A study published in Nature Metabolism has now tied changing gut microbiome to healthier aging. The “microbiome” is known as the bacteria living in the gut, and it plays a key role in many healthy bodily functions. (1)

Microbiome And Aging Study

According to the research, as we age, the composition of our gut microbiome changes. The more our gut microbiome changes, the better we age.  Healthy people see a decrease in the more prominent microbes they have in their guts in early adulthood, while less healthy people have the same microbes in their guts. In unhealthy subjects, they tend to die at an earlier age. (1,2)

The study finds a transforming gut microbiome is a sign of healthy aging, according to Sean Gibbons, co-author of the study and a microbiome specialist and assistant professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. “A lot of aging research is obsessed with returning people to a younger state or turning back the clock,” he says. “But here the conclusion is very different. Maybe a microbiome that’s healthy for a 20-year-old is not at all healthy for an 80-year-old. It seems that it’s good to have a changing microbiome when you’re old. It means that the bugs that are in your system are adjusting appropriately to an aging body.” (1,2)

Signs Of Microbiome And Aging Health

While the researchers aren’t sure if changes in the gut microbiome actually drive healthy aging or vice versa, they believe gut changes could improve health. For those who experienced unique profiles in their changing microbiomes, they also showed higher levels of health-promoting compounds in their blood as they aged. This includes the compounds produced by gut microbes that help fight chronic disease. (1,2)

Scientists have long suspected the microbiome plays a role in aging. For example, studies of lean, physically active people 65 and older showed a higher abundance of certain microbes in their guts than those who were less healthy. As well, those who develop early signs of frailty tend to have less gut microbial diversity. (1,2)

Microbiome And Aging Starts Early

Patterns are found at all ages, with rapid changes occurring in the first three years of life. After that the microbiome stabilizes and then slowly starts to change in middle age. In healthier people, the changes speed up into old age, while less healthy people either see their microbiome changes slowly, or not occur at all. (1,2)

The study looked at 9,000 adults ranging in age from 18 to 101. The group included about 900 seniors who had regular health assessments. The team found changes began in those who turned 40 or so with prominent strains declining. Less common strains on the other hand increased in prevalence making their microbiomes much different than others in the study. (1,2)

Unique Profiles Of Microbiome And Aging

“What we found is that over the different decades of life, individuals drift apart — their microbiomes become more and more unique from one another,” says Dr. Gibbons. (1)

As mentioned, those with the most changes were healthier and lived longer. They also showed higher vitamin D levels and lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. These participants also took less medications, enjoyed better physical health, and were more mobile. (1,2)

Those with little changes on the other hand had higher cholesterol and triglycerides and lower levels of vitamin D than their healthier counterparts. They had to take more medications, were more likely to die during the study, and were less mobile and active. (1,2)

Bacteroides In Microbiome And Aging

Dr. Gibbons said bacteroides found in microbiome like to “munch on mucus.” This can remove part of the barrier that contains our microbiome, potentially triggering an immune system response. “When that happens, the immune system goes nuts,” he says. “Having that mucus layer is like having a barrier that maintains a détente that allows us to live happily with our gut microbes, and if that goes away it starts a war.” (1,2)

Healthy diets provide something other than mucus to eat, which can potentially help protect the gut lining. Dr. Gibbons said he hopes to examine that in a future study. (1,2)

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Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/well/eat/microbiome-aging.html
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s42255-021-00348-0 

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