Is your gut health affecting your skin, immunity, and mood?
That old saying "trust your gut" has taken on a whole new meaning in the past decade.
Your gut is comprised of organs that food and liquids travel through when swallowed, digested, and absorbed, eventually leaving the body as waste. These organs include the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.
It's probably no surprise that this system is integral for nourishing your body. After all, it's responsible for digesting the foods you eat down into all the essential nutrients your body needs to function. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, even said, "All disease begins in the gut."
As it turns out, your gut plays an even more significant role in maintaining your health than we once understood. As more research is conducted, we're discovering that a healthy gut can influence your entire body from the inside out, including your immune system, skin, and mood.
Gut Health 101: The Gut Microbiome
So how can your digestive tract have such an enormous impact on the rest of your body? The answer lies in a somewhat surprising place: your gut microbiome.
Your gut (and more specifically, your colon, part of the large intestine) is populated by trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, which we collectively call your "gut microbiome." Your microbiome is a unique collection of genetic material from all microorganisms inside the G.I. tract. In essence, the human body is a super-organism host to the estimated hundreds of trillions of known strains of bacteria and microorganisms that live in one's intestines. The makeup of these microorganisms is similar to the unique sequencing we possess in DNA that distinguishes each person from one another. Together, these microbes help your gut digest different foods and produce essential compounds that can go on to help other systems.
A healthy gut microbiome is diversified with plenty of beneficial bacteria to play these crucial roles. But unfortunately, your gut microbiome can also harbor "bad" bacteria. An imbalance of "good" and "bad" bacteria is called dysbiosis, and this condition can lead to uncomfortable and even severe consequences if left uncorrected.
If you were to look at a typical healthy gut microbiome, you would generally come across a healthy balance of bacteria in the Lactobacillus, Bacillus, Clostridium, Enterococcus, and Ruminicoccus orders. But in someone experiencing gut dysbiosis, these ratios would be off. For example, high ratios of Proteobacteria have been linked to conditions like IBS, IBD, colorectal cancer, and metabolic disorders. This also coincides with decreased levels of more beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bacteroidetes.
The right kinds of microbes in the correct ratios in your gut microbiome are crucial for staying healthy.
How Your Diet Influences Your Gut Microbiome
The diversity in your gut microbiome is part of what makes you unique. Everyone's gut microbiome is different. Even if you are a twin, your microbiome can differ in which bacteria colonies are relatively dominant and the diversity of bacterial strains present. Sex, age, metabolism, environment, and diet directly impact the ratio and bacteria strain diversity of your unique microbiome.
You may have noticed the increasing popularity of probiotic-rich food and supplements while cruising the grocery aisle. This is because of how beneficial they are for your gut. Probiotic bacteria are already alive, living in our foods or supplements. Typical foods with probiotics are yogurt, cottage cheese, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Probiotics are created through fermentation and introduce more beneficial bacteria to your system. Eventually, they can settle in your gut and leave less space for "bad" bacteria to establish their colonies. Probiotics exist as bacteria before you eat, digest, and eventually absorb them.
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is also another good reason to get your daily intake of fruits and veggies in. Dietary fiber and prebiotics are nutrients found in plant-rich foods that can give your gut health a boost. You can think of these carbohydrates as food for your gut bacteria. Your body can't fully digest these fibers, so instead, they feed the "good" bacteria in your gut and encourage their growth. These plant-based goodies also contain polyphenols or plant-based compounds that also nourish the good bacteria in your gut and help them thrive.
On the other hand, if you're frequently loading up on processed foods, you may not be giving your gut microbiome the nutrients it needs to nourish those beneficial microbes. In fact, you may instead be feeding harmful bacteria. Some of our most common (and addictive) unhealthy food sources that are dense in sugar and refined flour encourage the growth of those problematic Proteobacteria linked to gut dysbiosis.
Gut Health, Immunity, and Optimizing Your Health
Your body's first line of defense against sickness is your immune system: a complex system that keeps you healthy by fighting off harmful foreign invaders. Your immune system depends on various cells and systems, including your gut microbiome.
Intestinal bacteria might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your body fighting off the common cold or battling the flu, but research has found that a staggering 70% of your immune system can be found in your gut.
When your immune system detects a potential threat, like an unknown virus or bacteria, it likely responds with inflammation. This means that blood flow increases to the site of the invader, and your white blood cells start releasing chemicals to neutralize the threat.
Here's where your gut health comes into play: Part of the job of the "good" bacteria in your gut is to produce chemicals like antibodies, which your body uses to determine whether or not a threat is present. In a perfect world (and with a balanced gut microbiome), this means that your immune system can work as expected to identify and neutralize harm.
But in the case of gut dysbiosis, this could lead to inappropriate immune system responses if your body fails to recognize its own cells and attacks them via inflammation. The "bad" bacteria in your gut can also produce harmful chemicals which have been linked to immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders like Crohn's Disease or IBS.
TLDR: A healthy gut sets the stage to foster a healthy body, while an unhealthy gut microbiome may leave you more vulnerable to getting sick. Ensuring your diet prioritizes gut nourishing plants rich in fiber like fruits and vegetables over processed foods high in sugar is a proactive and preventative way to nurse your gut and immunity back to health.
Those Gut Feelings: How Gut Health Impacts Your Mood
Your gut microbiome is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to how you feel.
Your mood is controlled by neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the body that regulate many necessary functions, including ones your brain uses to communicate. Neurotransmitters regulate functions like heart rate, sleep, breathing, digestion, and more. This complex brain chemistry system also manages your mood and emotions, influencing your mental health.
When your gut microbiome is healthy, it has bacteria that help produce mood-boosting neurochemicals and regulate your brain chemistry. That's why the gut is often referred to as the "second brain." Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce important neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are critical for things like your mood, anxiety, concentration, reward, and motivation. Your gut is also connected to your brain by the vagus nerve, a central nerve that essentially acts as a superhighway between these two critical systems.
Diet plays a significant factor, and eating gut-nourishing foods as best possible allows your microbiome to flourish. Studies have found that diets full of highly processed foods and high-fat Western diets full of sugar-sweetened beverages have been associated with a higher risk of depression or depressive symptoms. In contrast, balanced dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and certain foods such as fish, fresh vegetables, and fruits have been associated with a lower risk of depression or depressive symptoms.
Of course, plenty of other factors play a role in your mental health and mood. But the important takeaway here is that eating a healthy, nutritious diet is just one of many ways that you can set your "second brain" up for success.
Skin Health Starts From The Inside: Your Gut And Your Skin
As the old saying goes, beauty is more than skin deep. Skin health may start with a healthy gut, and probiotics might be a new step in your skincare routine.
Inflammation is the immune response that causes increased blood flow to neutralize the threats that your immune system perceives. Besides illness, inflammatory responses can manifest themselves in different ways, like skin conditions.
Your skin, the largest organ in your body, is the first barrier to your immune system. So if your gut microbiome is in dysbiosis and causing inappropriate responses to outside pathogens and invaders via inflammation, you may notice that it manifests on your skin. Acne, eczema, and atopic dermatitis are good examples of this phenomenon.
A solid probiotic formula can help combat this and address these issues from the inside out. Remember, probiotics introduce healthy bacteria back into your gut microbiome, which can boost your immunity and improve your overall health in the long run.
Research has found that probiotic treatments have been successfully used to treat inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, atopic dermatitis, and acne. There are even early stages of research evaluating whether probiotic treatments can play a role in speeding up wound healing and helping fight skin cancer.
Final Thoughts On Gut Health
Your body and the bacteria in your gut play a much more significant role than we once understood. Our daily diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices impact your immune health, skin, and mental state.
It goes two ways: you can either harm your immune system by not treating your gut microbiome right, but you can also heal it with a gut-nourishing and balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking supplements like probiotics and prebiotic fiber when approved by your doctor. By eating right and paying attention to your gut feelings, you're giving your body the tools it needs to set yourself up for long-term health success.
At Blueshift Nutrition, our team of nutritionists and doctors have thought long and hard about the perfect gut supplement. Our Pre + Probiotic Ultra formulation and Gut Health formulations are born from finding gaps in the probiotics on the market today and finding ways to improve them for happier, healthier guts. Taking the right supplements, eating a diet rich in prebiotic fiber, and limiting processed foods can help nourish the systems that work hard for you daily.