Just as the health of the planet relies on the balance and well being of the creatures who inhabit it, so too does human health rely on the right balance and composition of microorganisms sharing space on the body’s surface. As above so below.
You are comprised of ten times more bacterial cells than human cells. That ‘s right, though the bacteria only make up five pounds of body weight, they outnumber human cells by a long shot. They comprise your very own personal garden — really, they are indistinguishable from you. Without them, you could not live. When they are happy and well-situated, you thrive. Pass it on.
Your skin and intestines form one long continuous surface that turns inside out to become skin, then mucosa (the pink stuff), then skin again. Bacterial flora grows on all of this like an expansive lawn. There are also secret gardens where skin invaginates to make the genitourinary tract and the respiratory tract. Different bacteria grow better in different microclimates: sun, shade, acid, alkali, etc. If the flora get out of place or if the wrong bacteria get planted, we develop problems with the body AND, even personality changes and mood disorders can ensue.
Called the “gut-brain-skin axis” by dermatologists John Stokes and Donald Pillsbury in the 1930′s, these guys noticed stress, poor digestion and skin irritations like acne tended to cluster together . We now know that the health and variety or a person’s gut flora play a role in ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is now more descriptively being called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO is ten times more common in those with rosacea, seborrhea and acne vs those without. Clearly, acne patients are at a higher risk for gastrointestinal distress (including a 37% increase in bloating! mmm…unpleasant). But here is the kicker: our emotional health is inextricably linked with our personal body garden.
That’s right, moods, emotions and perceptions can be influenced by composition of microbial flora inhabiting our body. SIBO is strongly associated with depression and anxiety, while improvement of the gut results in improved emotional symptoms. Acne is also associated with much higher rates of depression and anxiety. Although we might expect this with any health condition which is undesirable and uncomfortable, mental health impairment scores among acne patients are higher compared with a number of other chronic medical conditions, including epilepsy and diabetes. The skin, gut and brain are somehow communicating through bacterial messages and influencing each other behind the scene.
Where does it begin?
It’s probably the same as the chicken or the egg dilemma. However, it is clear that psychological stress stagnates the small intestines, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and promotes a leaky intestinal barrier. This process compromises the absorption of nutrients. Excess bacteria use those nutrients, produce toxic metabolites, and cause injury to the gut. The toxins and by-products of cellular damage circulate throughout the body, increasing inflammation in the skin and other organs, and crossing the blood-brain barrier to influence mental health.
Where does it end?
Probiotics are bacteria commonly found in a healthy gut. Taking a good quality (high count, mixed strain) probiotic daily has proven to help reduce SIBO. Correction of SIBO leads to marked clinical improvement in patients with rosacea. Daily probiotics have also been shown to reduce the signs of psychological stress. In a 2011 French study, subjects who consumed a daily probiotic showed less resting-state brain activity and less reactivity to emotional stimuli (i.e.: less anxiety and irritability).
An omega-3 rich diet decreases the likelyhood of SIBO and it has also been linked to an decreased risk of depressive symptoms. A series of case reports and controlled studies have established the value of omega-3 fatty acids in improving acne, rosacea, eczema, mood & memory, and global aspects of well-being.
Breathing deeply is the key to releasing stress; it does so by powerful mechanisms that involve alkalinizing the body, altering brainwaves to restore the nervous system , and adjusting the perceptions of an adrenally driven day. Five minutes a few times a day has been proven to be beneficial in healing the body. A blessing before a meal, with a few deep breaths and a moment of quiet, can accomplish this in a timely manner before food comsumption. This normalizes the body’s response to food as well as aligning with the gift of food and the pleasure that it brings and it helps your complexion and your mood too.