When steroid salves were becoming routine at the Goenka home, they turned to food for healing. Through an elimination diet, Sonali Goenka, Indian expat in Dubai, managed to create resilience in her child’s gut ecosystem, resulting in her being weaned off medication.
Goenka, who studied nutrition to understand the allergy triggers, tells Gulf News in an interview, “The gut is the primary source for your immune system, so whenever it is imbalanced, it has a spin-off effect on every aspect of your body, and whichever aspect is sensitive already reacts. In our case, my daughter’s skin is always compromised, so whenever her immune system is low, her allergies will go up, her propensity of her body to cope with the allergies will go down.”
What does this gut ecosystem comprise?
Farah Hiliou, a UAE-based nutritionist, explains that there are more than 1,000 microbes in each human’s gastrointestinal tract. “These help in production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and some vitamins (K, B12). Changes in the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome have been associated with the development of various conditions such as:
- Autoimmunity disorders, and
Moreover, a study in 2013 that found that children with eczema, chronic inflammation of the topmost layer of skin, have a more diverse set of bacteria in their guts than non-affected children.
Dr Anuradha Ajesh, Specialist – Pediatrics at Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, tells Gulf News that the health of an immune system – and the skin - is contingent on gut bacteria.
Gut and the immune system
The way things work is the gut bacteria train the immune system. So, explains Dr Kapoor, “When we alter gut immunity, we can create inflammation, and we break down the membrane that is responsible for opening and closing and letting in good compounds and good nutrients in keeping the bad ones out. When that breaks down, we have a leaky gut and now suddenly, our immune system starts to see proteins that are not completely processed down to the peptide level that they are accustomed to, and they start making antibodies against commonly eaten foods.”
The theory has some appeal as a way of explaining various conditions that we haven't been able to fully explain yet, but the evidence is lacking. We know that the condition of having intestinal permeability or a “leaky gut” is real, but we don’t know that it's a disease, or that it causes other diseases. It’s not currently a recognised medical diagnosis.
Source: Cleveland Clinic
What are some things that can affect the microbiome?
Dr Devinder Kapoor, Specialist – Homeopathy and Functional Medicine at The Chiron Clinic – Dubai, explains that the following factors may cause turmoil in the gut:
- Antibiotic use,
- Lack of breast feeding, and
“So, you can feed it with certain things that can make it worse and other things that can make it better,” she says.
What does a person’s skin have to do it?
The ‘gut-skin’ axis has been proposed as a new way to prevent and treat skin-related disorders such as rosacea, atopic dermatitis, acne vulgaris and psoriasis, says Hillou. “The gut and skin have several similar characteristics and are part of the immune and endocrine systems. They are both greatly immersed with microbes which provide a multitude of benefits such as shaping the immune system, protecting against pathogens, and maintaining a healthy barrier.
“The inner surface of the gut and the outer surface of the skin are both covered by epithelial cells which have direct contact with the environment including foods, bacteria and pathogens,” she explains.
When we alter gut immunity, we can create inflammation, and we break down the membrane that is responsible for opening and closing and letting in good compounds and good nutrients in keeping the bad ones out.
Dr Kapoor adds that skin reflects what’s going on with our health beneath the surface; skin problems often signal that something is off in our body, explains Dr Kapoor. “Treat your skin health from inside out,” she stresses.
Stress, for example, says Dr Kapoor, creates the hormone cortisol in the body and changes the gut fauna. Skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, hives, urticaria, eczema are all inflammatory conditions that are rooted in oxidative stress.
US-based PubMD defines oxidative stress as “…a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defence.”
The biggest cause of this strain on the system, explains Dr Kapoor, is the food one eats.
Dangerous menu items contain:
- High levels of sugar (any food that in turn becomes sugar). “We know that sugar increases the insulin, and insulin increases certain hormones like testosterone and estrogen. In women Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), is associated with acne and hair loss, and the cure is fixing the diet and insulin, not by putting stuff on the skin,” Dr Kapoor says.
- Processed food, which can cause constipation and prevent the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners can also confuse good bacteria.
- Flour, and
- Dairy that is very hormonally active.
Meanwhile, says Dr Ajesh, if the child has good gut health, it helps them:
- Produce vitamins,
- Absorb nutrients,
- Regulate the immune system, and
- Even positively influences their mood.
Does skin health affect gut health too?
Yes, says Hiliou. She explains: "Skin exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) and thus indirectly to serum vitamin D levels enriches the diversity of certain gut microbial species.”
Skin exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) and thus indirectly to serum vitamin D levels enriches the diversity of certain gut microbial species.
What should my child be eating for better skin?
Consumption of probiotics and prebiotics help boost gut microbiota, reduce overall inflammation, and could potentially be used for targeting skin health, she says. “For example, research has shown that the species Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can be helpful in cases of Atopic Dermatitis.” She suggests the consumption of:
- Food rich in probiotics include yogurt (labeled with cultures), kefir and labneh;
- Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi;
- Fermented soy-based products like miso and tempeh; and
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Prebiotic rich foods include oats, apples, unripe bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, lentils, and berries.
Dr Ajesh adds: “Fiber in grains, fruits, and vegetables helps keep gut bacteria healthy.”
Fiber in grains, fruits, and vegetables helps keep gut bacteria healthy.
To keep skin healthy, she adds, try:
- Eating foods that are high in Omega 3 fats, which is great for the skin as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vitamin C is an antioxidant found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel; in vegetable sources such as flaxseed and chia seeds; and in citrus fruits, pepper, and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is abundant in avocados, seeds, nuts, and olive oil.
Quell the skin breakouts from inside out, start by redefining your child's menu.
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