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We keep hearing more and more about how microbiomes are critical to virtually every aspect of human health.
This is certainly true of the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome, where trillions of healthy “probiotic” bacteria live and help protect you from deadly infections and diseases.
Research is increasingly showing that the GI microbiome is a key axis for the “psychoneuroimmunology” system that influences how well your brain and your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems all function together.
But as big and important as the GI microbiome is, there’s another key microbiome living on the largest organ of your body—the skin.
Plenty of research shows an imbalanced skin microbiome can lead to psoriasis, eczema, acne, and rosacea. This imbalance can also increase your susceptibility to the damage caused by inflammation, which affects not just your skin, but your entire body. And believe it or not, an imbalance of bacteria on your skin can even make you more attractive to disease-carrying mosquitoes.1
And new research further solidifies why balancing your skin bacteria is so important. Findings from a recent study show the probiotic bacteria that make up your skin microbiome can actually kill several types of skin cancer cells.
I’ll share more about this research in just a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at how the body’s various microbiomes work… and the simple steps you can take to help improve and maintain their health.
How dietary supplements—and drugs—influence the GI microbiome
Without knowing about the modern science of psychoneuroimmunology, ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine understood that digestion is the key to all aspects of health—including reversing chronic conditions. That’s why restoring normal GI function is a cornerstone of Eastern medical therapies.
So it’s not surprising that now, modern science is telling us that healthy digestion, and your overall health, begins with your microbiome.
We’re also learning more and more about how nutrients and botanicals (and some drugs, especially antibiotics) work by influencing your microbiome.
That’s important for our view of how dietary supplements (and drugs) can affect human health. The natural products industry is finally discovering the concept of “bioavailability,” which determines just how much of an oral supplement’s active ingredients are properly digested and then transferred into your bloodstream.
It turns out that many effective botanicals have only limited bioavailability—but they still influence the all-important probiotic bacteria in the GI tract. In fact, these botanical supplements go to work in the gut immediately—before they ever get into your bloodstream or reach your bodily tissues (what I like to call “biome-availability”).
Natural solutions for a healthy microbiome
Part of a botanical’s effectiveness in the GI tract is due to its polyphenols—key active ingredients found in almost all plants.
Polyphenols generally have low bioavailability. In fact, research shows that only about 10 percent of these substances make it into your bloodstream from your GI tract.2 However, their influence on your gut bacteria is incredibly powerful.
In a 2015 study, 244 participants who supplemented with a blend of polyphenols from herbal remedies reported they had less bloating, diarrhea, and gas.3 Meaning the polyphenols worked directly in your GI tract to provide relief. So in actuality, the herbal remedies’ “bioavailability” didn’t even matter!
Another recent study found that foods and botanicals rich in polyphenols had a strong impact on the effectiveness of the immune system.4 This makes sense because your GI’s microbiome houses more immune cells than any other part of the body.
Elderberry in particular showed remarkable effects for protecting against the flu, despite its limited absorption into the bloodstream. Instead, this benefit is due to elderberry’s ability to trigger the production of a specific flu-fighting substance in the microbiome.
Polyphenols are most commonly found in fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) and whole grains (preferably non-GMO).
There are also significant amounts of polyphenols in a few foods some so-called health “experts” point to as “vices” or “guilty pleasures”—specifically dark chocolate, wine, coffee, and tea. So by simply eating a clean, balanced, and sensible diet, you’re naturally improving the health of your GI microbiome.
How your skin microbiome keeps other parts of your body healthy
Just as all of the organs and tissues in your body are interrelated, so are your microbiomes. So the factors keeping your gut microbiome healthy—or unhealthy—apply to your skin microbiome as well.
In fact, your skin microbiome influences your overall health in very specific ways…
For example, natural practitioners have talked for many years about the importance of a mother passing on her skin probiotics to her infant during breastfeeding. These probiotics help give the baby even more natural immunity.
I’ve also reported on studies showing the importance of children being exposed to normal soil bacteria on their skin for immune health.
In other words, contrary to what so many parents have been brainwashed into believing, keeping children isolated in sterile environments and giving them increasing numbers of vaccines (many of which are dangerous and ineffective, as I often report) is NOT the key to keeping them healthy.
In fact, children are ultimately far healthier when they’re allowed to play outside and get dirty.
Which leads me to the new study I mentioned earlier. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have identified a probiotic skin bacteria that can actually inhibit the growth of skin cancers.5
These bacteria are called 6-HAP, and they’re thought to impair the synthesis of DNA in growing cancer cells. The researchers discovered that mice lacking 6-HAP bacteria developed multiple skin tumors after exposure to ultraviolet light, while mice with 6-HAP didn’t develop any tumors.
Further research revealed that mice given intravenous 6-HAP every 48 hours for two weeks experienced no toxic effects. And when the mice had malignant melanoma tumors transplanted onto their skin, the size of the tumors was reduced by more than 50 percent.
Surprising toxins for the skin microbiome
There are many factors that affect your skin’s microbial flora, including age, gender, personal hygiene, environmental factors, your body’s pH levels, your clothing, and the amount you sweat. Obviously, some of these factors are out of your control.
But as evidenced by the study above, it’s imperative to work with the body’s normal defenses, especially your skin’s probiotic bacteria. And making some simple changes to the factors you can control will go a long way towards helping your skin bacteria flourish.
The easiest place to start is determining which products you should—and shouldn’t—put on your skin.
Antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. The FDA has finally figured out that good old soap and water is just as effective—and much less dangerous for your health—than antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Specifically, the triclosan and triclocarban ingredients in these products not only kill good bacteria, but they’ve also been shown to disrupt hormones.6
I recommend natural or organic soaps without sulfates (lathering agents that have been linked to cancer) and artificial fragrances.
Antiperspirants and mainstream deodorants. To understand why these seemingly innocuous products are harmful to your health, you need to know the basic mechanisms of sweat and odor.
Sweat itself has no smell—except when it’s released from apocrine glands in your underarms and groin area. That type of sweat contains protein and fats from the food you eat…and when mixed with the bacteria on your skin, they produce body odor.
Antiperspirants contain triclosan to kill those bacteria. And they also use a chemical called aluminum chlorohydrate to plug your underarm pores and keep sweat from even forming in the first place. This might seem like a benefit, but it’s actually very dangerous. Sweat is one of the chief ways your body sheds toxins—yet antiperspirants actually artificially block this normal biologic function.
Chemical deodorants also contain triclosan, but they don’t contain aluminum chlorohydrate—making them marginally better than antiperspirants. But certainly not ideal.
Fortunately, there are now natural deodorants called “crystals,” which are clear, round blocks of mineral salts. When you wet the crystal and roll it under your arms, it spreads a thin layer of these salts, creating an invisible barrier between your sweat and bacteria. So you don’t block your sweat glands or kill your skin bacteria—you just keep them from mingling.
It may take your body a few days to adjust to deodorant crystals, meaning you might experience some body odor at first. And you’ll still sweat. But, remember—sweat is a good thing and helps to rid your body of toxins.
Cosmetics, lotions, sunscreens, and other skin products. The same rules apply to ANY product you apply to your skin. Look for natural ingredients without added fragrances. Demand for natural cosmetics and personal hygiene products is increasing, and they’re widely available in most natural food stores as well as numerous online retailers.
For more simple ways to naturally support both of your body’s microbiomes, refer to the sidebar on the right.
When it comes down to it, it’s just as important to choose wisely when it comes to what you put on your body as it is what you put in it. Take care of the skin you’re in—probiotic bacteria and all.
7 simple steps to naturally support your microbiomes
You may have heard that keeping your body’s microbiomes healthy is as simple as popping a probiotic pill.
However, I’m not at all sold on these popular supplements. The problem is that the science—so far—hasn’t shown that probiotic supplements consistently works for most people.
Of course, your body needs probiotic bacteria to stay healthy. But you can nurture and grow this “good” bacteria without relying on questionable supplements.
Here’s what I recommend to keep ALL your body’s microbiomes healthy.
1) Avoid antibiotics, which fight infection by destroying all of the bacteria in your microbiomes—including helpful probiotic bacteria.
2) Don’t use antibacterial soaps and sanitizers, which disrupt your skin’s microbiome by killing off the good bacteria. Not to mention, your good probiotic bacteria educate your own cells on how to produce your own natural “antibiotics” that kill off harmful intruders.
3) Use natural, mineral “crystal” deodorants that keep your skin’s probiotics intact, rather than chemical deodorants and antiperspirants that kill all skin bacteria.
4) Follow a balanced diet that includes polyphenol-rich fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Shop organic and GMO-free when you can.
5) Eat fermented foods that introduce and/or support healthy bacteria in your gut. My favorites include plain yogurt, cheese, and sauerkraut, as well as traditionally-processed Korean kimchi, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
6) Stay away from processed carbs and sugary foods, which disrupt the good bacteria in your gut.
7) Drink to your health with polyphenol-rich coffee and tea. Home-brewed beer and wine can also be a good, natural source of probiotics, as long as they’re not pasteurized. Plus, you’ll get the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
With these seven simple steps, you’ll easily transform all your body’s microbiomes—and your health will naturally follow suit.
1Meta Analysis of Skin Microbiome: New Link between Skin Microbiota Diversity and Skin Health with Proposal to Use This as a Future Mechanism to Determine Whether Cosmetic Products Damage the Skin.” Cosmetics 2017, 4(2), 14.
2“Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health.” J Nutr Biochem. 2013 Aug;24(8):1415-22.
3“Resolution of acute gastroenteritis symptoms in children and adults treated with a novel polyphenol-based prebiotic.” World J Gastroenterol. Sep 14, 2014; 20(34): 12301-12307.
4“The microbial metabolite desaminotyrosine protects from influenza through type I interferon.” Science. 2017 Aug 4;357(6350):498-502.
5“A commensal strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis protects against skin neoplasia.” Sci Adv. 2018 Feb 28;4(2):eaao4502.