not healthy, you may frequently or chronically experience things like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, food allergies or sensitivity, anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, skin problems, frequent infections, autoimmune disease, poor memory, ADD and ADHD.
Information and opinions on how to achieve a healthier gut through cleanses, avoidance of the Top 8 food allergens, drinking green smoothies, etc. are everywhere. What’s the best way to tell fact from fiction or fad?
Stay away from fad diets. First, remove inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and sugar for a couple of weeks. Then add one food at a time back into your diet, checking for symptoms of inflammatory response each time.
Next, eat a diet that is rich in whole, unprocessed healthy foods (think green vegetables) with good fiber and water content. Include fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, or kimchi. Drink a minimum of 64 ounces of spring water per day. Taking a probiotic with bifidobacterium and lactobacilla species, 25-100 billion units, can also do wonders for boosting the overall health of your gut.
How is gut health related to healthy skin?
When imbalances occur in the microbiome of the gut, it can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea and acne. Poor gut health not only saps your energy but also causes a disruption in your body’s ability to produce mood calming, brain boosting serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters, which are primarily produced in the digestive system, affect brain function, hormonal function and overall health.
Skin microbiome refers to all the organisms that live inside or on our bodies: bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and helminths (parasites). A healthy skin microbiome protects against infection in much the same way a good gut microbiome does: by crowding out overgrowth of pathogenic organisms. The skin microbiome prefers a relatively acidic environment (pH is around 5.0), which also inhibits growth of pathogens.
The gut microbiome and skin immune system “talk” to each other regularly and work together to dampen inflammation. When the gut microbiome is out of balance, the immune system can release various antimicrobial peptides to help balance things out. Likewise, good bacterial residents can inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds from the immune system.
Stress and anxiety are major disruptors of digestion. When you experience stress, your body goes into a “fight or flight” state and drops everything else it’s doing, including digesting food. When you have chronic stress in your life (think family obligations, work stress, financial stress, or constant travel) your digestion suffers. Even if your diet is healthy; if you’re not absorbing the nutrients due to poor gut function, you’ll begin to see skin, hair and nail problems.
Can you talk a little bit about the gut health-hormone connection?
Turns out a certain set of gut bacteria and more specifically, certain bacterial genes called the estrobolome, produce an essential enzyme that helps metabolize estrogen. This process, when working efficiently, plays an essential role in perfect hormonal balance. This population of friendly bacteria (known as gut flora) makes up your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is a main player in regulating your hormones, especially your estrogen levels. Estrogen dominance due to a poorly functioning microbiome leads to every hormonal imbalance symptom or sickness you can think of—infertility, PMS, low libido, polycystic ovary syndrome, cramps and heavy bleeding.
What are the long-term effects of chronic inflammation in the body? How does this relate to the skin?
Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation which can cascade through the body in a variety of ways. Hormones are released that encourage inflammation and decrease blood flow to the skin. Stress induced irritation to the nerves may increase inflammation or stimulate allergic reactions. Production of moisturizing and plumping lipids declines and skin healing, repair and restoration get delayed.
When the body is chronically stressed, the skin recruits the immune system to help fight back which can cause inflammation that presents as rosacea, acne and psoriasis flare-ups.
What are some easy first steps to take toward better gut health?
Take care of your gut! Eat healthy and stay hydrated. Research shows that what you put in your mouth influences your skin and skin microbiome in many ways. Choose organic whenever possible, aim for a balance of good fats, proteins, carbohydrates, colorful vegetables and clean water and keep processed foods and extra sugar out of the diet.
Identify and remove trigger foods such as dairy and gluten. Both are associated with exacerbating a range of skin issues, including eczema and acne.
Let your microbiome thrive! Arguably, all skin issues are influenced by the gut microbiome and gut health in general.
- Taking a daily, high-quality probiotic has been shown to prevent or treat many skin conditions.
- Minimize the use of hand sanitizers and soaps. Remember skin microbiome prefers a pH of 5 and most soaps have a pH of 10.
- Work up a sweat a few times a week. If you’re eating well, the sweat you produce is likely a fortifying prebiotic for the skin microbiome.
- Keep your stress levels in check. Just like elsewhere in the body, stress can negatively influence what’s happening with your skin. Find a stress management method that works best for you, such as yoga or meditation.
- Get dirty! It may sound crazy, but in today’s world, we just don’t have enough contact with dirt, or soil based organisms to be precise. Think about this—for most of human history, we worked outside or interacted with the outdoor world in some way each day. Food came from the ground and while it may have been rinsed, it wasn’t “washed” and it certainly wasn’t irradiated like many foods are today. Through these interactions with the soil, we had regular contact with soil based organisms (SBOs) which are also natural strains of probiotics found in the gut and on the skin. I make sure to spend time outdoors doing activities like gardening and camping to get natural exposure to a variety of soil based organisms.
About Dr. Heidi Roles
As a chiropractor, nutritionist and weight loss coach, Dr. Heidi Roles’ approach to wellness addresses the whole person through the lens of her wide range of experience and training. Her practice emphasizes the ‘Brimhall’ method – a protocol focused on locating and eliminating interference to a client’s health—as well as treatment of nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, emotional stress and toxicity. She is a skilled practitioner in applied kinesiology (bio-energetic feedback analysis) and has seen great success by combining this technique with emotional clearing practices.
As a passionate wellness advocate, Dr. Heidi loves to share her wealth of experience though teaching opportunities that include health care classes, onsite services with local businesses, wellness seminars and conferences. She received her Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) from Los Angeles City College in 1988 and is certified in a wide variety of holistic techniques.