Janine Tait is a dermo-nutrition specialist, beauty therapist educator and a respected leader within the emerging Slow Beauty movement. She is founder of Bestow Beauty which provides skin superfoods, nourishing recipes and beautiful wellness rituals.
As the Slow Beauty movement gains traction, I am delighted to see more and more people adopting a more holistic approach to caring for their skin. But, while focusing on what we eat has become commonplace, the equally important task of how we digest our food is often overlooked. Unfortunately, many people do not have a well-functioning digestive system and, without addressing the underlying issues of gut health, we limit our skincare potential.
The Many Roles of a Healthy Gut
A nutritious diet provides our bodies with much needed fuel, but we also need a healthy digestive tract in order for nutrients to be broken down and absorbed. Symptoms like constipation, flatulence and diarrhoea – so common that they are often ignored – are signs that the digestive system is not working as it should. The gut has many responsibilities and its wellbeing is mirrored in our energy levels, our digestive comfort and, yes, our skin.
Waste, the toxic by-product of digestion, must be removed from the body in a timely manner. When you have a sluggish digestive system, excess waste is reabsorbed by the body. Waste backs up like a traffic jam right back to the cells so that they are no longer bathed in nutrient-rich fluid, but rather they become little sewer cells, surrounded by fluid filled with waste. When this happens, the skin is called upon to dispense of more than its fair share of toxins: they don’t call skin the third kidney for nothing!
Our digestive system also removes excess hormones from our bodies: once the liver is finished processing hormones, it tosses them into the digestive tract for expulsion. With slow digestion, some hormones are reabsorbed from the bowel, exacerbating hormonal imbalances. This can play havoc with our skin, leading to acne and breakouts.
Manufacturing Friendly Bacteria
The digestive system is a manufacturing site of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria live in our bowel, producing the B Complex vitamins which our bodies absorb and utilise. B vitamins work hand-in-hand with essential fatty acids to maintain the flow of oil to our sebaceous glands. They ensure we have a good quality protective film for our skin, helping prevent and correct congestion. A healthy colony of intestinal bacteria is so crucial that it is linked to emotional wellbeing, a healthy stress response, nutrient absorption, disease prevention, metabolic regulation and expulsion of toxins.
Gut Linings and Leaky Guts
The gut can only carry out its tasks if it has a strong intestinal wall, providing a barrier that prevents the absorption of irritating substances into our bloodstream. A damaged or permeable intestinal lining – Leaky Gut Syndrome – results in a sensitive, allergic system that can often be reflected in the skin. In a leaky gut, the intestinal lining is no longer a viable barrier; tiny spaces between cells allow movement of partially digested food particles out of the gut. The body interprets these food particles as invaders, setting off an immune response.
Rushing Around Takes Its Toll on Digestion
I’m sure I am not the only woman known to eat breakfast whilst driving the car and simultaneously applying mascara in the rear vision mirror! Amidst our culture of multi-tasking, we wind up wearing our busyness like a badge of honour and accepting stress as a necessary evil in our modern lives.
Proper digestion relies on our bodies having downtime. Rushing around takes its toll on our nervous system and, subsequently, our digestion. When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system takes over, sparking our ‘fight or flight’ response. Only when we are calm and relaxed can the parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for digestion – click in. Put simply: when we rush, we don’t digest.
Chew, Chew, Chew!
When we eat in a hurry, we tend to bolt our food down, barely pausing to chew. Chewing is incredibly important; we don’t have any more teeth further down our digestive tract! We must take time to physically break down our food, otherwise we leave the stomach overloaded, struggling to cope with excess undigested food.
Addressing Our Gut Health
A wholesome diet with fibre-rich foods, regular exercise and drinking plenty of water is a great start, but we also need to address our eating behaviour. I encourage you to take time out to appreciate the look, smell and taste of your food in a relaxed environment. When we slow down, enjoy and chew our food, we give our bodies precious time to perform their digestive duties.
People with very poor digestion can benefit from adding lemon juice to their water a half hour before eating. Cider vinegar – the fluid closest to our own digestive juices – poured over veggies also aids in digestion. To remedy constipation, a cup of hot water will stimulate the vagus nerve that awakens the bowel.
Many of us have depleted our colony of crucial gut bacteria through stress, diet and certain medications. It pays to replenish these bacteria annually with a course of probiotic supplements. Herbal supplemental like liquorice, slippery elm and L’Glutamine are useful ways to heal a damaged gut wall.
Healthy Gut, Happy Skin
Our skin is our external barrier to the world and the last organ to receive nutrients. When dealing with long-term skin problems, it is important to consider the internal situation. The skin will seldom malfunction of its own accord; it is often in response to a change from within the body. It pays to look beyond the topical application of product alone, delve even deeper than food choices, and truly get to the gut of the problem.
Want to learn more? Check out the new Bestow Gut-Skin Connection book here!