Anti-Aging: A Look at the Role of Gut

Dr. Dorian Holmes, ND

Skin is a status symbol in many respects; it is one of the first visible areas to show signs of age. That moment when a person first notices their skin has gone awry with a crinkle, wrinkle, sag, or “Revenge of the [Teenage Acne]” at the turn of 40 years is quite irritating. That irritation alone is enough to make many scramble, pulling out wads of cash, to prevent unwanted skin changes. That reality equaled a whopping total of $2.9 billion dollars spent on cosmetics and fragrance in Canada last year alone. Slather an “anti-aging pimple” cream on if it is an absolute must, but wouldn’t it be nice if that money could fund a vacation instead? I have a gut feeling the answer is not only in the cream.

What is there to understand about Aging?

Aging is not skin deep; it starts in the gut. The digestive tract and skin are seamless mirror images of each other forming about the same time in the fourth week of human development. Skin covers the entire body and is the largest organ in the human body. The digestive tract covers the entire inner body beginning with the mouth and ending at the derriere. These inner and outer expressions of barriers unite and perform very similar functions. Protecting the internal organs, providing hydration and nourishment, eliminating waste, and reducing exposures to external environmental elements such as harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun and toxic bacteria from rotten food are included.   When gut health is optimized, the more visible problems like dullness, dryness, acne, eczema or wrinkles upon the skin’s surface will improve if not completely resolve.

Optimization of digestive health is developed in response to the types and amounts of foods consumed but also is related very much to stress, genetics and the overarching topic of this article, inflammation. Generally speaking, there are two types of stress, physical and psychological stress. Physical stress insults the barrier with a direct object such as a splinter to the skin or a viral infection in the gut. Psychological stressors like anxiety are created by experiences, examples may be commuting in traffic to work or delivering a speech.   Not all stress should be deemed as negative. Some stress lead to positive outcomes. Getting chicken pox is a type of negative stress that leads to a positive outcome. The immune system learns to defend itself and ensure the body that it will not suffer from that type of virus again.

Genetics, the study of genes, has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. So much more is understood about the how and why genes work. Genes provide specialized information that is inherited from each parent. They convey the physical appearance of a person and indirectly influence how the body will perform under stress. MTHFR C677T and A1289C are genes that produce an enzyme responsible for methylation in the body, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). Methylation is important; it is the reason why DNA can be repaired, mood stabilized, and detoxification performed. Just think, MTHFR is to the body like Lactaid is to individuals with lactose intolerance before ice cream. Lactaid helps to break lactose down and avert disagreeable symptoms. Nutrients like magnesium, riboflavin, B6, methyl-B12, methyl-folate, vitamin C, and zinc, dosed in a specific manner can help those with MTHFR deficiency to reduce symptoms and toxic build-up.

Small doses of toxins accumulated from exhausts of cars or alcohol and good food are generally well-managed and eliminated from the body. Remember, genetics can aid or reduce this ability. When confronted with a minor injury, say a papercut, messengers are sent by the body to assess the damage (or stressor). An appropriate level of inflammation is then sent to that area to provide nutrients to repair the injured cells. Pain and swelling are only minimal and quickly resolve as the stressor has been removed and the repair has been completed.

Repeated negative stress in presence of poor methylation, for example, the body will try to protect itself by matching that stress with greater, even excessive inflammatory factors. Unfortunately, these factors will produce in some instances higher grades of pain, swelling and significant damage to the cell barriers throughout the body will ensue. Healing properties will cease as the area becomes stagnant. In the gut, barriers that once provided protection will appear just as they are named, “leaky gut.”

“Leaky gut” may disclose itself as never before experienced food allergies. Others might have digestive bouts with bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). “Leaky mind” could manifest as poor mood control or foggy thinking. Skin is no exception. “Leaky skin” can spur a loss of antimicrobial proteins priming it for infections, acne, or rosacea. Slower production of collagen and elastin, proteins that help to retain the skin’s structure, means a decline in a fuller, more youthful appearance. Sebum, a protein that helps provide lubrication, if over or under produced based on inflammation levels within the skin can mean a change in moisture, luster, or appearance of health.

It’s no wonder stress can leave us feeling worn down, looking quite haggard and aged, immoderate inflammation is quite depleting.   A 2013 study mechanistically validates that chronic inflammation actually induces [genetic cell] dysfunction and accelerates aging. Perhaps if making stressors friendly reminders to be grateful and have compassion for those around, as suggested by Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her TedTalk, “How To Make Stress Your Friend,” the body’s inflammation response can revitalize as well as challenge the inevitable “Hands of Time.”


What action steps will help sustain a youthful appearance?

  1. Be mindful of the stress kept in one’s life. Is that stress perceived as a positive or negative?
  2. Keep a curious heart. What inflammatory changes are occurring on the skin and within the gut?
  3. Proactively engage. Make an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor. Together, define new health goals. Discuss if there are suitable labs or genetic testing to address specific concerns
  4. Enjoy the process! Making small changes create big changes!
  • Tip and sip. Try adding 250 ml to your water intake each week, eventually aim to reach 2L. Water reduces inflammation, and with a bit of fresh lemon improves digestion, and increases ease of elimination. Don’t forget, water also hydrates and plumps the skin.
  • Get your chef on. Try incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods that reduce inflammation and improve your gut flora: kale (everyone’s favorite) and bok choy, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut (for inflammation reducing probiotics), blueberries, beets (a methylating liver tonic), and salmon (for healthy fats that improve cellular integrity)
  • Dance it out. Try incorporating 15-20 minutes of intense exercise of your choice, 3x a week to reduce inflammation, improve mood, increase circulation and revitalize skin.


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  2. Lynch, Benjamin, ND. “MTHFR Gene Mutation.” MTHFRNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2016.
  3. “Retail Store Sales by Selected Commodity.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 14 June 2016.
  4. Slominski, Andrzej. “A Nervous Breakdown in the Skin: Stress and the Epidermal Barrier.” Journal of Clinical Investigation J. Clin. Invest. 117.11 (2007): 3166-169. Web.
  5. Thornfeldt, Carl R. “Chronic Inflammation Is Etiology of Extrinsic Aging.” J Cosmet Dermat Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 7.1 (2008): 78-82. Web.