This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s nutrition kickstarter: 7 tips for improving your gut and skin microbiome.
Our bodies are covered – inside and out – in trillions of bacteria. Our microbiome doesn’t just exist in the gut; we have huge communities of bacteria in every organ, including our skin and mouth.
Scientists are only beginning to piece together how each impacts and communicates with the different organs and systems in the body, including your brain, your nervous system, your immune system and your hormones.
As a practising gastroenterologist, it’s Dr Roshini Raj’s job to examine people from the inside out. The author of Gut Renovation, she believes that the gut influences virtually every single aspect of your health, and that a balanced, diverse microbiome is the ultimate foundation for steeling your immunity and protecting yourself against age-related chronic diseases.
Inspired by her years of research into the gut/skin connection (more on that later), she has even formulated her own line of probiotic-infused skincare products, Tula, which launched in the UK last year.
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Navigating the weird and wonderful world of the microbiome may sound complex, but looking after your gut-skin axis can be refreshingly simple. In fact, Dr Raj says there are seven simple, inexpensive ways to care for those all-important bugs.
Add spices to your morning coffee
Adding spices to your coffee is one of the simplest and easiest ways to add more phytonutrients into your diet – of which coffee is already a rich source, Dr Raj says.
“Phytonutrients act as antioxidants, which are great for fighting free radicals that damage your cells and cause ageing. Coffee is also great for fostering the growth of good gut bacteria,” she explains.
Dr Raj likes to dial up her morning brew by adding spices, such as cinnamon, a natural sweetener that contains 11 different phytonutrients, directly to her coffee grinds every morning. Non-coffee drinkers could opt for a classic turmeric latte or turmeric milk (the spice is highly anti-inflammatory), while many swear by the warming drink before bed for deeper sleep.
Research suggests another really interesting relationship between the two: having good gut diversity may give long-distance runners a competitive edge. “Studies have shown that elite athletes have more gut bacteria that are good at metabolising lactate (an acid that builds up in your muscles when you exercise). Because their gut bacteria can more efficiently clear the lactate from their systems, they may have better endurance and athletic performance.”
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Pass on processed meat
The one thing she actively asks her patients to cut out completely is processed meat. “Processed meats like bacon, ham and sausages contain nitrites that are really ‘toxic’ for your gut.”
It’s important to flag that ‘toxic’ in this context means damaging to our gut bacteria rather than being hazardous to our overall health. Obviously, having a portion of processed meat now and again won’t harm you, but study after study has warned against regular consumption. Save that bacon sarnie for a lazy weekend morning when you can enjoy it the most, rather than dousing everything in pancetta.
Try probiotic skincare
Dr Raj’s skincare line is based on a growing body of research in the last decade which suggests applying probiotic extracts topically may have a beneficial effect on the skin.
“Not only is the skin – the largest organ in your body – an important barrier to toxins and other assaults on your body, but it’s also a reflection of your inner health,” she explains. “As it turns out, your gut and your skin are tightly linked. In fact, because what happens in your gut has such an impact on your skin, we call that interplay the ‘gut-skin axis’.”
An imbalanced gut microbiome can cause inflammation, which some research suggests may show up on your skin via conditions like rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and acne. “Both the gut and skin are links between the external world and the internal body; both have rich blood supplies; and both communicate actively with the nervous system, the immune system and hormones,” she continues.
“For example, when your gut microbiome is happy and healthy, your immune system is calm. Your overall inflammation level is low – and when inflammation is low, your skin benefits. It gets thicker, stays hydrated better and is less sensitive.” In other words, “you get that outer glow from your inner health”.
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Go for more fats and green tea
Eating plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like avocado, leafy greens, nuts and oily fish will both feed your gut bacteria and help to improve your skin’s barrier function, keeping moisture in and irritants (like pollution) out, Dr Raj says.
And, finally, drink more green tea. Research suggests the polyphenol compounds in green tea have potent antioxidant powers that help to protect against UV damage.