Nature teaches us so much about the importance of diversity. Take a nature walk, breathe in the fresh air, and look at your surroundings. What you see is a beautiful balancing act of diversity.
From the soil, to plants, people, and animals. Every living thing, right down to tiny microscopic microbes has a place. The natural world shows us how different, unique species can all thrive together in the harmony of a perfectly balanced ecosystem.
This is Mother Nature's carefully designed environmental equilibrium. Everything has a role to play, a well-intended purpose in its space. Your body is home to incredible ecosystems too, the microbiota living in your gut and on the surface of the skin.
What do they have in common with the natural environment around us? Diversity. Each person’s skin and gut microbiota are so diverse that no single one is the same. Our microbiomes are as individual and diverse as we are!
Fascinatingly, these 3 microbiome ecosystems - the gut, the skin, and environment - are all connected.
This is the topic we’re exploring today, the connection between The Microbiome Trifecta (gut, skin, and environment) and how promoting diversity in each is the key for healthy skin, bodies, and lives.
Skin Flora: Your skin’s diverse ecosystem
You can’t see them, but ecosystems composed of millions of microorganisms are living on your skin. Collectively, these tribes are known as “skin flora” or skin microbiome.
The skin microbiome is a diverse and balanced collection of microbe species including fungi, viruses, harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria.
Just like the diverse natural ecosystems we see around us, where each plant plays a role, the same is true for your skin. Each microbe, including bacteria, contributes to your skin's health.
The role of the skin microbiome in skin health
Your microbiome exists on the skin’s outer layer where it mixes with lipids, skin cells, and natural moisturising factors which are also found on the surface.
Together these components make up the skin barrier - your body’s first line of defence to keep pathogens (bad bacteria) out and moisture in.
A diverse, balanced skin microbiome = healthy skin
A well functioning skin barrier, which includes a balanced and diverse microbiome, guards against infection and water loss. The result is hydrated, healthy-looking skin. However, when harmful bacteria outnumber beneficial bacteria the balance is disrupted, leading to issues like dryness and inflammation. Using the wrong skincare can play a role in triggering this imbalance and wiping out the diversity of your microbiome.
Extremely alkaline products, particularly cleansers, that are harsh on the skin. They strip your microbiome of all bacteria - good and bad. This can play a role in flare-ups of trigger inflammatory skin concerns like atopic dermatitis, rosacea and acne.
Harsh products also weaken the skin barrier, leaving it susceptible to dehydration, infection, and damage caused by exposure to pollution and toxins in urban environments.
What you eat can also affect the balance of your skin flora - for better or worse.
You can encourage microbial diversity in your skin by eating foods that promote healthy gut bacteria. Your skin and gut health are interlinked!
Let’s explore their connection a little more.
How microbial diversity in your gut impacts the health of your skin and brain
The microflora in your gut play a foundational role in overall health, including the health of your skin.
The gut microbiome helps distribute vital nutrients, minerals, vitamins and electrolytes around the body while helping to neutralize pathogens and aiding in waste elimination.
The key for a healthy gut microbiome is, again, d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y! Your gut needs abundant, rich microflora to function at it’s best.
So, what does this have to do with achieving a healthy complexion?
Restoring skin health from the inside
The microflora in your gut is engaged in constant dialogue with your skin via your immune system. This crucial, intricate relationship is known as the gut-skin axis.
A growing body of research suggests the health of your gut is often reflected in your skin. It makes sense, then, that nurturing your gut health can help heal a damaged skin barrier, promote a calmer complexion, increase moisture retention and fight off bad bacteria.
Eating diverse types of food for gut health
A simple way to keep your gut microbiome healthy is to eat a wide variety of foods. Different foods and different colored vegetables offer a whole spectrum of phytonutrients. This promotes, you guessed it, diversity in the gut microflora with each different bacteria supporting a wider number of health benefits.
Fruits and vegetables: Brimming with fiber, fruit and vegetables promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
Fiber rich foods: Other sources of fiber include, chickpeas, lentils, kidney and pinto beans, and wholegrains.
Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and other fermented foods are rich in a beneficial type of bacteria called lactobacilli.
Prebiotic foods: These include chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, apples, and oats, to name just a few. Prebiotic foods encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria, in particular Bifidobacteria.
Consider limiting, or cutting out, processed foods and refined sugar, as these foods can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Your gut is involved in another key relationship - the one with your brain. Known as the gut-brain axis, the two are physically connected through the vagus nerve, which is like the gut-brain superhighway.
Your gut microflora creates molecules that interact with the vagus nerve, which sends signals to the brain. These signals can control inflammation and impact brain function. By changing the types and diversity of bacteria in your gut through your diet it may be possible to improve the health of your brain.
Environmental equilibrium: Diversity in green spaces
“There is no such thing as a useless plant.”-Klur
Our gut and skin microbiomes aren’t the only natural ecosystems that thrive on diversity and support a healthy body and mind. Exposure to environments filled with diverse plant species is also beneficial, even vital, for our holistic wellbeing.
The surfaces and internal tissues of plants are colonized by microbes. These communities are collectively known as plant microbiota.
Our immune systems are boosted when we come into contact with diverse plant microbiota, specifically by breathing them in. Exposure helps strengthen our body’s resilience to disease, stress and benefits our gut and respiratory health.
The benefits of plant diversity don’t end with physical health, your emotional wellbeing gets a lift too. The study Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity revealed a positive mood increase after spending time in urban green spaces rich in diverse plant species.
If you’re living in an urban environment, you may have limited exposure to varied plant microbes and their health benefits. Counter this by nurturing your own green space of biodiversity at home.
Plant biodiversity indoors
Plant care is self-care in its greenest form. Indoor plants can improve the air quality, expose you to beneficial plant microbiota, not to mention the simple joy of taking care of them and watching them grow.
Research tells us that interaction with plants promotes comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings. Take your pick of popular houseplants including; bamboo palms, spider plants, ficus trees, Boston fern, cacti, and aloe vera - to name just a few!
Isn’t it fascinating to see by embracing diversity we can live more abundant, healthy and radiant lives? If you’d love to learn more about the importance of diversity, especially in food choices, dive into practical strategies for “eating the rainbow” here.
Sources & key research links
The Skin and Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Common Dermatologic Conditions