Diet, supplements can improve skin health
Story: Hannah Braye
Skin is considered the largest organ in the body, accounting for around one-sixth of total body weight. It is the only organ with continual visual access—we can see it all the time—and its appearance can give useful insights into other aspects of health. Research indicates that diet and the health of the gut microbiome (the composition of bacteria in the gut) is particularly important for skin health, with many skin conditions giving particular clues to internal digestive health.
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common skin condition in infants, affecting 15 percent to 30 percent of children. It is caused by disregulation of the immune system, causing increased reaction to irritants and allergens. Skin becomes inflamed, often leading to crusty scales or blisters. The lining of the gut houses approximately 70 percent of the body’s immune cells, and is lined and influenced by diverse bacteria that play an important role in the development of the immune system. Studies suggest supplementation with a multi-strain probiotic is beneficial in helping to regulate the immune system and has been shown to significantly reduce AD symptoms in infants and young children within just eight weeks.
Acne, the bane of many a teenager, affects an estimated 85 percent of adolescents. It can also stubbornly persist into adulthood. It causes oily skin and unsightly, sometimes painful blemishes on the face and body. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, reflux, and constipation, are more common in acne sufferers, and studies indicate they may have marked differences in the composition of their gut bacteria. Probiotic supplements are showing promise in the management of acne due to their ability to reduce inflammation in the skin.
One potential contributing factor to AD, acne, and many other skin conditions is intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut.” Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the digestive tract becomes damaged, usually by pathogens such as yeast overgrowth, low beneficial bacteria levels, antibiotics, or unhealthy diet and lifestyle practices. This leads to inflammation that can be reflected in the skin. Certain strains of beneficial bacteria have been shown to help support the lining of the gut, reducing leaky gut, thereby improving skin symptoms.
Research also indicates that gut bacteria are important as we age in the battle against wrinkles. Probiotic supplements taken orally are showing promise for delaying skin-aging due to their ability to help increase skin hydration, protect against UV damage, and produce nutrients needed for collagen formation. One study found that after 12 weeks of supplementation, there was a significant reduction in wrinkle depth, improved skin gloss, and skin elasticity increased by 13 percent.
When it comes to food, many people report substantial improvements in skin symptoms when certain aggravating ingredients are removed from the diet. Acne has been associated with milk consumption, and it’s thought that hormones found in milk potentially could influence sebum and hormone production. Low glycemic index diets also have shown improvements in symptoms, and acne remains rare in non-Westernized societies that eat diets low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Sensitivities and intolerances to certain foods also are identified by many as a contributing factor to AD, and elimination of specific foods may improve symptoms in some people. Common culprits include cow’s milk, eggs, gluten, and solanaceous vegetables such as tomatoes.
A variety of nutrients are important for skin health and many work together synergistically, so it’s important to eat a varied whole-food diet, rich in colorful fruit and vegetables, and healthy sources of fat and protein. Nutrients of particular importance to skin health include anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish), zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Eating lots of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts also may help increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione, which may help combat the signs of aging.
Traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, live yogurt, and kefir are a great way to support both gut and skin health as they provide live beneficial bacteria and have been shown to have positive effects in skin conditions. For additional support, taking a probiotic supplement, such as Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula, containing 14 different bacterial strains, can help.
Skin cells are continuously being rubbed off, renewed, and completely replaced around every 40 days. So when changing eating habits and supplements, it may take at least this amount of time before the benefits are reflected in the skin.