by The Beauty Chef, Carla Oates.
Balancing gut health (aka ‘Beauty Begins in the Belly’) is one of my main tenets for health and beauty. But what does it actually mean?
When I talk about a beautiful belly, I’m not referring to a slim, trim waistline. What I’m really talking about is something far more important that relates to the state of your skin, the health of your body and your general wellbeing: the fascinating and complex ecosystem that is your gut.
BALANCING YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Good digestive health is the key to good overall health and radiant skin. In fact, if you want naturally clear, glowing skin on the outside, you need to be healthy on the inside, starting with your gut. This is because the gut and the immune system are intricately linked — around 70 per cent of the body’s immune tissue is located in the digestive system, making it the body’s first line of defence against harmful toxins, bacteria and diseases.
When your digestive system is working well and is in balance, it’s typically home to trillions of “good” bacteria and microbes that outnumber the body’s cells by 10 to one. These help your body to process waste and nourish major organs (including the skin) by processing and manufacturing nutrients, destroying toxins, breaking down foods and fats through the production of important digestion enzymes, creating neurochemicals, eliminating pathogens and free radicals, metabolising hormones and producing nutrients such as biotin and vitamin K, which are essential for correct nervous system function and general good health. The gut makes nutrients and antioxidants that help protect and synthesise collagen, which helps keep your skin firm and bouncy.
It is an exciting time for our guts, skin and health as the medical and scientific communities are studying gut bacteria more than ever before. Studies show that a lack of hydrochloric acid in the gut contributes to skin problems including rosacea and acne. What increases levels of this acid? Lactic acid bacteria. Other studies demonstrate the link between gut inflammation and skin inflammation and a connection between a healthier fatty acid profile in the skin and good gut health. So, no matter how many creams you put on your skin, skin moisture may be determined by your gut microbiota.
THE BAD BACTERIA
Unfortunately, there are times when “bad” gut flora and bacteria — such as pathogens, fungi and yeast (like candida) — can take over, which is when health and skin problems can occur. A bad-bacteria overload not only creates an imbalance in all of the body’s systems, which causes a breakdown in its ability to process nutrients, it can also compromise the integrity of the intestines and contribute to “leaky gut”, a condition where undigested toxins and waste particles enter the bloodstream through tiny holes that appear in the lining of the gut. This, in turn, causes all sorts of health issues and lowers the strength of your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness.
Lots of things can alter the good-bad bacteria balance in your system, most of them side-effects of modern life. The most common triggers are: medications (yes, this includes The Pill) and antibiotics (which wipe out both bad and good gut flora); an unhealthy diet (think processed, refined foods, junk food, high sugar, fat and carb consumption, too much caffeine and alcohol); stress (mental, emotional and physical); insufficient sleep (this alters cortisol levels, which can affect your mood and boost stress); pollution, smoking, pesticides and herbicides, hormones in food and toxins in personal-care products.
The good news is you can turn your gut health around with diet, probiotics and a bit of patience. While we always recommend seeing a nutritionist who can diagnose and treat any specific condition you might have, these are some start-now, at-home ways to keep your gut flora happy or get it back on track.
5 WAYS TO GET YOUR GUT FLORA BACK ON TRACK
1. Boost your probiotic intake.
The proven strains of good bacteria are the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species, which help repopulate the gut with good flora. Avoid yoghurts and probiotic products that are loaded with gut-compromising ingredients like refined sugar, which bad bacteria thrive on.
2. Eat lacto-fermented foods.
The lacto-fermentation process naturally creates loads of good bacteria that help strengthen and rebuild your gut. This is because lacto-fermented food contains lactobacilli, which research shows help populate the gut with good flora and help with digestion. Sauerkraut, miso, kefir, natto and kimchi are great digestion-boosting foods and can help to heal the gut.
3. Include prebiotics in your diet.
Prebiotics feed the probiotics so if you want a thriving, healthy gut you need to nourish the good bacteria with the right stuff. Essentially, prebiotics are the non-digestible food substances that provide lunch (and therefore support) for beneficial bacteria. Asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, endive, chicory, shallots, globe and Jerusalem artichokes and sauerkraut are good sources.
4. Take a break from gluten and dairy.
If your gut is out of whack, your skin is lacklustre, prone to breakouts, eczema or other skin conditions, your head is foggy and you have bloating after eating bread or dairy, it could be worth eliminating these often gut-compromising culprits from your diet. Both contain proteins that are very hard to digest. Grains can also be problematic until the gut is healed. Soak or ferment your grains to help neutralise the anti-nutrients found in them and make them easier to digest. In fact when your gut is imbalanced, eating easily digested foods that have been soaked, cultured or slow cooked, help to balance the gut; and eating less raw food may be as important as it can be disruptive to a sensitive digestive system. Soups and stews are a great choice for this reason.
5. Drink filtered water.
While the water authorities help protect you from bacteria and algae by putting disinfectants such as ammonia and chlorine into the water, these disinfectants aren’t removed, so your body becomes the filter when you consume them. Chlorine helps to eliminate bacteria in water and also impacts the bacteria in your gut — including beneficial bacteria. So use water filters that help remove chlorine, ammonia, heavy metals, particulate matter, giardia and cryptosporidium.
A variation of this article was originally published in Wellbeing Magazine.