In the search for perfect skin, it is easy to spend a lot of time and money seeking the best products to apply to the surface, but what if the true transformation starts from within?
In a time where there seems to be a topical cure for every possible skincare ailment, the idea that we should turn our attention inwards for a better complexion often finds itself pushed to the sidelines. Speaking to Carla Oates, gut-health expert and founder of cult wellness brand The Beauty Chef, we delve into the details of the importance of paying attention to the health of our gut, how it can impact our skin and what we can do to reap the rewards of the skin-gut connection.
“If you think about a garden, our gut is like the soil”
A GUT’S PURPOSE
“If you think about a garden, our gut is like the soil”, explains Carla, “The soil needs the right nutrient levels and bacterial balance to support the plants and for them to be strong, their leaves robust and their flowers to blossom.” Like flowers, clear, radiant skin requires that our bodies maintain the correct balance of nutrients and bacteria. And, as the part of our body that controls absorption and distribution of these substances, taking care of our gut is essential to its attainment.
Anatomically, the gut comprises of every element of the body’s digestive system and works to make nutrients, antioxidants, metabolizes hormones, neutralise pathogens and expel waste. It is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi (known collectively as the microbiome) that help us to digest food and play a huge role in both our inner and outer wellbeing. Research has shown that the health of the gut’s microbiome can influence the appearance of our skin, the strength of our immune system and even the state of our mental health.
“Too much bad bacteria can contribute significantly to skin problems”
THE skin-gut CONNECTION
As our skin is the last (and most visible) of our organs to receive the benefit of the microbiome, it is the part of the body where the status of our gut health is most observable. As Carla puts it, “if we’re not getting enough nutrients or digesting our food properly due to poor gut health, our skin won’t receive the nutrition it needs to support it”.
“Whether or not our guts are in good or bad health is determined predominantly by the foods we consume and the effect that these foods have on our microbiome. The bacteria in our gut tends to be classified as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Ideally, our gut should host around 85% ‘good’ bacteria and 15% ‘bad’. “Too much bad bacteria”, warns Carla “can contribute significantly to skin problems, from acne, rosacea, premature ageing of the skin, lacklustre skin and poor energy levels”. But, by balancing our ‘bad’ bacteria with it’s ‘good’ counterpart, Carla explains that we can counteract these negative symptoms and attain skin that that boasts a “smooth, balanced and glowing complexion”. To help you attain the optimum level of good bacteria in your gut and reap the rewards of healthy, radiant skin, below Carla outlines a beginner’s guide to eating for good gut health.
A GUIDE TO EATING FOR GUT HEALTH
If your gut is in bad repair, it may take a while for it to heal and get your own digestive enzymes working efficiently. You can work to aid your own digestion by changing how you cook your food and the way that you eat it. Animal proteins can be hard to digest so are best cooked slowly in soups and stews while vegetables are best steamed or sautéed as an excess of raw vegetables can weaken digestion. Spices such as garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne and black pepper can also be added to dishes to aid digestion.
Eating well encourages the growth of good bacteria. Low HI (human intervention) and organic foods are far richer in nutrients and free of nasty chemicals that compromise gut health.
The lacto-fermentation process is different to other fermentation processes, such as alcohol fermentation, and creates a broad range of beneficial bacteria. The proliferation of the bacteria lactobacilli in lacto-fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut for example, predigests the cabbage making digestion easier and nutrients more available for the body to utilise.
Alongside lactobacillus, the proven strains of good bacteria also include bifidobacterium species. You can find both of them in yoghurts and probiotic-rich drinks such as kefir. But, be careful that those products are not also full of gut-depleting sugar which can contribute to the growth of bad bacteria and hinder the digestion of essential nutrients.
Additionally, prebiotics help to boost the growth of friendly bacteria. These include non-digestible food substances found in asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, and jerusalem artichokes as well as foods rich in soluble fibre such as whole grains, nuts and seeds. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics helps to promote a healthy gut more than either consumed alone.
Stress has an immediate impact on the function of our gut. The experience of feeling ‘butterflies’ from excitement or feeling ‘sick to your stomach’ from anxiety or fear are just a couple of examples of this. As the gut is an essential part of the nervous system, stress experienced by the brain can easily affect its function. Yoga, meditation, walking, loving and being kind to yourself all help encourage the maintenence of beneficial bacteria and better gut health.
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Carla Oates is the founder of wellness brand The Beauty Chef. After 10 years as a fashion writer and stylist, Carla turned her hand to beauty writing but concerned by a lack of transparency in the industry she began writing about healthier alternatives. After discovering the power of probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented she developed the first product of The Beauty Chef range. Since then, she has gone to expand her brand, pioneering the philosophy that ‘Beauty begins in the Belly’. Carla is also the author of best-selling books Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef: Delicious Food for Radiant Skin.