Skin Health Is Immune Health
Your body relies on your skin to defend you from foreign invaders and protect you from disease.
Given its importance, are you supporting your skin in its efforts to protect your body?
To help you answer that question, let’s take a closer look at how skin plays an integral role in your body’s overall immunity, the connection your skin has to your gut (and vice versa), plus the benefits of protecting and having healthy skin.
Your body’s natural defense systems - Your immune system provides three levels of defense against disease-causing organisms:
Your body’s natural barriers prevent entry, including skin and mucous membranes, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and beneficial bacteria that live in the colon (the gut microbiota).
Your innate immune system acts as your general defense. Your innate immunity kicks in when white blood cells, or WBCs, called neutrophils and macrophages, engulf and destroy foreign invaders and damaged cells.
Your adaptive or acquired immune system acts as your specific defense. This system defends you with WBCs called T lymphocytes (T cells) that target and destroy infected cells, as well as B lymphocytes (B cells) and plasma cells that produce antibodies that target and destroy infected cells.
Your skin and other natural barriers act as your first line of defense against harmful organisms, such as toxic chemicals (more on that, below). Meanwhile, your two immune systems take on different tasks but work closely together to fight germs and foreign substances on the skin, the tissues of the body, and bodily fluids such as blood.
Understanding the skin-gut connection
While skin is our first barrier against harmful organisms, it’s unfortunately not the most reliable. Skin is porous, and what gets through the skin goes into the bloodstream and eventually affects the gut.
Likewise, what happens in the gut has a direct influence on your skin. Your gut is where 80 percent of your immune cells are found—as well as where all micro and macronutrients are absorbed.
Studies hypothesize that intestinal flora produces neurotransmitters in response to stress that can modulate skin function. These neurotransmitters cross the intestinal epithelium, enter the bloodstream, and induce systemic effects. Along with neurotransmitters, the gut microflora also releases short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), entering systemic circulation and affecting the skin.
Additionally, diet may influence inflammation in the skin through nutrient signaling and the release of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), leading to excessive stimulation of sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1 and increased synthesis of fatty acids and triglycerides promoting Propionibacterium acnes overgrowth.
In other words, skin-related problems such as acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis can all be traced back to issues within your gut.
In addition to skin, humans have fascia—a thin layer of connective tissue found between the skin and the muscle. This uninterrupted, three-dimensional web of tissue surrounds and supports the body's muscular, skeletal, and visceral (organs) components. It’s the glue that holds us together. Fascia is responsible for maintaining structural integrity, providing support protection, and acting as a force dampener. The interconnected nature of fascia means that everything in the body is structurally connected. As both a sensory organ and the only system that touches every other system, fascia communicates with the rest of your body. When tension and pain originate in your fascia, they can then be communicated as bodily dysfunctions and pain elsewhere in the body.
Protecting your skin (and gut) from contaminants
So, how do you protect your skin—and your gut—from unwanted chemicals and other harmful contaminants?
Start by closely examining and carefully selecting what you put on your skin. Chemical- and gluten-laden skincare and beauty products, such as sunscreens, cosmetics, deodorants, and moisturizers, can penetrate the skin and lead to compromised immune systems. Instead, choose products that are considered clean, organic, gluten- and chemical-free.
Like skin, the gut is a semi-permeable wall of defense. When this wall of defense becomes too permeable, you will be left susceptible to disease. When the gut is repeatedly exposed to toxins, chemicals, and gluten (from skincare and beauty products as well as non-organic foods), the result is intestinal hyper-permeability, or “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” This condition allows toxins, bacteria, undigested food particles, and other undesirable gut contents to enter the bloodstream and circulate to the rest of the body. A leaky gut can cause systemic inflammation. Because of this, the immune system may not protect the body as well as it should, leading to fatigue and joint and muscle aches.
In a healthy digestive system, the cells that form the paper-thin lining of the small and large intestines are packed very closely together. In fact, they’re so close that only what should pass through—digested food (solutes) and water—can enter the bloodstream. But the tight junctions of the gut lining can easily be disrupted and become too porous. Diets high in gluten, chemical-laden foods, and foods you sense you’re allergic to can damage the gut lining and force it to become more permeable. These factors also affect the balance of both the trillions of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut. When this balance is disturbed, harmful bacteria can get the upper hand and cause an increase in gut permeability.
The good news? When you protect your gut, your skin benefits, too. Healthy skin better regulates your body temperature, maintains fluid balance, and controls moisture loss. It also acts as a shock absorber, recognizes pain sensations that alert you to danger, and protects you against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
To support the health of your skin, I recommend the supplement BioAstin astaxanthin*. Research shows that consuming BioAstin for two weeks significantly increases the duration of ultraviolet light exposure needed for a sunburn. It also reduces the acute inflammation reaction of skin and tissue beneath the skin that follows excessive exposure to UV radiation (and leads to sunburn).1-4
All-natural BioAstin astaxanthin has also been shown to enhance and modulate the immune system*, a win-win for those looking to support their skin and immune health in a single pleiotropic supplement.
Now that you better understand how your skin and gut are linked look for ways to support your immune system and overall health better. Avoid skincare and beauty products that can infiltrate your skin and potentially compromise your health. Likewise, support your gut health by avoiding gluten and chemical-laden foods that can damage your gut lining and force it to become more permeable. Finally, support the health of your skin with a supplement proven to protect you against damaging sun exposure and enhance your immune system.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Contact your healthcare provider prior to beginning any new exercise or diet plan.
Dr. Silverman is a member of Nutrex Hawaii's Scientific Advisory Board.