We have all heard and said it - trust your gut - but have you ever wondered why? What is our gut anyway? It is important to understand this because 70% of our immune system sits within our gut, so it affects everything from our health to our moods, and even our skin! (Know why we care so much now? Anything skin-related and our ears perk up). So because we are OASIS: and not a medical school, we will just focus on how your gut affects your skin (especially in its relationship with conditions like eczema and acne) and some food we recommend to make your gut (and skin) happy in this 2 part series.
Let’s gut going!
Photo credit: Healthline
WHAT IS YOUR GUT
As eloquently put by The Mac Twins of The Gut Stuff (we talk more about this below!), the gut is everything from your mouth to your bum hole. Yup, all that. And scientists have found that we have 10 times as much bacteria in our gut as there are cells! These little minions are the ones responsible for communicating with our immune system to fight off infections and inflammation, produce certain vitamins and digest fats into the body. This entire system is known as our microbiome.
OUR GUT MICROBIOME IS AS UNIQUE AS OUR FINGERPRINT!
We recently listened to a podcast by lifestyle influencer Estee Lalonde where she interviewed The Mac Twins, a Scottish twin duo who founded “The Gut Stuff” – and we were HOOKED.
The Mac Twins are DJs Lisa and Alana Macfarlane who first became interested in gut health when scientist Tim Spector asked them to be guinea pigs for a study he was doing on gut bacteria. A director of the TwinsUK Research Centre at Kings College London, Dr Spector discovered that identical twins share 100% of DNA but only 30 - 40% of their microbiome! This means that their bodies digest certain foods differently, which can affect everything from the illnesses they contract to their weight and skin conditions.
Photo credit: The Gut Stuff
Following their involvement in the study, the twins were utterly fascinated with what they learnt and launched The Gut Stuff in 2017 – an educational website and YouTube series designed to make information about the gut more, well, digestible for everyone. We recommend it, plus they do How-to vids of making fermented dishes like kimchi and sauerkraut!
Think of your gut like a grumpy cat. If you consume anything your gut doesn't like, it reacts by being unimpressed and agitated. Anything that irritates the lining of your gut can result in inflammation, and puts your entire immune system on code RED. This could be anything like food allergens, alcohol, antibiotics (more on this below), sugar and processed foods. Your brain has now decided that war has been declared on the gut, and it triggers the alarm bell - the body is now preparing the riot police force to help the body to fight. When this happens, the skin produces less of the naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides (think anti-bacterial proteins) it normally makes as a first line defence - which results in skin infections and aggravated skin inflammation.
Dermatological studies have shown that the people who suffer from conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis have a different gut flora than those who do not. Acne-sufferers for example, have shown a higher proportion of the bacterial infections caused by staphylococcus on the skin, which is leading scientists to research on using probiotics to "add healthy bacteria" to restore balance to the skin and body. (Read this to understand more). The researches done on this are in their early stages, so we will all just have to wait for more to emerge to improve our understanding on the matter.
Eczema is an external symptom of an internal problem. A team of scientists from the University of Turku have also discovered that the types of bacteria existing in the guts of the children with eczema were more typical of adult gut microbes than for infants without eczema.
In summary, our skin gets triggered by inflammation that occurs within the body. So until we fix the issues we have inside, we can only manage the symptoms externally that will unfortunately keep coming back.
Let's move onto antibiotics.
Photo credit: Outsourcing-Pharma
THE PROBLEM WITH ANTIBIOTICS
We all know by now that our gut is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa, and the role of antibiotics (especially wide-spectrum ones) is to kill off bacteria, both good and bad. This can alter and weaken the recovery of the microbiome thereafter.
If you suffer from acne and are using antibiotics to treat it, let us paint you the scenario that is playing out in your body: Your gut bacteria soldiers are fighting hard against the acne-causing villains, and then the master commander (that's you) comes along and drops antibiotic bombs onto the entire battle - killing everyone. And if you keep using this same war strategy, one day the villains will defeat* even those same antibiotic bombs, and you will have to constantly look out for bigger bombs to deploy. This is truly an unsustainable strategy.
*There are a rising number of reports evidencing the decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics such as erythromycin and doxycycline in defeating the C.acne bacteria due to mutations over its lifecycle. If you wish to read up more on this, the full research can be found here!
If antibiotics are not the solution, then what is?
We will end part 1 of this blog post with this famous quote by Hippocrates:
"A low-glycemic load diet, one rich in plant fibers and low in processed foods, has been linked to an improvement in acne, possibly through gut changes or attenuation of insulin levels" (extracted from this scientific paper)
Part 2 will feature our discussion on how you can eat your way to a healthy gut. STAY TUNED!