Expert Topic by Joanne Rendell
Healthy mind, strong body, glowing skin
Written by Skin Therapist Joanne Rendell
Throughout my years of working as a Skin Therapist I have seen patterns of behaviours between the skin and certain lifestyles that have led me to believe that the key to wellbeing lies in the connection between a healthy mind, a strong body, and beautiful glowing skin. But this isn’t just what I believe: there is no shortage of research pointing to a strong connection between our brains, our bellies, and our skin.
Go with your gut
The gut is of increasing interest and provides a valuable insight into our overall health.
“Scientists estimate that human cells make up just 43% of the body’s cell count. The other 57% is microbial”.
Germs have a bad reputation, but it’s a fact that microbes are everywhere, including inside our body and on the skin’s surface. In short, the human body is teaming with microscopic life, and most of these tiny tenants are in our gut. This combination of “good” and “bad” bacteria is called the “microbiome.”
Have you ever felt "butterflies" in your tummy? The gastrointestinal tract (the organs that food travels through when swallowed, digested, and absorbed) is very sensitive and is often the first part of the body to react to emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness and elation. All of these feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines, and vice-versa. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut.
Common symptoms that the stomach or intestines are distressed include abdominal bloating , pain or cramps, weight loss, acid reflux (heartburn), fatigue and loss of appetite, all of which can cause of anxiety, stress, or depression.
Are bugs bad for us? Not necessarily. The bacteria in our microbiome help to digest your food, regulate your immune system and produce vitamins. In a healthy gut, these ‘good’ bacteria help to keep any ‘bad’ bacteria in check. However, if this balance is disturbed the body can become more vulnerable to disease.
The skin-gut connection: glowing from the inside out
We all know that the foods we eat can affect our skin’s appearance and health. But it is sometimes hard to believe that the gut and the skin play such similar roles within our bodies. These two very different organs perform a very similar and significant job. Our skin even has its very own microbiome, with no two people having the same amount of microbiota (all the different types of micro-organisms). It’s believed that the bacteria in our gut have an influence over the microbial balance of the skin.
The skin is the largest living organ. It’s made up of many tiny, living micro-organisms that fight off harmful bacteria and help to keep our bodies’ bacteria balanced, maintaining our immunity. Because the skin acts as a detoxifier, it helps eliminate toxins and waste from the body, and is often the first place to show the effects of an unhealthy gut.
What is the gut-skin axis?
The gut and the skin enjoy a constant exchange through what has become known as the gut-skin axis. Its purpose is to fight off any harmful pathogens which try and attack the body from the outside. Keeping a proper balance of bacteria and healthy microbiomes will allow your gut to fight for immunity, and protect you from any bad bacteria. Although gut health issues can be varied, the skin is often a great reflection of what’s going on inside the gut. This is why it’s so important to get your digestive health in order, to feel well and experience glowing skin.
“If we have issues with our gut, such as digestion, inflammation or a leaky gut, the signs will usually be seen on our skin first”
The skin's microbiome is the ecosystem on the surface of your skin that plays an important role in both your inner and outer health. It’s estimated that every square centimetre of your skin is home to at least a million different bacteria, along with fungi, viruses and mites. That’s why applying skincare topically as part of a good routine will actually help to replenish your skin’s ecosystem, which is your immune system’s first line of defence.
Active ingredients are responsible for changing the structure of the skin. Others have a repair/protective action, and some treat the symptoms of a skin condition. The most important active ingredients to seek out are:
Vitamin C: this stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, which in turn helps to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin E: this supports skin health by combating free radical/environmental damage.
Hyaluronic Acid: this helps to maintain moisture in the skin, to leave it looking plump and hydrated.
Glycolic Acid: this stimulates exfoliation by increasing cell turnover, unclogging pores and improving congestion. This also helps to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and allows subsequent products to penetrate the skin more effectively. However, it can cause sun sensitivity.
Polyhydroxy (PHA) Acids: these allow for slower and more gradual penetration. They are non-irritating and do not sting. PHAs support the matrix around collagen, help to restore the skin barrier function, and protect against collagen degradation.
Retinaldehyde: this stimulates a healthy skin cell turnover rate, which in turn unclogs pores and thickens the dermis to slow the appearance of wrinkles.
If your concerns include acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and premature ageing, looking after your gut can make a huge difference. In recent studies, scientists have found links between gut health and skin issues such as eczema, rosacea, and acne. In other words, your gut health, as well as stress, can have a negative impact on the skin’s protective antimicrobial peptides, which act as a chemical shield on the surface of the skin, triggering and co-ordinating multiple components of the innate and adaptive immune system. If you want to heal the skin, you must always start with the gut first. Think of it as “spring cleaning” but with essential nutrients and beneficial bacteria
Although we can’t blame every skin condition on the gut, more and more studies suggest there is a correlation between certain extreme skin issues, what we eat, and the balance of bacteria within the body.
If skin is irritated, inflamed or congested, there could well be an imbalance within your gut. However, diagnosing whether or not your skin condition is caused by digestive issues can be difficult. For instance, naturally occurring “good” bacteria can bind to receptors that inhibit inflammation and stimulate collagen synthesis. However, “bad” bacteria can promote inflammation and cause a variety of illnesses. Sometimes it is easy to see the connection —for example, if eating wheat causes hives, itching, swelling to the skin, stomach cramps or headaches it is easy to identify it as a problem. Unfortunately, in many cases the connection between our gut and our skin is not so obvious or simple to pinpoint.
Can fasting help to protect your gut microbiome and enhance skin?
Humans have always fasted. In prehistoric times, we often went days between eating, simply because we couldn’t find food. Over millions of years, we evolved to not only handle the threat and stress of not eating – but to thrive on it. Why? Because prolonged fasting triggers our natural cell clean-up and rejuvenation process. This helps us to live longer and healthier lives.
Prolonged fasting refers to fasts that span over two consecutive days. Scientists believe that your body starts the cell recycling and rejuvenation process on day three of a prolonged fast.
This process, known as autophagy, helps your cells to renew themselves, and act like younger cells. Prolonged fasts are a quick way to lose weight and belly fat, reset your metabolic health, enhance your mental clarity and energy, and establish better eating habits. Furthermore, through the cell rejuvenation process, prolonged fasts can result in profound and transformative benefits for the skin. The ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet closely mimics fasting – and delivers many of the associated advantages – while still allowing you to eat.
The brain-skin connection
The link between the brain and the skin can often be a difficult one for some people to comprehend. After all, these two organs seem to be very different anatomically. But in fact, they are closely related and communicate with each other all the time.
If we go back to when we were in the womb, we learn that our brain and skin have a strong physical connection. They are made from the same tissue layer called the ectoderm. The skin is the primary sensing organ for external stressors in our environment, including hot, cold, pain, and mechanical stress. The skin transmits these signals from our environment to the spinal cord, which are then interpreted by the brain.
A good example of the brain-skin connection is when someone is embarrassed and their skin flushes red. Or if you feel stressed, your skin might start to sweat, break out into a rash, or develop hives. When emotions are heightened, most of us can relate to skin break-outs, or flare-ups of existing skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis. The skin is essentially a large canvas that paints a picture of what is going on in our mind.
Signs of stress
Stress has a far-reaching impact on the body, including skin health. Chronic stress has a cascade effect that prompts the release of neurotransmitters that can cause a range of inflammatory conditions including:
A pre-existing condition can worsen or flare up as a result of increased stress levels. When we are stressed our whole body is affected – our hair, skin and nails can all begin to show the signs. Stress restricts the blood supply to our skin, which results in less oxygen filtering through to our cells.
When we are stressed our body releases stress hormones, the most common of which is cortisol. Cortisol is our primary stress hormone. It increases the sugars in our bloodstream, which affects different functions.
Tell-tale signs can include:
- Itchy skin
- Dry, flaky skin
- Under-eye bags
- A grey undertone to the complexion
- New or deepening lines
- Hyperpigmentation or redness
All of this can be externally reflected in a variety of ways, including skin ageing. Research has shown that repetitive cycles of stress and inflammation may result in decreased skin-cell function and possibly contribute to chronic skin conditions. Being stressed also weakens the immune system and, when our defences are down, we have more difficulty fending off harmful substances and keeping our skin barrier function strong. You may notice inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis worsen during times of stress. This in turn can lead to a range of issues including dryness, flakiness, irritation, hypersensitivity and pigmentation.