Why Your Gut Is the Key to Better Skin, Better Sleep, and Better Moods
In a time when inner health trends have gone from hippy-dippy to mainstream, gut health has seen widespread traction. Once considered something you might not have spoken about with anyone other than your doctor (if that), it's now completely normal to chat about your bloat over Sunday brunch.
But for some of us there are still some blanks about gut health that need filling in, so we spoke to author and dietitian Geraldine Georgeou. Read on to find out why your gut is the key to better skin, better sleep and better moods.
What is gut health?
For many, the word "gut" just means stomach or belly, which is kind of true, but when we talk about gut health, we're not just talking about the appearance of your mid-section.
"'Gut health' is a term that is being used more and more in both the medical and nutrition health arena, and it refers to positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as efficiency of digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and overall a state of 'wellbeing'," says Georgeou.
It's also good to know that bacteria plays a huge role in maintaining gut health, and despite the fact that it sounds like a bad thing, it's actually very necessary. "The gut is populated by trillions of bacterial microorganisms that regulate digestion, immune function, hormone production and much more. These microorganisms collectively are known as the gut microbiome. When the microbiome isn't working well, this can lead to diarrhoea or constipation and nutrients not being properly absorbed by the gut, so they can reach other areas of the body (such as the skin) to bring nourishment," explains Georgeu.
Besides the fact that a healthy gut means you can avoid things like nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, reduced immune function and general symptoms of diarrhoea, constipation and overall IBS, it can also promote better skin, better sleep and a better mood.
Yep, sorting some stuff out in your tummy can have incredible benefits. How so? Glad you asked.
The benefits of gut health
Improved skin: "A healthy gut improves your skin as the skin performs its functions most effectively in a state of homeostasis or harmony. And it is our gut microbiome that modulates systemic immunity and coordinates skin homeostasis, or balance. By managing a diet that feeds the right balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut, we enables a signalling cascade that builds healthy skin," says Georgeou.
Improved sleep: As for the sleep part, Georgeou says (and stay with us, we know it's getting a bit technical, but it is fascinating how the body works): "There is growing evidence showing that the gut microbiome not only affects the digestive, metabolic, and immune functions of the host, but also regulates host sleep and mental states through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of a two-way communication between the nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centres of the brain including intestinal functions. There is early evidence indicating that microorganisms and circadian genes can interact with each other. The characteristics of the gastrointestinal microbiome and metabolism are related to the host's sleep and circadian rhythm. Furthermore, emotion and physiological stress can also have a negative effect on the composition of the gut microorganisms."
Told you, fascinating.
Other benefits of a healthy gut include less joint pain, more energy, improved mood and even metabolic health including weight loss, and cholesterol and glucose management.
All sounds great, right? Right. But if your gut doesn't seem to be all that in order, Georgeou has two suggestions on what you can do.
Ways to improve gut health
Add more fibre to your diet: "Firstly, adequate fibre is essential for a healthy gut as this supports a healthy microbiome," Georgeou says. "It is important to aim for at least 30g of fibre per day." She recommends slowly increasing your fibre intake, and you could expect to see an improvement in bowel regularity after a couple of weeks. Just don't forget to keep up your water intake.
Get into probiotics: "Some studies have found probiotics to have beneficial effects on acne, psoriasis and dermatitis, thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and immune system modulating effects. For example, Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains of bacteria appear to have a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect on skin cells. There is also some limited research to suggest that even applying Lactobacillus in topical formulations directly to the skin may help to restore a healthy skin microbiome.
These are two very common strains of gut friendly bacteria used in commercial products. Dosage recommendations may vary, but 5–10 million CFUs in children and 10–20 million CFUs in adults is an adequate dose to support general health in most people."
If you decide to go down the probiotic route, you can expect to see positive changes in a couple for days in things like a reduction in bloating or reduced inflammation in your skin.
So there you go, looking after those friendly little bacteria in your belly can go a long way to improve a whole bunch of things, and a better night's sleep and glowing skin is something we can definitely get on board with.