We've taken a look at how what we eat affects our skin, but it doesn't stop there. What we eat also influences how our digestive system works, which in turn can have dramatic effects on the health of our skin. For more on this oft overlooked connection, we spoke with holistic wellness counselor and founder of Living Beauty, Kerri Lee Ross.
theFashionSpot: What kind of skin conditions can result from improper digestion?
Kerri Lee Ross: Everything from blemishes, acne, eczema, rosacea and rashes to wrinkles and a sallow complexion.
tFS: How do you know if your digestion is or is not working properly?
KLR: A tell-tale sign is bloating, gas or stomach cramping after meals.
tFS: What foods are likely to cause this?
KLR: Processed and refined, artificial foods are the main culprit of a compromised digestion. Once you cut these out, it can be beneficial to go on an elimination diet for a week which means removing hard to digest and allergenic foods from your diet. This includes all processed and refined foods (Diet Coke, Zone bars), white sugar, dairy, wheat, red meat, alcohol and caffeine. You can then start reintroducing these foods slowly, one at a time every few days, monitoring closely any physical and emotional reactions
tFS: What kind of psychological factors can affect digestion? How do they impact skin?
KLR: Stress and anxiety are major disruptions to digestion. When we are experiencing stress, our body goes into a "fight or flight" state which means it drops everything else it's doing, including digesting food, so that we have the energy to run away from whatever beast is chasing us. When we have chronic stress in our lives due to looming deadlines, family obligations, etc., our digestion suffers. Even if your diet is healthy, if you're not absorbing the nutrients, you will begin to see skin, hair and nail problems.
tFS: What's your take on food combining affecting how we are able to digest food?
KLR: I think this is one of the most challenging theories for the wellness community to embrace (or it is for me, at least). Many of us already feel as if we have made conscious choices in what we eat and now you're going to tell us we can't have a hummus sandwich!? The crux of it is that protein and starches require different digestive enzymes, so when eaten together, a hummus sandwich for instance, the two enzymes will cancel each other out. The undigested food will sit and ferment in the stomach causing bloating, gas and abdominal pain. It also poses that fruit digests super fast and therefore should only be eaten on an empty stomach before protein and starches. It makes sense theoretically, but I personally find it to be inconsistent. The best thing you can do is test the combinations for yourself and see how your body responds.
tFS: Can you explain healthy gut flora and how it can affect skin?
KLR: Intestinal flora help with digestion, enabling essential nutrients to be absorbed. Depletion of healthy gut flora due to antibiotics, stress, alcohol and diet guarantees nutritional depletion. This loss of essential nutrients results in poor quality hair, skin and nails.
tFS: What's the danger of food lingering in the digestive tract in terms of skin health?
KLR: When undigested food sits in the digestive tract, our system becomes backed up with toxins from rotting foods and mucus begins building up along the intestinal walls. This mucus prevents healthy nutrient absorption and waste elimination. One of the first places this intestinal problem appears is on the skin in the form of rashes, blotchy areas, acne and eczema.
tFS: What's your take on vitamins/nutritional supplements? Are there ones we should be taking to improve digestion and for our skin?
KLR: The three most important beauty supplements for me are a probiotic to help rebuild friendly flora that help with digestion and nutrient absorption, an Omega 3 (fish oil) to fight inflammation and a multivitamin to provide for any nutritional gaps in a healthy diet. The quality of your supplements are super important, make sure they are coming from whole food sources.
tFS: Any anecdote of patient stories?
KLR: I can do one better and speak of a personal situation. After cleaning up my diet five years ago by cutting out processed foods and limiting the amounts of allergenic foods I spoke of, I noticed the shift in my skin within a month. After being plagued with acne in my 20s, I had no breakouts and my complexion literally glowed. About a year ago I became very interested in raw foods. After incorporating about 80% raw foods for about 6 months, I could not deny the fact that I was super bloated all the time and I had red spots on my forehead. Through the help of an ayurvedic practitioner, I discovered my body had a very difficult time digesting raw nuts, a staple in raw diets. I tell this story to illustrate that we are constantly learning new things about our unique bodies, if we pay attention.