It may surprise you, but, yes, your belly, brain and skin are all connected. When we have an imbalance in the gut it will cause imbalances in our mental health (affecting moods and emotions), which in turn affects our skin. Likewise, when we have an imbalance in our mental health, it will affect our skin and gut. To show you an example of how this works, think of a time you were embarrassed and your cheeks flushed. Or what about when you were nervous and felt butterflies in your gut. A troubled gut can send the wrong messages to the brain, just like a troubled brain will send the wrong messages to the gut.
As an ANCB board certified traditional naturopath, I believe the whole body is connected, and this includes every organ, gland and, yes, our skin. For many skin issues, stress is the underlying cause. A stressed mind and body could have a lower immune tolerance, which could trigger skin issues as well. In short, in order to have a balanced skin you must have a healthy gut, and to have a healthy gut you must have a balanced mind.
As you think about solutions to your skin concerns, it’s important to look beyond the symptoms and keep all three systems in perfect balance. Here are a few ways to do just that.
1. Maintain a Healthy Gut Flora
Most people don’t connect the gut as being the second brain. Yes, it digests our food, but it also has the ability to significantly influence our mind, moods, emotions and skin. Studies have shown that our emotions alter the microflora in our intestines, which could therefore contribute to systemic inflammation that could exacerbate acne and other skin conditions. And on the other hand, when our microflora are out of balance our neurotransmitters become imbalanced, causing emotional imbalances. It’s a downward spiral. It’s not a widely emphasized fact, but studies have repeatedly shown that a healthy gut reinforces a positive outlook and behavior, while depression and a variety of behavioral problems have been linked to an imbalance or lack of gut bacteria.
And it doesn’t just affect your mood. Most of you have heard of leaky gut by now, but what about “leaky skin”? The main function of the skin is to act as a physical, chemical and antimicrobial defense system. Studies have shown that both stress and gut inflammation can impair the integrity and protective function of the epidermal barrier. This leads to a decrease in antimicrobial peptides produced in the skin and an increase in the severity of infection and inflammation in the skin and body.
So what can you do? Adding probiotics to your diet can have immediate effects. It has been noted that folks who eat highly refined diets have a different gut composition than those who eat more whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Likewise, using topical probiotics can also go a long way.
2. Keep Stress Under Control
In your brain are 10 billion neurons (brain cells). Between each and every one of these are neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, that move thought from one cell to the next, allowing brain cells to “talk to each other.” What’s fascinating is that how you experience emotions—how you feel—is completely dictated by certain neurotransmitters.
Stress has the ability to make everything in our bodies worse. The more stress a person has, the more cortisol (the stress hormone) the person produces, and the “fight or flight” response is initiated. Elevated cortisol levels bring about a rise in blood sugar, which causes a cellular inflammatory response (think premature aging). In addition, stress can also increase androgen production, making our sebaceous glands more active, which could trigger acne.
Fortunately, you can get stress under control and keep your mind healthy even with a few lifestyle tweaks. Learn how to say “no” to people sometimes, exercise more often, attend a yoga class, go for quiet walks and take a little more time to do the things you love.
3. Address Nutritional Deficiencies
When we’re undernourished or when we are not absorbing nutrients from our food correctly because of a gut issue, our “feel good” hormones become depleted. Depleted supplies of feel-good transmitters means it will be impossible for you to feel happy, upbeat, motivated or on track. You will feel just the opposite: a decrease in energy and interest, feelings of worthlessness, no motivation and a pervasive sense of helplessness to control the course of your life.
So whenever you feel this way, check your diet. Make sure you are eating healthy meals that are high in good fats, protein and greens and low in sugar, grains and processed foods. I also recommend that you supplement your good diet with amino acids, minerals and omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 essential fatty acids.
If you are overstressed to the point of anxiousness, depression and exhaustion, I recommend an adrenal stress and neurotransmitter test to see exactly what nutrients and micronutrients your body is low on. You should also be tested for candida by a qualified health professional.