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  • Unveiling The Gut-Skin Connection: A Naturopathic Approach To Holistic Skin Health | with Emily Bathgate

    May 07, 2024 5 min read

    I know what you might be thinking…Why would your naturopath be interested in the health of your gut when you’ve booked an appointment about your skin?

    When it comes to looking at the skin naturopathically – holistically, comprehensively and thoroughly – recognising the interconnectedness of what’s happening inside and outside of the body is key. Instead of focusing purely on what’s going on within the skin, it’s my aim to discover and target the root cause of a skin concern.

    The gut and skin share a complex relationship with one another, and imbalances in the gut’s microbiome – the diverse community of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that live in your digestive tract and play a crucial role in your overall health – can manifest as skin issues.

    Understanding the Gut-Skin Axis

    The skin and the gut communicate bidirectionally with one another along the gut-skin axis. This pathway, and therefore communication, can be influenced and impacted by multiple factors, including the immune system, microbial metabolites, and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers from the brain).

    Microbial metabolites – like short-chain fatty acids, for example – are tiny molecules produced by the microorganisms living in our gut when they break down the food and other substances in our digestive system. Though small, they can play big roles in the health of our entire body as they travel through the blood.

    Just like our gut microbiota, microbial metabolites influence our immune system’s responses, affecting inflammation levels and skin barrier health. In my clients suffering from acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and rosacea, chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation within the gut are very often (at least partially) to blame…

    The Skin Conditions I See and Their Links to Gut Health

    PSORIASIS & ROSACEA

    The inflammation and immune dysregulation in both psoriasis and dermatitis? You guessed it – both caused (at least in part) by an unhealthy gut barrier (and therefore gastrointestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut’) and dysbiosis.

    Of particular note is the impact of poor gut health on the immune system’s signalling molecules, Th1 and Th2 cytokines. While Th1 cytokines help to fight off pathogens like viruses, Th2 cytokines combat parasitic infections and allergies. The balance between Th1 and Th2 cytokines is important for immune function, and disruptions in this balance (i.e. poor gut health and dysbiosis), can lead to inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases (like psoriasis and rosacea).

    An inflamed gut and dysbiosis, and the immune dysregulation that follows, have been shown to contribute to rosacea. In particular, an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine – SIBO – can cause an increase in inflammatory compounds, triggering flares in rosacea symptoms.

    Meanwhile, increased gut permeability, allowing bacteria to slip through the cracks and into the bloodstream, triggers immune and inflammatory responses that have been shown to aggravate psoriasis.

    As autoimmune diseases, a lot of my work with rosacea and psoriasis clients centres around the gut and the immune system: improving the health of the gut barrier or lining, improving the health of the microbiome, reducing inflammation, and improving and balancing immune function.

    Improving the Health of the Gut for Glowing Skin

    Along with pathology and functional gut microbiome testing, and working with gut condition-specific and individualised protocols accordingly, here are some of my favourite strategies for boosting gut health for healthier skin!

    DIET

    I speak to all of my clients about the importance of prioritising a balanced, anti-inflammatory, whole-food diet – that is, a wide variety of foods high in nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and as close to their natural state as possible – to support the diversity of their microbiome, and the health of their entire body (yep, even their skin.

    I also speak to my clients about making their diet as easy as possible to digest, particularly when we first start working on their gut health. This might look like: choosing more cooked or warmed foods than raw; slow-cooking, blending, rinsing and soaking foods before eating them; enjoying soups and broths; consuming more herbal teas, like ginger, peppermint and green tea, to support digestion; and eating more mindfully.

    Depending on their individual situation, as well as avoiding any known allergens, it might be useful to avoid or limit the consumption of specific foods (like dairy, gluten, or sugar) or groups (such as high histamine, glycaemic, or FODMAP foods) for a period of time while my clients and I work on restoring their gut health and improve their tolerance.

    Consuming enough fibre (25-30g per day at least) will help to support gut microbiome diversity perhaps even more so than probiotics – even quality ones! As I explain to my clients, once we’ve got the basics of digestive function and a healthy gut lining covered, our second step is to work with prebiotics. Where probiotics boost numbers of beneficial gut bacteria, prebiotics are a type of fibre that feeds and fuels those beneficial bacteria. Foods like apples, bananas, chickpeas, lentils, oats, onions, garlic, leeks and shallots are all sources of prebiotic fibre.

    Incorporating small amounts of probiotic-rich, fermented foods – like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, and pot-set yoghurt – will introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut, while antimicrobial foods, herbs and spices – like coconut oil, oregano, garlic, thyme, ginger, and cinnamon – can help to fight off the bad guys and rebalance gut flora.

    STRESS, SLEEP & EXERCISE

    Even if this is the first natural health blog post you’ve ever read, you’ll likely know by now the importance of stress management, quality sleep, and regular movement and exercise for the sake of our overall health…

    Not surprisingly, the very same applies to the health of the gut, the skin, and the gut-skin axis.

    While sleep deprivation and chronically high levels of stress can cause disruptions to the balance of the gut microbiota and cause or exacerbate inflammation, regular activity supports gut and bowel motility and can even manage immune responses.

    I always speak to my clients about the importance of a regulated nervous system for gut health, too. Also known as our ‘second brain’, our gut – lined with 100 million nerve cells and connected to our brain via our gut-brain axis – produces 90% of our mood-managing chemicals, and is responsible not only for digesting the food we eat but all of our emotions and experiences as well.

    HERBS, NUTRIENTS, AND PRE & PROBIOTICS

    From antimicrobial herbs (like calendula, myrrh, berberine, clove and thyme) and probiotics for rebalancing gut flora, to anti-inflammatory herbs (echinacea, chamomile, licorice, baical skullcap, and sarsaparilla) and nutrients (curcumin, omega 3, vitamin D, L-theanine, and quercetin) for calming and healing the gut barrier…

    As a qualified naturopath, I have a beautiful bevvy of remedies and supplements at my disposal to help support my clients’ gut and skin health based on testing, science, and their individual situations and needs.



    If you need some individualised guidance and support, you can book an initial consultation with Emily here
    Naturopath Emily Bathgate, offers natural, holistic and evidence-based treatments for a range of hormonal and skin conditions, addressing underlying causes and setting you up for ongoing skin health + wellness.

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