Raise your hand if your bathroom cupboard is brimming with creams, potions, elixirs, and tinctures that promise to deliver healthy, stress-free skin? Raise your other limb if you still get those monthly breakouts regardless? While there is definitely merit in maintaining your skin health through a morning and nightly regimen, achieving that outer glow ultimately starts from within. The culprit? An unhealthy liver and leaky gut. When both of these are out of balance, your hormones will be too, and the first place you'll see the negative ramifications of this is on your face. Sad but true.
Cult facialist and skincare specialist Kristina Holey favors a holistic approach and healthy habits over a medicine cabinet full of topical antidotes. Her underlying philosophy is to create a "balanced and respectful ecosystem" first, with the after-effect being healthy skin. Understanding human anatomy and how to work with the body to obtain optimal wellness is Holey's passion, and she feels strongly that a good diet plays a crucial role in achieving this goal.
"Our diet provides key micronutrients which are crucial in supporting the health of our endocrine function (a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood)," she told MyDomaine. "We need certain vitamins and minerals to power our body to function properly." In our intimate chat with Holey, she explained why a strong and supported liver and gut are the key to maintaining a healthy body, along with the staple pantry foods you need to eat to glow inside and outside.
As one of the largest organs in the body, the liver plays a crucial role in your body's metabolic processes. Not only does it convert the nutrients in our diets into substances the body can use, but it also stores them away for when our body needs them later. Probably the biggest and most important function is its role in converting toxic substances into harmless ones and expelling them from the body—which is why it's so important we look after it.
"Liver system support ensures efficient detoxification of the body, a healthy metabolism, regulated hormones, and it also clears the blood level of heat and toxins to benefit the skin and body," said Holey. "It's especially important to support your body post-pregnancy and also address the chronic dry skin/eczema symptoms, in addition to breakouts." If you need to give yours a boost, then Holey recommends drinking liver-supporting herbal teas such as nettle, dandelion, and ginger. "These can be drunk daily to benefit digestion and skin clarity," she said.
If you're feeling tired, miserable, bloated, anxious, and generally pretty irritable, your hormones could be to blame, says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS. "Unfortunately, it is very common," he told MyDomaine. "Estimates on the number of women who have a hormonal imbalance are as high as 80%." With that whopping figure, there's a good chance most of you reading this are in that percentage bracket, but if you don't want to go down the synthetic route, then use Holey's "food as medicine" rule.
The first step is choosing anti-inflammatory ingredients. Not only do they benefit any skin concerns (we're all familiar with those hormonal breakouts), but Holey says they also aid digestive function, help regulate stress, and balance your hormones. "Garlic is 'nature's antibiotic' and can help the body to fight an overgrowth, boost immune function, and support healthy inflammation," she said. While we're all familiar with using it in our cooking, Holey recommends drinking it: "Finely chop one clove and mix with a small amount of lemon water (lemon helps to hide that garlic taste) then take it as a shot. Drink it at night to avoid strong garlic breath during the day."
Did you know that your health begins in your gut? Holistic nutritionist and wellness director of Montauk's ever-popular hot spot, The Surf Lodge, Tara Curran told MyDomaine that in order for your body to function properly, you need to take care of our digestive organs. Curran suggests taking a daily probiotic supplement to help build good bacteria in the stomach, but Holey says one of the best ways to improve gut health is through diet so you naturally help the body regulate and absorb nutrients as well as eliminate toxins.
"Overall, I recommend the focus being on directly healing and improving digestion and digestive organs, which in turn will benefit hormones and systemic detoxification, as well as healthy weight loss, along with your mood and energy levels," she said. "Acne and breakouts on the cheeks, chin, and sides of the face are often associated with digestive issues. Milk Thistle can greatly benefit the liver detox function. It also helps to heal the gut along with any digestive imbalances to ease inflammation, regulate proper food absorption, and improve stomach acidity and natural enzyme balance. Give your gut a boost with fermented foods and tons of leafy greens every day."
Pantry Staples to Support Your Gut, Liver, and Hormone Health
Now that we've outlined all the phenomenal body (and skin) benefits of a healthy liver and gut, it's time to start supporting it, and the place to start is your diet. Everyone deserves to feel (and look) good, and all it takes is a few simple food swaps each day to see a noticeable difference to your overall state of being. "Of course, with most foods and tea, we don't want to be excessive with anything," said Holey. "Rather, focus on moderation and trying to incorporate a wide range of foods to make sure you're getting what you need."
So how much is too much? What does "moderation" look like? "You could eat dark leafy greens (cooked) daily, but not just dark leafy greens," said Holey. "Incorporate other good vegetables as well. Just because something is labeled as 'good for you' doesn't mean we want to go crazy and eat only that. A good example of that is kale." As a rule of thumb, Holey also urges us all to listen to our body after we eat; how did it make you feel?
"You can follow that for guidance on how much to eat too," she said. "Also, if you know you have an iron deficiency, then it can be really helpful to make sure you eat iron-rich foods on a daily basis or zinc-rich foods. Your body is so smart; it will take what it needs and discard the rest." Ahead, Holey shares the common pantry staples that are easy to incorporate on a daily and/or regular basis:
Holey says we should aim to eat a variety of these vegetables and dark leafy greens regularly. "Just be sure to cook these vegetables or lightly steam, sauté, and roast them because research shows that when eaten raw, cruciferous vegetables may interfere with thyroid function," she said.
Interested in learning more about hormone health? Two doctors weigh in on this surprisingly common health issue—and give their expert advice on how to combat it naturally.