Inside Out: The link between gut health & skin

I was one of those kids who was sick all the time. I had chronic sinus infections, ear infections, and had tubes surgically implanted in my ears on multiple occasions to help the fluid drain from my swollen head.

Throughout my childhood and into my young adult life, the second I sneezed, I had to start taking antibiotics in order to keep away or cure the inevitable infection that was coming. I cannot count the number of antibiotics I’ve been on throughout my life. Packs on packs on packs.

Flash forward two decades and I’m in a prominent dermatologist’s office, trying to figure out how I ended up with rosacea as a healthy young adult (a condition that normally surfaces in middle-aged adults). Rosacea is a pain in the ass. It causes itchy, red, hot and bumpy skin on the face. It’s obviously not life-threatening, but it is really uncomfortable and will deal a blow to your self-esteem.

Here’s a few of the tidbits I received from my health professional:

  • We don’t know what causes rosacea
  • We don’t know why you have it
  • We don’t have a cure for it
  • We think there’s a genetic link
  • We do know that you should avoid spicy food, alcohol, exercise, sunshine and steamy environments like saunas (I basically heard: NO FUN EVER AGAIN), because these things are triggers for rosacea patients. 

And here’s the last whopper:

  • We don’t know why, but taking low-grade antibiotics over the long term seems to help.


Now, I don’t have a license to practice dermatology. What I do have is enough common sense to know that I didn’t have an infection, so why would I be prescribed antibiotics for the foreseeable future? And I'm not the only one who's read about antibiotic-resistant superbugs that have started springing up in the recent past. Why should I be binging on them?! I declined the prescription and high-tailed it out of there with a moderately helpful synopsis of some triggers for skin irritation, but with a lot of irritated feelings toward western medicine as well.

Now that I’m a certified Health Coach, I’ve gone through enough studies and experimentation with my own body to know that the biggest link between my skin health and antibiotics is that these packs were likely the CAUSE of my symptoms, not the CURE. Western doctors had it completely backwards.

Antibiotics disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, tipping the scales in favor of harmful ones and away from protective ones. It’s like setting off a bomb in your gut -- you can wipe out up to a third of your bacteria with one pack. And it’s not quick and easy work to get the good guys back. We’re now learning that an imbalance in gut bacteria is responsible for many skin conditions, such as cystic acne, eczema, rosacea and other skin irritations, as well as many chronic auto-immune conditions.

My advice to anyone who has been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease or stubborn skin condition (or unexplained mood swings and depression!!) is to explore gut health. My all-time favorite book on the subject is The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan. You’ll be empowered to help yourself on your journey to better health, and to be your own advocate when dealing with doctors who might not be up to date on the diet and lifestyle changes that could easily help.

And if you're prescribed antibiotics for any reason, make sure to have a conversation with your doctor about whether it's absolutely essential for you to have them. It's for the good of your gut, and your entire being! 

To sign up for my workshop Caring for Your Second Brain: Intro to Gut Health, click here.