While it may seem strange to think there is a link between two skin conditions and the digestive system, there is one big connection - your immune system. An estimated 70% of our immune system is believed to be in the gut and both eczema and psoriasis are immune responses triggered by either allergens or antibodies. So if we want to support skin health, the gut is the perfect place to start.
At Adaptology we want to provide you not only with beautiful, natural products which nourish your skin from the outside, but we also want to give you the knowledge and powder to tackle your skin condition holistically through diet and lifestyle too. In this post, our Nutritional Therapist Bethany takes a deep dive into the skin conditions eczema and psoriasis to help explain why a truly holistic approach could be the best way to tackle these skin conditions.
What is Eczema?
There are many types of eczema including atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis, all of which are characterised by dry, itchy, inflamed skin. While the exact cause of eczema remains unknown researchers believe it could be genetic and a response to environmental triggers. An allergen or irritant triggers an immune response in the body causing inflammation that, in eczema sufferers, manifests on the skin. Often people who suffer from eczema also have other allergies or allergic-type symptoms like hay fever, food allergies and asthma - particularly with atopic eczema.
What is Psoriasis?
Like eczema, psoriasis is an immune reaction that causes dry, red, flakey and sometimes scaly patches of skin. Unlike eczema, which is thought to be triggered by external environmental elements, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. This means it is caused by a fault in the immune system meaning it mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells. This causes an overproduction of skin cells which leads to the typical dry flaky and scaly patches experienced by psoriasis sufferers. Psoriasis can run in families but it’s unclear what role genetics play in the disease. But it is believed that life events including stress and infections can worsen or even trigger symptoms.
The gut-skin connection
There is growing research and evidence which supports the theory of a close relationship between gut health and skin health.
Studies have shown that changes in the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome (the bacteria residing in our gut) can be linked to alternations in immune responses which can trigger the development of skin diseases like eczema. Our gut microbiome when working optimally is believed to have an immunomodulatory effect on the body - meaning it can regulate or balance our immune response. Patients with eczema or psoriasis are often found to have reduced diversity in their microbiome which may explain the overreactive response of the immune system and consequential skin reactions.
There is also growing research into our skin microbiome and its link with our gut microbiome and skin health but more research is still required to fully understand these mechanisms.
Three ways you can boost your gut health
Probiotics are the good bacteria we want to have in diverse abundance in our guts for optimal gut and skin health. While probiotics can be taken in supplement form, you can also boost your intake with fermented foods, including:
- Yoghurt - always opt for unflavoured, unsweetened plain natural yoghurt to avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar. Various brands now make dairy-free yoghurts with added probiotics.
- Kefir - a fermented milk drink - now widely available made with dairy-free plant milks - that you can add to smoothies or have with fruit and seeds for breakfast or a snack.
- Kombucha - a fizzy fermented tea drink that is often flavoured, just check the sugar levels as some brands are better than others!
- Kimchi or sauerkraut - fermented vegetables with or without spices, great as a side with a salad, stir fry or curry.
- Miso - a fermented soybean paste often made into a soup in Asian cooking but can also be used to flavour stir-fries or salad dressings.
I always suggest clients slowly build up their intake of probiotic foods and aim for 3-4 portions a week, from a variety of sources if possible. Having too much in one go can leave you feeling bloating and gassy as the probiotics make themselves at home!
Fibre is our gut’s favourite type of food! It helps to feed the good bacteria you’ve added with all that probiotic food and helps keep your bowels moving regularly. Daily bowel movements are important for the gut because if you’re not going to the toilet regularly, food can sit and ferment in the gut causing gas and bloating and the recirculation of toxins.
To boost your fibre intake, swap from refined carbs like white bread, pasta and rice to whole grain, add more whole fruit and vegetables and increase your intake of beans, lentils, pulses, nuts and seeds. Aim for 30g of fibre a day to meet the UK Government’s recommended intake.
These ingredients have been shown to disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut, probably because they are not something our body is used to processing and which offer zero nutritional value. Eliminating highly processed foods will mean you avoid all these unnecessary ingredients. But there are other factors that can also disrupt your microbiome including:
- Frequent use of antibiotics
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of movement
If you feel like any of these factors could have affected your gut microbiome and in turn your skin health, book a nutrition consultation to learn personalised diet and lifestyle changes you can make to feel and look your best. Find out more about our nutrition consultation service.