What does Digestion have to do with my Skin?
If you’ve ever been to see a Naturopathic physician, you’ve heard that the health of your gastrointestinal tract influences many aspects of your health. Perhaps your main concern was eczema, but your treatment plan included a dietary change or other digestive support. You might have asked “what does my digestion have to do with my skin?” The digestive system is the root of many health concerns. Skin conditions, weight management, mood, and autoimmune diseases are some of the conditions that are affected by the health of the gut. If the digestive system is healthy, many issues improve, and patients feel better overall.
A Healthy GALT is a Happier Body
The microbiota and microbiome are increasingly gaining recognition. The human microbiota refers to the bacteria, microbes, and viruses that live in and on our bodies. The microbiome refers to the genetic material of the microbiota. Much of the immune system is located in the gut. Called gut associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT, it is part of the body’s defense system. Interactions between the immune system and the microbiome impact how the human body functions. A healthy GALT improves issues such as seasonal allergies, colds and flus and autoimmune diseases.
“Leaky Gut” Inhibits Proper Absorption of Vitamins and Minerals from the Diet
The cellular lining of the digestive tract is tightly bound together, creating a barrier to the rest of the body. Inflammation due to poor diet, infection, dysbiosis, medications, or stress, can render this barrier slightly permeable to microscopic particles and proteins. This is called intestinal permeability, or more commonly, “leaky gut” and can inhibit the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals from the diet. When leaky gut is present, bacterial compounds may leave the gut and activate the immune system, which may impact autoimmune conditions. Many global symptoms can result from the immune activation and this is one reason why finding a diet appropriate to each individual and healing the gut are important to overall health.
Communication through Biochemical Signaling Links Brain and Gut
The digestive system impacts mood. The nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract communicate through biochemical signaling; linking what occurs in the brain to the function of the gut. It’s thought that the microbiota can influence the signaling illustrating how the makeup of your microbiota might influence your mood. In one study, a probiotic formulation used daily decreased the impact of anxiety and stress in the participants and rendered participants better able to withstand the effects of stress on their mood.
IBS or SIBO and the Anxiety Link
The majority of the patients in my practice with IBS or SIBO also complain of anxiety. As their overall health and digestion improves, anxiety decreases.
Gut Microbiota + Obesity
Gut microbiota may have a role in obesity. One study showed that in humans, bacteriodetes increased as body weight decreased. There are other bacteria present in both obese and non-obese people; the proportions of specific bacteria seem to differ whether the person is obese or not. The microbiota may modulate inflammation which can impact weight. Manipulating the flora may impact body weight, though the mechanism isn’t understood yet.
Skin is the largest organ of the body, with its own Microbiota
Skin conditions can be influenced by the health of gastrointestinal system. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and has its own microbiota. This unique microbiota can also be affected by the microbiota of the gut. One manifestation of celiac disease is a rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, highlighting the relationship between the gastrointestinal system and skin. This connection also highlights the connection between autoimmune disease and the gut, as celiac is an autoimmune disease. In one study, oral treatment with the probiotic L. casei alleviated a specific skin inflammation mediated by certain types of immune cells, illustrating that modulating the microflora of the digestive system can affect skin conditions.
Digestive System Plays a Significant Role in Overall Health
The digestive system, microbiota, and microbiome play a significant role in our overall health. Skin conditions, weight management, mood, and autoimmune diseases are just some of the conditions impacted by the health of the gut.
 hacini-Rachinel F, Gheit H, Le Leduec J, Dif F, Nancey S, Kaiserlian D. Oral Probiotic Control Skin Inflammation by Acting on Both Effector and Regulatory T Cells. PLoS ONE. 2009;4(3)e4903. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004903
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Dr. Amalia Treadwell is a board-certified naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Oregon. After graduating from the National College of Natural Medicine (now NUNM) in 2012 she opened her private practice in Portland, Oregon. She most often works with women to improve digestion and hormonal health, and address the mental-emotional-spiritual aspects of disease. She loves her work because it combines her connection to the earth and its wisdom with a love of nutrition, and a holistic understanding of health and wellness. She thrives on supporting people’s health so that they are free to achieve their wildest dreams. Out of the office she is most often outdoors with her husband, in the garden, or in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes.