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The answer to good skin lies deep within our gut

Rather than slathering a mask on your face, the solution to getting dewy, healthy-looking skin lies in eating foods that can boost serotonin levels

A diet rich in colorful fruit and vegetables can improve the serotonin levels in our body
A diet rich in colorful fruit and vegetables can improve the serotonin levels in our body (Pexels/Anna Shvets)

Now, more than ever, consumers are starting to realize that looking good is also directly related to feeling good, and beauty products are evolving to include more natural, food-based ingredients aimed at nourishing the skin as an organ rather than covering it and changing it with harsh chemicals. It's only one small step further to start including these benefits directly into our food products. And if you were to believe the The Deliveroo "The Snack to the Future" 2023 report that released in July, edible beauty products are destined for the future. 

The report predicts that by 2040, consumers may soon integrate their beauty practices with their food choices. They imagine you could eat a swath of foods designed to intersect the food and beauty industries, offering consumers nourishing foods dubbed "mind to skin" solutions. Just think: ice cream that decreases your stress can brighten your skin. When pitched like that, I'd be the first one in line. I'd love to eat my way to beautiful skin. Having clear skin is a source of confidence, and most people agree. According to Nutraceutical Business Review, over 67% of consumers worldwide feel that how their skin is presented directly reflects how they feel inside. 

Also read: AI-driven diets and the future of our food habits

The beauty and food industry is already intersecting more than we realize; we already have hair, skin, and nail supplements on our supermarket shelves and collagen powder to improve our skin's elasticity. Dr. Howard Murad, the founder of the renowned Murad brand, said, "Topical skincare products address only 20% of your skin. The other 80% is achieved by what you eat and drink, including dietary supplements." 

A case in point is that our skin comprises a connective material called collagen, and with age, collagen levels begin to decline. For those looking to hold back the signs of ageing, it's natural to assume that placing a collagen cream on your face will do the trick. However, the collagen molecules are too big to permeate your skin cells - you're much better off consuming it as a pill, powder, or directly through animal or marine sources rather than slathering it on your face.

Now, instead of swallowing pills or powder to aggressively mix into our coffees, imagine delectable treats infused with skin-brightening benefits like ice creams, cakes, and cookies. But how does eating the right foods or food-based ingredients help us achieve clear, beautiful skin? The answer isn't skin-deep; it's also deep within our guts.

Happy microbiomes, happy you
We often think of our brain as the central processing center of our neurotransmitters and hormones, but serotonin is found in our gut (up to 95%). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for relaying messages to your brain through various processes, from regulating sleep and appetite to mood. It's so vital these processes that a lot of medication designed to keep anxiety and depression at bay directly work with your serotonin levels. This interesting placement of serotonin should lead to the question: why might that be? 

According to the American Psychological Association, the reason is that our gut bacteria actually manufacture serotonin. Our gut microbiome used to have the reputation of being unwanted visitors, however, scientists realize their significant role within our bodies, such as manufacturing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and shuttling them around our body. Suddenly, those little critters are vitally crucial to our health. What we eat directly affects the quality and quantity of our gut microbiome, and therefore, feeding our bodies with the proper nutrients and eliminating our consumption of highly processed foods is vital to keep our gut microbiome happy. The happier our microbiome, the better our body will respond and look.

Also read: Why carbs are essential for your fitness

But how do our serotonin levels affect our skin? Some skin disorders can plague the skin, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), which is linked to your stress levels and nutrition. Eczema is a skin condition with various triggers within the body, which can be auto-immune, genetic, or stress-based. When someone who suffers from eczema has a flare-up, it can leave their skin with red, itchy blotches that can not only be irritating and painful but also leave them less than confident about the state of their skin.

According to the National Eczema Association, a scientific link exists between an eczema outbreak and stress. Stressful situations kickstart our bodies' natural fight-or-flight mechanism, which releases adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. High cortisol levels can suppress the immune system and increase inflammation, triggering an eczema outbreak for those who suffer from it. It, therefore, becomes vital that those who suffer from stress-related eczema episodes manage their stress and sleep levels to improve their condition. 

A diet rooted in natural foods
Additionally, although there is little research on eczema outbreaks and diet, many eczema sufferers are advised to consume a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, such as the Mediterranean Diet, which contains a wide variety of Omega 3s. Therefore, those who suffer from eczema may greatly benefit from solutions that target their stress and inflammatory levels, and food is a fundamental part of that solution.

Also read: A new trend is brewing where coffee meets wellness

But, not to rain on anyone's parade, you don't have to find these skin solutions in an ice cream bucket. Foods that already improve your health and skin can be found in nature, and you don't need to mix them into processed food sources for us to glean the benefits from them. 

According to research by the Mayo Clinic, a wide variety of foods can boost our serotonin levels. Diets rich in colorful fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts and legumes, dairy, and olive oil can all increase our serotonin. Some of these foods above also act as antioxidants, which help rid our cells of "free radicals," which cause oxidative stress from environmental pollutants, and as anti-inflammatories, which can also trigger skin issues.

The tricky balance is increasing these types of food in our diets and decreasing the processed foods we eat. Processed foods, high in processed trans fats, sugar, and carbohydrates, are high in Omega 6, encouraging inflammation in our bodies, which can trigger an eruption of poor skin quality. For some people, taking responsibility for their food choices and educating themselves about how to use food to heal rather than mindlessly consume is too great a task – and many people rely on the marketing messages found on the buckets and boxes to guide their choices.

Keeping that in mind, it's essential to weigh the excitement of these two industries converging and, instead, continue to educate people about the benefits of having a well-rounded diet that's rooted in natural foods. By connecting ourselves to the food we eat, we have a better chance of having a good relationship with food and minimizing the feelings of guilt or shame that can be associated with overeating. After all, ice creams, cakes, and cookies taste great, do they not? Even without the skin-enhancing benefits, these items are easy to overeat and can trigger emotional or stress-based eating episodes. 

If our goal is to minimize stress, improve sleep, better regulate our moods, and enhance the look and feel of our skin, the idea would be to attack the cause at the roots, not create a product-based emotional crutch - just food for thought.

Jen Thomas is a master women's coach.

Also read: Unhealthy snacking is bad for heart health: Study


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