Harnessing the Gut for Better Skin

Harnessing the Gut for Better Skin

April 09, 2023

As the body’s first natural defense against disease and infection, the skin is a crucial part of our lives. Skin health is critical for ensuring the rest of the body is kept safe from the microorganisms, UV radiation, and environmental toxins that bombard it every day.

However, skin damage can come from within as well as the outside world. For example, inflammation is a natural process initiated by the immune system that releases signaling molecules to activate the body’s natural defenses against foreign invaders.

These natural defenses, while effective, can leave the skin ravaged by the toxic byproducts and strong molecular signals generated by immune cells as they circulate throughout the bloodstream.

Inflammation and Skin Health

While a bout of inflammation once in a while is helpful for ridding the body of infection, which gives the body and skin time to heal, chronic inflammation can aggravate the skin. Skin allergies and conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema, are inflammatory conditions all caused by a combination of immune activation, environmental factors, genetics, bacteria, and stress. These conditions can result in rashes, redness, bumps, scars, scaliness, and dryness on the skin.

Many individuals who struggle with these and other skin conditions suffer from self-consciousness, embarrassment, and shame. Some face long-term issues with self-image and even depression. And since stress and anxiety are strongly associated with immune health, these feelings only exacerbate the problem. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for these conditions at this time.

While scientists are still not sure what the exact cause is, we are still learning more about how these skin challenges arise in humans. And even more importantly, we are discovering new ways to treat these conditions so as to lessen their severity over time.

The Gut-Skin Connection

Researchers are beginning to unravel the mystery behind the connection between skin and other parts of our body. One surprising link has been the discovery of the relationship between the gut and skin. Recent work on gut health has shown that the microorganisms that live in our gastrointestinal tract, also known as the gut microbiome, have an important function in regulating our immune health, and therefore, our skin health.

Normally, our gut contains a very diverse ecosystem of different bacterial species that compete against one another, keeping each one in check. Some of these species even benefit us by providing our bodies with nutrients or protecting against pathogenic bacteria that also live in our

guts. However, the microbiome is sensitive to change, and the balance between different species can tip in the favor of pathogenic or inflammatory bacteria. This may be caused by changes in medication, overuse of antibiotics, changes in diet, shifts in the environment, sudden illness or infection, or chemotherapy.

Regardless of the cause, the overgrowth of ‘bad bacteria’ in the gut microbiome can lead to chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal system. This results in damage to the stomach lining over time, which allows more bacteria and their toxic byproducts to enter into the bloodstream. Some of these metabolic byproducts, such as phenol and p-cresol, have been shown to disrupt skin integrity, decrease hydration, and impair skin health.

Probiotics for Healthy Skin

There is evidence that probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, can help treat, prevent, or lessen the symptoms of diseases such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, allergies, and respiratory infections by modulating the gut microbiome and its connection with the immune system. In light of these realizations, scientists and dermatologists are now studying how probiotics can improve gut health for better skin.

In a 2018 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers gave young participants (ages 4 to 17) with moderate atopic dermatitis a daily pill containing a mixture of probiotics for 12 weeks.

The probiotics found in this pill included bacterial species Bifidobacterium lactis CECT 8145, Bifidobacterium longum CECT 7347, and Lactobacillus casei CECT 9104. These bacterial species had previously been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The researchers found that those participants who took the daily probiotic mixture suffered less severe eczema symptoms from atopic dermatitis compared to those who took the placebo.

Both eczema spread and intensity were reduced for this group as well. In addition, the probiotic group used corticosteroids to treat symptoms for fewer days than the placebo group.

In another study from 2019, the researchers gave the same mixture of probiotic strains to adult participants (ages 18 to 70) with plaque psoriasis over a 12 week period. Two-thirds of those who took the probiotic strains daily had a reduction in psoriasis severity and area, compared to nearly 42% of the placebo group.

The research team found a clinically relevant difference between the placebo and the probiotic group, and a follow-up on the study found that after 6 months, the probiotic group had fewer relapses in psoriasis symptoms.

The Future of Skin Health

The skin-gut connection shows how intimately tied our systems are, where even the most minute change in our gastrointestinal health can impact how we look and feel in our bodies.

The exciting news is that probiotics are a natural way for people to make changes that will improve the quality of their lives. These research results are promising and demonstrate that it is possible to help individuals alleviate their skin conditions by changing the gut microbiome.

By harnessing the power of beneficial bacteria, we can create a brighter and healthier future for our skin and bodies.

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