How many times have you heard, “just listen to your gut” and “what is your gut telling you?” Sure, we mostly hear this when it comes to, say, switching jobs, moving in with a partner, or taking the plunge and relocating to Paris. But the gut is so much more important than just its role in our intuition.
The gut is home to what doctors are beginning to realize is one of the most important systems in the body: the microbiome. This living, breathing biological ecosystem affects not just your digestion, but also most aspects of your health including the look and feel of your skin.
Meet the Menagerie Living in Your Body
The microbiome is all the “stuff” (good and bad) living in our intestines and on our skin. We’re talking bacteria, viruses, fungi, and tiny microorganisms and microbes. In the gut, most of these teensy things can be found in a part of the large intestine called the cecum, which is why this snug little spot is what is called the gut microbiome.
According to the journal Gastroenterology & Hepatology, around 300 to 500 species of bacteria lives in your microbiome. It is such a thriving ecosystem that the number of bacteria within the gut is approximately 10 times that of all the cells in the entire human body. That’s a lot of bacteria, doing all different things.
Much of this bacteria is critical to maintaining good health, but when your microbiome gets out of balance – a condition called dysbiosis – it can also be the cause of issues ranging from stomach problems to disease.
A Match Made in Your Gut: Your Hormones & Microbiome
We know the gut microbiome is a major factor in your overall health, but how is this system connected to your hormones? According to the Chinese Medical Journal, hormones produced in the gut “have a wide range of targets” and these play a huge role in maintaining health. While previous studies showed that a majority of these hormones played a role in the central regulation of appetite and food intake – which makes sense given their location – more recent studies suggest that they are also closely related to other physiological processes, like inflammation and your brain function.
It's for the latter reason that an emerging biological system is gaining increasing attention: the gut-brain axis. Have you ever eaten something that gave you a tummy ache and brain fog? Or been so nervous about an interview or date that your stomach felt a little off? No, it wasn’t all in your head. New research is showing that, among many other biological systems, the health of your gut microbiome affects your brain and vice versa.
But What About Your Skin?
Thanks to our hormones, our gut health is very much related to the health of the rest of the body. But it turns out it’s also related to the health of our skin.
It is believed that there is a link between your gut microbiome and dermatological disease, though the exact mechanism for this link isn’t yet known. What is known is that conditions like acne, atopic dermatitis. rosacea, and psoriasis are triggered by inflammation, a condition that can be exacerbated by an unhealthy gut microbiome. Using gentle skincare along with eating a healthy diet and using supplements to achieve and maintain hormonal balance not only helps your skin health, but also the health of your microbiome.
Supporting Your Microbiome Has a Domino Effect
While treating your skin and hormone issues on their own is important, it’s also important to take steps to foster a healthy microbiome. When your gut microbes are happy, they will support the good health and balance of the rest of your body.
Think about making a few lifestyle tweaks to support your gut microbiome and its ripple effect through your skin and hormones.
Healthy Foods, Healthy Body
Some folks swear by an anti-inflammatory eating plan to soothe and prevent inflammation. What does this mean exactly? It’s actually pretty simple. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthful fats, and spices. This way of eating also encourages foods containing omega-3 fatty acids — mostly fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. For those not into downing stuff from the sea, you can get a good omega-3 boost from chia seeds (I’m obsessed with this chia seed pudding and this strawberry smoothie), walnuts, and soybeans. You can also up your consumption of omega-3-enriched eggs, meats, and dairy products from grass-fed animals, as well hemp seeds and spinach.
Fermented Foods Forever
If the idea of fermented foods sounds a little, well, New Age-y, it’s time to take a look at some of these nutritional powerhouses. Check out a bottle or two of, pour yourself a glass of the yogurt-y goodness that is kefir, or add a little kimchi to your bowl or rice, or whip up a pot of homemade miso soup. These foods will not only add a little zing to your palate, but they are like ambrosia for your microbiome.
Work Up a Sweat
It’s no shocker that exercise is good for the body and the mind. But it’s also hugely important for a healthy gut. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, “The microbiomes of physically active people are more healthy and diverse.” And don’t worry if epic Peloton rides or HIIT classes aren’t your thing – even a daily 30-minute walk helps.
Sleep, Glorious Sleep
This one’s for you, Nighttime Netflix Binger. Not getting enough Z’s can be a big no-no for your overall health. According to the science-related journal, PLOS ONE, those who skimp on shut-eye on a regular basis run the risk of disturbing their microbiome and potentially developing inflammatory diseases. The rule of thumb is to aim for 8 hours of sleep a night.
Probiotics? Yes, Please!
One of the best ways to ensure a healthy microbiome and balanced hormones is to take a daily probiotic — a supplement (usually in capsule form) composed of live bacteria and yeasts that help your digestive system. Recent evidence has shown that probiotics play a big part in gut microbiota composition, including enhancing the immune system and inhibiting potentially dangerous bacteria in the intestine.
Your gut is so much more than a sounding board for life’s big questions. By giving it a little TLC, you will see big benefits throughout your health and wellness, including in brighter, more glowing skin.