Keep your Gut Healthy: the 5 R’s
Whether you have a skin disorder like rosacea or eczema or simply want to prevent skin cancer and maintain a youthful appearance, it is beneficial to look to your gut. Dysbiosis or other gut problems might be the cause of the issue--or it might simply exacerbate it.
In functional medicine, we have a standard gut protocol known as the 4 Rs: remove, replace, reinoculate, and repair. It sometimes also includes a fifth R: rebalance. Let’s look at each one a little closer.
As the word implies, remove means to take away anything that might be contributing to an unhealthy gut. This might include stress, pathogenic microbes, environmental toxins, or food allergens. One of the most common treatments for this stage of the 4 Rs is the elimination diet. This diet removes all of the most common foods that trigger inflammation and gut reactions for a period of time and then reintroduces them to determine what might be the cause of the issue. For some people, the remove stage might also include protocols to eradicate any pathogenic species residing in the colon or the small intestine contributing to dysbiosis or SIBO respectively.
Proper digestion and subsequent absorption require digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile acids. In the replace step, these are supplemented, as needed, depending on the situation.
Reinoculate is the step when good bacteria are reintroduced into the gut, typically through taking a strong probiotic. It is beneficial to also consume a diet high in fiber, and you might choose to supplement with prebiotics, which are non-digestible fibers known to fuel the commensal bacteria in the gut and further mitigate the building of a healthy microbiome.
In the repair stage, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are introduced to assist in repairing any damage to the gut, including any inflammation or leaky gut. This typically includes zinc, antioxidants, fish oil, and glutamine, an amino acid that is the gut lining’s major fuel source.
The final stage, rebalance, goes beyond just diet; it looks at your overall lifestyle to determine if there are negative aspects affecting the gut, such as lack of sleep or excessive stress. Modifications are made to create a lifestyle pattern supportive of a healthy gut.
As discussed above, healing any inflammation or disorders of the gut can have a significant impact on the health of the skin. Removing triggers like allergenic food can also mitigate skin reactions. A healthy microbiome also provides metabolites and other benefits to alleviate skin problems. Therefore, following the 5 Rs is a great first step to balancing the gut-skin axis.
Foods to Eat for Radiant Skin
There is one more action you can take to maintain a healthy gut-skin axis beyond the 5 Rs: consuming the right foods, herbs, and nutrients to support not just gut health but also skin health. Nutrient deficiencies often manifest themselves through the skin and sometimes cause skin disorders. Of course, you will need to have a healthy gut ready to absorb these healthy nutrients to benefit from this, which is why it is key to start with the 5 Rs. If you have an issue with your gut that affects absorption, such as celiac disease or SIBO, then you might become deficient in some key nutrients, requiring supplementation.
The main vitamins necessary for skin health include vitamin A, C, E, and D. Vitamins C and E have the potential to act as antioxidants to fight against UV damage and other oxidative stress in the skin, which can contribute to aging. Carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for skin health, and they not only protect against aging but also provide benefit to the skin’s immune response. Vitamin D helps keep skin hydrated to prevent dry skin. In one study, women with more wrinkles had lower intakes of protein, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C than those without. Those with dry skin had lower levels of vitamin C and linoleic acid. Additionally, certain key minerals aid in skin health, namely zinc, selenium, and copper. Many of these also provide antioxidant properties as well as elements in the structure of the skin. For example, copper plays a role in maturing collagen and melanin synthesis.
In addition to micronutrients, phytonutrients have been shown to be beneficial in health. Antioxidants are one of the key contributors to fighting aging skin and other issues. Pollution, UV rays, and other environmental toxins create significant reactive oxidant species, which can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, discoloration, and other signs of aging, not to mention skin cancer. Consuming adequate antioxidants to counter the oxidative stress is essential. However, it requires more than just isolated supplements of specific antioxidants. It is best to consume antioxidants in their natural state in plant foods. As an added bonus, it also provides numerous nutrients and phytonutrients to act in synergy that also have vitamins, nutrients, and in some cases, anti-inflammatory benefits.
A healthy diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables will go a long way to providing the nutrients necessary for radiant skin. Add in some omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D rich foods, and you will nourish your skin from the inside out, especially if you maintain a healthy gut-skin axis. Don’t forget to hydrate as well!
What is more, the same diet will also help you maintain a healthy gut, especially if you avoid any foods that might be inflammatory to you. This will keep both the gut and the skin healthy so that they can continue to protect your body from the dangers of the outside world.