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Your Gut and Itchy Skin

 Jenny Smiechowski

August 2019

What your itchy skin indicates about your gut

You’ve heard of the gut-brain axis. Well, research shows there’s a gut-skin axis too. That means your skin is constantly communicating with your gut, and your gut is constantly communicating with your skin.


In fact, a new study shows exactly why people with skin problems are more likely to have gut problems and vice versa…


Scratching your skin may make you more vulnerable to food allergens


Researchers from Harvard Medical School just discovered that the simple act of scratching your skin could prime your gut for allergic reactions.


In their study, they put small strips of tape on the skin of mice to trigger itchy skin. Once the mice scratched their skin, researchers saw that the skin produces a cell-signaling protein called IL-33. This protein enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the gut.


Once IL-33 is in the gut, it works with a protein secreted by cells in the lining of the intestine called IL-25. The two proteins together produce a chain reaction that causes mast cells (cells responsible for allergic reactions) in the intestine to expand.


When mast cells expand, it makes the intestinal lining more permeable, which makes it easier for allergens to get into the tissues. As a result, mice who got the tape also responded more severely to food allergens.


Researchers took biopsies from the intestines of children with atopic dermatitis (an itchy skin condition) too and found that they had more mast cells.


Healing your gut to heal your itchy skin


This research shows the gut-skin axis in action. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that an itchy skin condition is causing your food allergies. It means that your gut and skin are constantly communicating with one another.


In my opinion, gut-skin trouble starts in the gut. If your microbiome is out of balance, it can cause itchy skin issues like atopic dermatitis. And if you scratch that atopic dermatitis, you could make your gut more susceptible to allergens and toxins. It’s a negative feedback loop.


If you want to stop this destructive cycle, start by healing your gut.


Now, healing your gut isn’t easy… or quick. It takes time and dedication. here are some tips about getting gut health back on track:


  • Get a good probiotic. Often, gut issues and skin issues happen when the good and bad bacteria in your gut are out of whack. A probiotic supplement can help restore order. Research shows that spore-based probiotics are the most effective at healing leaky gut, a condition that’s behind many people’s gut and skin issues.
  • Stay away from alcohol. Research shows that alcohol increases the permeability of your gut (aka causes leaky gut syndrome) and triggers bacterial imbalances in your gut. So, steer clear of cocktails for a while if you want a healthier gut.
  • Get tested for food sensitivities. You can ask for a food sensitivity test through your doctor, a nutritionist or get a DIY one online (like this one). Once you find out what foods your body reacts to, try an elimination diet to determine what’s really making your gut health go awry.
  • Eat plenty of fiber. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut. However, most Americans don’t eat nearly enough fiber. That may be why so many of us have gut imbalances.
  • Limit NSAIDs and antibiotics. It’s no secret that antibiotics take a toll on your gut health. But NSAIDs aren’t much better. These common pain relievers can trigger intestinal inflammation and permeability.
  • Maximize your omega-3s. Research shows that people who eat more omega-3s have better bacterial diversity in their guts. So, eat more salmon!
  • Manage stress. The gut-brain axis is like a superhighway that sends your emotions right to your stomach. That means, when you’re stressed, it triggers changes in your microbiome. If you can keep stress levels under wraps through stress-relieving practices like meditation, yoga, and massage, your microbiome will be much better off.
  • Exercise. A 2017 study found that exercising encourages the production of butyrate, a beneficial short-chain fatty acid that boosts the health of intestinal cells and lowers inflammation.
  • Sleep. Your gut and brain are closely connected… which means your gut and sleep are too. Not getting enough sleep can throw your microbiome off balance. So, squeeze in those zzzzs.


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