With a total area of about 20 square feet, your skin is the largest organ of your body – and it is one of the most important. Your skin protects you from dangerous viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, and from the sun, wind and extreme temperatures. Your skin is also one of the first things people see.
Skin looks and functions at its best when it is healthy. Unhealthy skin allows pathogens to invade your body. Skin problems, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis can be uncomfortable and socially embarrassing. Outbreaks of these skin problems can cause self-consciousness in teens and even in adults. Unhealthy skin is also associated with other mental health issues.
Dermatologists have studied the underlying causes of acne and other skin problems for decades. They know that certain ‘bad’ or opportunistic bacteria can cause acne breakouts, for example. They also know that some skin problems are the result of over-active immune systems and inflammation. Scientists are now beginning to understand that healthy skin begins in your gut.
The Gut-Brain Axis
There is a well-established connection between the digestive tract and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gut may send signals to the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes. If you’ve ever experienced “butterflies in your stomach” when you are nervous or had a “gut feeling” about a situation then you may have personally felt this system at work.
Microbes in your gut influence this communication between your brain and your digestive tract. Research shows composition of microbes in the gut, known collectively as the gut microbiota, can influence the development of many brain related functions and even affect your mood.
There is also a link between your brain and your skin. You may notice it when you blush with embarrassment or suffer a breakout during a stressful situation. Interestingly, people with skin issues often experience psychological conditions as well, further connecting the gut, the brain and the skin.
The Gut-Brain Skin Axis
Researchers in the 1930s suspected a link between the brain, gut and skin; modern research now confirms it.
John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury were the first to suggest that bacteria in the gut could be connected to both mental health and skin health. They reasoned that emotions could alter gut bacteria to cause inflammation throughout the body. Stokes and Pillsbury advocated the use of Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures to correct bacterial imbalances, improve emotions and ultimately clear the patients’ skin.
Other research supports their theory. In one study involving more than 13,000 adolescents, those with acne were more likely to experience constipation, halitosis (bad breath), gastric reflux and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Feeding Your Gut For Clear Skin
Clear skin may be as simple as establishing and maintaining a balance of the right bacteria in your gut.
A recent study out of the university of Alberta, Edmonton in Canada and published in the Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery showed that a probiotic supplement containing a combination of 3 probiotic bacteria including Lactobacillus acidophilus NAS strain, Bifidobacterium bifidum Malyoth strain and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus LB-51 strain might relieve mild to moderate skin imperfections. Researchers randomly assigned 45 women to one of three treatment arms: one taking a probiotic twice daily, the second using an oral antibiotic once daily, and the third using both the probiotic and the antibiotic minocycline. All participants washed their faces with a standard cleanser throughout the 12-week study.
The scientists collected data routinely, evaluating skin roughness, mottled appearances, dullness, peeling, itching, oiliness, scaling, sallowness and lesion counts.
Over time, participants in all three groups experienced improvements but the ones that took both a probiotic and an antibiotic did best. Perhaps, most exciting though, the group that took just the probiotic did as well as the group that took antibiotics, which means probiotics alone worked as well as antibiotics alone. Two women taking antibiotics withdrew from the study because they developed vaginal yeast infections; none of the women taking probiotics developed yeast infections. Furthermore, there were no adverse events reported related to probiotic use. Participants were very pleased with the results, underscoring the strong connection between a healthy gut and healthy skin.