Bloat, Skin Issues & Hair Loss: What Your Body's Telling You
Three of the most common symptoms I see in my gastroenterology practice are hair loss, skin problems, and bloating. When it comes to your appearance, your GI tract might actually play a bigger role than your genes because without healthy intestines, it's really hard to have glowing skin, a full head of hair, or a healthy weight.
The good news is that the combination of bad skin, thinning hair, and a bloated belly often has one unifying cause, and treating it may improve all three conditions.
How the gut affects skin:
Skin reactions are often a sign of an unhappy gut. Food allergies and food intolerances can lead to dark circles under your eyes, blemishes, rashes, and a puffy, swollen appearance. Studies have found that more than half of all acne sufferers have alterations in gut bacteria1, and societies that eat a more natural diet with little or no processed or sugary foods have virtually no acne (and very few gastrointestinal problems).
Rosacea has also been linked to inflammation and bacterial imbalance in the gut2, and it's one of the most common skin conditions I see in my bloated patients.
How the gut affects hair:
If you have lustrous tresses, you may have been lucky in the gene pool, but you probably eat lots of deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables, too. Green fruit like avocados and grapes provide nourishing B-complex vitamins, while oranges are rich in vitamin C that helps reduce free radical damage caused by sun exposure and pollution. (Free radical damage is a leading cause of hair aging and loss3.)
How the gut affects bloat:
Bacterial imbalance, known as dysbiosis, is one of the most pervasive causes of bloating.
A nutrient-poor diet, too many antibiotics, long-term use of acid-suppressing drugs that alter the stomach's pH, parasitic infections, hormone therapy, steroids, and a host of other factors can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria and reduced numbers of essential good bacteria.
This imbalance doesn't just lead to digestive problems; it can also show up on the skin and scalp, where it can profoundly affect your appearance.
Solutions for healthier skin, hair, and gut:
These tips can help you glow from the inside out while banishing your bloat at the same time:
Eat dark green vegetables.
Dark greens are arguably the single best food group for promoting healthy skin via healthy blood flow. No other food group can match the pound-for-pound nutrient density of dark green vegetables. Shoot for one head of romaine lettuce or three stalks of kale every day.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids.
Both groups of nutrients are strongly associated with healthy blood vessels, which are essential for maintaining optimal blood flow to and from your skin cells. Healthy foods naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids include dark green leafy vegetables, raw walnuts, wild salmon, flaxseeds, and free-range eggs. Healthy foods naturally rich in flavonoids include lettuce, cherries, citrus, cabbage, kale, spinach, Goji berries, asparagus, lima beans, and raw cacao.
Eat foods rich in vitamin A, carotenoids, and healthy fats.
Vitamin A is one of the most important micronutrients for healthy skin since it's needed to maintain the integrity and function of your skin cells. Your body synthesizes vitamin A from carotenoids found in dark green, yellow, and orange vegetables like spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
Cut down on sugar.
Prevent dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth in your gut and on your skin by keeping sweet treats that yeast thrive on to a minimum. Sugary foods also promote insulin release, and high circulating insulin levels are associated with inflammation throughout the body4, including the GI tract and skin.
Don't add salt.
Adding salt to food causes water retention, making you bloated and puffy all over, especially in your face and eyes. Food manufacturers add salt to packaged food to preserve its shelf life, so even if you put away the salt shaker, you still need to read labels to keep your salt intake in check. Aim for 1,500 mg or less per day.
The gluten-containing grains of today are a modified version of what our ancestors ate and have been associated with lots of different symptoms, including bloating, rashes, and hair loss. Even if you don't have celiac disease, you may be gluten-intolerant and not know it. A six-week trial of a gluten-free diet that excludes wheat, rye, and barley may do wonders for blemished skin, thinning hair, and bloating.
Alcohol is metabolized to acetaldehyde, a cousin of formaldehyde and a substance that's toxic to practically every organ system. And did I mention it can cause bloating, blotchy skin, make your hair fall out, and age you?
Many studies show an increase in acne incidence and severity in people who consume lots of dairy5. It's also a major cause of bloating since more than half the world's population is lactose-intolerant.
Water helps to move the products of digestion through the colon, avoiding backup, which can lead to bloat. It also helps the skin by supporting the dermis: Studies show that drinking adequate water levels actually thickens the dermis6.
Robynne Chutkan, M.D., FASGE, is the author of the recently published book The Microbiome Solution (Penguin 2015) and Gutbliss (Penguin 2013). She received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her medical degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. Board certified in gastroenterology, Robynne has been on the faculty at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington DC since 1997. In 2004 she founded the Digestive Center for Women, an integrative practice that incorporates nutritional optimization, exercise physiology, biofeedback and stress reduction as part of the therapeutic approach to digestive disorders.
A regular guest on the Dr. Oz Show, Robynne is also a member of the medical advisory board for the show. She has made national appearances on CBS This Morning, The Today Show, The Early Show, and The Doctors and is frequently interviewed as a medical expert for the Washington Post and women's health magazines.
Robynne is the founder of Gutbliss.com – a digestive wellness space that provides science-based, integrative GI information and products with a proven track record for improving digestive health. On a personal note, she is an avid runner and snowboarder and enjoys Vinyasa yoga. She is passionate about helping her patients live not just longer, but better lives.