Gut Microbiome and Aging: Can Maintaining Healthy Gut Bacteria Help Turn Back the Clock?
New research has linked the gut microbiome and aging, suggesting that maintaining a healthier gut can help you feel younger for longer. A study conducted at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University focused on the effects of transferring the more diverse gut microbiota of older mice into the guts of younger mice. Once the transfer was complete, the younger mice were examined and the researchers found that the transplanted microbes helped to stimulate the functioning of neurons in the brains of the mice. Amazingly, the mice also exhibited signs that the aging process was slowed through the transfer of microbes.
Research Links Healthy Gut Microbiome and Aging
Previous studies have shown that the gut microbiome changes as we age. The recent study involved transferring the gut microbiota from 24-week old mice to mice that were only six weeks old. Within eight weeks, the research team noted that there was more advanced neurogenesis and a boost in intestinal growth in the younger mice. These changes were accompanied by an increased growth of butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid.
Produced by bacteria in the gut microbiome, butyrate helps the body fight off a number of healthy threats. It's especially effective in protecting against IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), diabetes, obesity and colorectal cancer. As specific gut microbes are enriched, those types of bacteria ferment the dietary fibers that are ingested by an individual. This process results in a higher production of butyrate in the colon. Once activated, butyrate helps the body produce more of a hormone called FGF21, which is associated with longevity.
In addition to stimulating FGF21, butyrate also boosts the production of the proteins AMPK and SIRT-1. This is important in that these proteins regulate the metabolism. SIRT-1 in particular helps the immune system fight off disease by reducing mTOR signaling. Lower levels of mTOR signaling can be beneficial because it lowers the risks of cancer and inflammatory diseases.
The research team also found that the transplanted microbiota resulted in growth of the large and small intestines. When given butyrate directly, test mice exhibited similar intestinal growth as well as improved neurogenesis.
The results of this research indicate that the answer to treating degenerative diseases, as well as slowing aging in general, may involve altering the gut microbiome. This may help lead to natural treatments for certain age-related conditions, encouraging additional research into this area of study. In the meantime, we already know that maintaining a healthy gut benefits us in a number of other ways.
Why is a Healthy Gut Microbiome Important?
Even before scientists found a connection between the gut microbiome and aging, researchers had discovered that the bacteria and other microbes in the gut are essential to human health. The gut microbiome is host to trillions upon trillions of microbes with each one influencing the health of the individual. Additionally, the gut microbiome is like a fingerprint in that no two are exactly alike. Up to two-thirds of your gut's microbiota is unique to you, influencing health-related issues, such as how efficiently your digestive system functions and how your body reacts to certain foods.
Since the gut microbiome is responsible for extracting vitamins from food and helps process them for use by the body, this community of microbes helps support the body's immune system. Each microbe in the gut microbiome serves a unique function, such as affecting the risks of obesity or type 2 diabetes. For this reason, those with more diverse microbiomes are generally healthier and can face a lower risk of certain diseases.
We also know that the gut microbiome changes as we grow older and expose ourselves to more environmental factors. In addition to the foods we eat, environment, stress and lifestyle habits all affect the diversity of the gut microbiome. Just a few of the conditions affected by the health of the gut microbiome include:
- emotional health
How Can You Develop a Healthier Gut Microbiome?
While you start forming the basics of your gut microbiome from birth, there are things you can do to promote a more diverse gut even in adulthood. From altering your eating patterns to engaging in healthier activities, these changes can help you introduce a broader range of helpful bacteria into your gut.
Add More Diversity to Your Diet
Especially in the U.S., few people eat a truly broad range of foods, relying primarily on processed foods. Instead, try adding more color to your diet by choosing a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Each type of plant-based food contains different types of bacteria, so eating a wider range of foods will help diversify your gut microbiome.
Eat More Fermented Foods
Products, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, help convert sugars into organic acids. This process helps reduce the number of bacteria in the body that promote inflammation. Both adults and children can even help alleviate lactose intolerance by adding more plain yogurt to their diets.
Eat Whole Grains
Whole grain products aren't as easily digested, allowing them to pass through to the large intestine. Once there, the gut breaks down the grains into helpful types of bacteria. The microbes derived from whole grains, such as Bifidobacteria, Bacteroidetes and lactobacilli, help produce a feeling of hunger, limiting the temptation to overeat. These types of bacteria also reduce inflammation and promote better heart health.
Add a Probiotic Supplement
Finally, taking a daily probiotic/prebiotic supplement can also help improve gut health. Probiotics help by boosting the overall health of the gut microbiome and improving the body's metabolism. Probiotics also help certain types of bacteria function better, which may be why people suffering from some medical conditions are helped by taking this type of supplement.