Skin conditions are greatly influenced by the health of the gut biome – perhaps even caused by an overgrowth or lack of something in the gut flora. It is known that people suffering from acne are also at higher risk for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, gastric reflux, bloating and halitosis. Their common connection is to the health of the gut’s microflora – a Gut-Brain-Skin triangle. (Bowe & Logan, 2011)
A large number of people with acne produce inadequate stomach acid, allowing bacteria from the colon to migrate into the small intestine, producing an imbalanced gut microflora and a compromised intestinal lining (leaky gut). (Parodi, 2008)
A study found small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition with inappropriate growth of bacteria in the small intestine, 10 times more frequently in people with acne rosacea than in healthy controls, and that correcting the imbalance markedly improved their skin condition. 14% of patients with ulcerative colitis and 24 percent of Crohn’s disease patient have skin problems. Celiac disease patients are also likely to have skin conditions such as dermatitis herpetiformis, oral mucosal lesions, alopecia and vitiligo. Non-acne rosacea is also linked to a gut flora imbalance and in Western medicine is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs as well as with antibiotics if pimples are present. (National Rosacea Society, 1996-2013)
Probiotics have been proven effective for preventing eczema (atopic dermatitis) in infants. A 2003 study of over 100 children from families with a history of eczema found probiotic supplementation beneficial. (Rosenfeldt, 2003) A 2009 study concluded that daily supplements of probiotic foods may reduce the risk of childhood eczema by 58%. This is good news since the presence of eczema on the skin also indicates something is out of balance in the gut’s immune defenses. (Ritz, 2011) According to the Mayo Clinic, about three quarters of children who have eczema as newborns and into childhood develop asthma or hay fever later on in their lives. (Mercola, 2010)
Oral probiotics supplements have been shown to improve intestinal barrier function and reduce inflammation. Especially helpful are the various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, both found in abundance in the fermented drink kefir. (Bowe & Logan, 2011) (Kresser, 2012)
So it seems the fix for most skin conditions is not to apply prescription ointments or swallow pharmaceutics, but to add more ‘old friends’ bacteria to the gut and consume omega-3 fatty acids.
And here’s another perspective on our skin, our miraculous largest organ:
Our microbiota (the human microbiome) resides not just in our guts but also on the surface of and inside deep layers of our skin, in our saliva and the mucous membrane lining the inside of our mouths, and in the conjunctiva (the lining inside our eyelids and the membrane that covers the white part of our eyeballs).
The beneficial bacteria on and in our skin, like the ones in our guts, are involved in a symbiotic relationship with our bodies: we provide them a nice home, they perform some useful tasks for us. (Mercola, 2010)
For example, the inner part of the elbow turns out to be its own special ecosystem, home to six tribes of bacteria. A study conducted by the National Human Genome Research Institute found that, even after we’ve bathed, a million helpful bacteria per square centimeter still remain to do their job of moisturizing the skin by processing the raw fats it produces. (Wade, 2008)
The researchers found that the bacteria in the inner elbow differ from those living on skin just a few inches away, on the inner forearm. They presume each set of bacteria is specialized for the precise conditions of nutrients and moisture that prevail on the various areas of the skin around the elbow. (Segre, 2012)
Bowe, W.P. & Logan, A.C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathogens 2011, 3:1.
Kresser, C. (2012). Kefir: the not-quite Paleo superfood. See http://chriskresser.com/kefir-the-not-quite-paleo-superfood
Mercola, R. (November 11 2010). Probiotics Send Signals from Your Gut to Your Skin. See http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/11/11/probiotics-send-signals-from-your-gut-to-your-skin.aspx
National Rosacea Society. (1996-2013). See http://www.rosacea.org/
Parodi, A. (2008.). Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth in Rosacea: Clinical Effectiveness of Its Eradication. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 6, 759 –764. See http://www.metsol.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Rosacea-SIBO.pdf
Ritz, B W. (2011). Probiotics for the Prevention of Childhood Eczema: A review of the literature. See http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?edition=1§ion=2&article=158
Rosenfeldt, V et al. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in children with atopic dermatitis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 111:2, 389-95. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12589361
Segre, J. (2012). Unlocking The Skin’s Many Secrets, National Human Genome Institute, National Institutes of Health. See http://www.genome.gov/19517786
A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.
© Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.