If you’ve dealt with a skin condition, such as acne or eczema, you’ve probably tried a series of different skin regimens to help improve your skin. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there, struggling with eczema, which ultimately led me to a career change from biochemical research to naturopathic medicine. You see, no matter how much I diligently used my cortisone creams and moisturizers, it kept coming back, and I knew I needed to look deeper for the answers. I found the answers were not merely skin deep. The answers were in my gut!
Naturopathic medicine has long taught that skin conditions need to be addressed through the health of the gut, and that the gut and the skin are intimately connected. When you think about it, the inside of your digestive system is like an internal continuation of your external skin. We now know that a huge part, about 80%, of your immune system lies in your gut, and that many skin conditions are associated with a dysregulation of the immune system. Your gut is your first line of defense against pathogens, and regulates your immune system’s response to different foods, toxins, and micro-organisms.
To have healthy skin from the inside out, you must first address the health of your gut! This is primarily how I address skin conditions in my practice, from the inside out, and I have seen great improvements in my patients’ skin conditions using this approach.
Skin Conditions Associated With Digestive Issues
If the link between digestive issues and skin conditions is real, we would expect to see a strong correlation between digestive diseases and skin conditions. And we do see this. For example:
-Acne rosacea, an inflammatory condition of the skin on the face, is associated with a higher prevalence of gastrointestinal complaints (including Celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, H. pylori infection, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)) than in the general population (Egeberg et al., 2017).
-Eczema and other rashes have been associated with reactions to certain foods, including in a condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (Elli et al., 2015).
-Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin condition found in ¼ of patients with Celiac disease (Kresser, 2012)
The Leaky Gut, Leaky Skin Connection
We now know that chronic inflammation and damage to the gut lining can lead to a state of intestinal hyperpermeability, where food particles and microbial toxins that shouldn’t get through do get through, leading to what we call a “leaky gut”. This damage could happen as a result of many things, including food sensitivities, genetically modified foods, an imbalance in gut flora (the microbes in the gut), infections, and chronic stress.
Many of these things worsen skin conditions as well. Stress not only impacts the gut barrier, it also makes the skin barrier more permeable, which is why you may experience a worsening of your skin condition when you are particularly stressed (Slominski, 2007). If the gut is leaky, this also influences the immunity of the skin, making it produce less protective anti-microbial peptides.
Another aspect of the gut-skin connection, which I will address in a later blog, has to do with detoxification. If the gut, a primary organ of detoxification, is compromised, then the body will try and detoxify through other means, including the secondary detoxification systems, which includes the skin.
Treating The Gut Improves The Skin
Treating skin conditions definitely requires a multi-faceted approach. However, in my practice and in my own personal experience with eczema, I have seen a tremendous improvement in skin conditions by addressing the health of the gut first and foremost. For example, including probiotics in the diet, either through fermented dairy or through probiotics, can significantly improve the severity of acne vulgaris. Treating SIBO in a patient with acne rosacea is likely to improve their rosacea symptoms. Removing gluten in the diet usually resolves dermatitis herpetiformis.
So why just stick to skin deep treatments when you can address the root cause(s) of your skin condition? Changing my diet and healing my leaky gut has been extremely important in helping me minimize my eczema. A similar approach has helped countless of my patients, and I’d love to help you too!
Egeberg A., Weinstock L.B., Thyssen E.P., Gislason G.H., Thyssen J.P. (2017). Rosacea and gastrointestinal disorders: a population-based cohort study. Br J Dermatol., 2017 Jan;176(1):100-106. doi: 10.1111/bjd.14930.
Elli L., Branchi F., Tomba C., Villalta D., Norsa L., Ferreti F., Roncoroni L., Bardella M.T. (2015). Diagnosis of gluten related disorders: Celiac disease, wheat allergy and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. World J Gastroenterol., 2015 Jun 21;21(23):7110-7119.doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i23.7110
Kresser C. (2012). The gut-skin connection: how altered gut function affects the skin. Chris Kresser. Retrieved from: https://chriskresser.com/the-gut-skin-connection-how-altered-gut-function-affects-the-skin/
Slominski A. (2007). A nervous breakdown in the skin: stress and the epidermal barrier. J Clin Invest. 2007 Nov 1; 117(11): 3166–3169. doi: 10.1172/JCI33508
Dr. Tamar Ferreira is a Naturopathic Doctor in Brampton, Ontario. Her areas of focus include digestive health, hormone balance, and skin conditions.