As populations in industrialised nations around the world age, the need for healthcare solutions to reduce the burden of age-related diseases is growing. The prevention and treatment of chronic inflammation is a particularly promising strategy, considering that inflammation is observed in almost every age-related disease. Recent studies suggest that the gut microbiome may play a key role in age-related inflammation.
In humans, ageing is a continuous and progressive process that leads to decreased physiological function in all organ systems (1). These physiological declines lead to increased susceptibility to infection and disease (2, 3). Although the causes of age-related diseases are diverse, there is significant evidence linking them to chronic inflammation (4).
There are growing suggestions that the gut microbiome may play a significant role in these age-related inflammations. Indeed, recent studies suggest that advanced age is associated with changes in the composition of the gut microbiome, which is characterised by a loss of diversity (5). Diversity refers to the diversity of the composition of the gut microbiome and indicates whether the different bacterial species are evenly distributed in the gut or whether some bacterial species dominate.
Microbial colonisation of the human gut begins at birth and immediately thereafter. Some studies, however, suggest that the process of colonising the infant with microorganisms begins in the womb (10-17). In any case, it is recognised that the basic microbiome composition continues to fluctuate widely during infancy, especially during the first three years, until it eventually adapts to a stable structure similar to the gut microbiome in adulthood (10-18).
The composition of bacteria is influenced by several components, such as the infant’s diet, antibiotic intake, the mother’s diet, the mother’s gut microbiome and the environment (11, 12, 15-17, 19). It has also been reported that vaginally delivered infants have higher colonisation of Lactobacilli, Bacteroides and Prevotella, which are mostly acquired from maternal vaginal and faecal microbiome during birth. Cesarean-born infants, on the other hand, show delayed or lower uptake of Bacteroides, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. (10, 12, 15-17, 19-20)
The composition of the gut microbiome in adults is more stable than in children. Over time, a gut microbiome develops that can independently rebalance changes caused by influences such as stress or antibiotics. Nevertheless, the gut microbiome can be influenced to a certain extent, for example through diet and lifestyle.
The frequency of diseases associated with the gut microbiome tends to increase with age (21, 22). Although it remains unclear whether the changes in the gut microbiome are a cause or consequence of the ageing process, it is apparent that older people have a different gut microbiome profile compared to healthy adults. This difference could be due to a variety of reasons, such as changes in lifestyle and dietary habits, reduced mobility or medication use (18, 22-27).
In general, the diversity of the gut microbiome and the number of bacteria such as Bacteroides, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are found to be reduced (18). Whereas most bacteria, which are increased with age, are known to stimulate inflammation (29). While it is still unknown whether this imbalance of bacteria is a cause or a consequence of ageing and inflammation, a balance of the gut microbiome is associated with a healthy ageing process. Therefore, maintaining or restoring this balance could be beneficial for healthy human longevity. (21, 26, 28).
Considering that the gut microbiome has a strong influence on numerous aspects of health and that decreases in diversity are associated with various inflammatory conditions, it seems plausible to also look at one’s health from the perspective of the gut microbiome.
Learning and memory decline significantly with age. This deterioration in learning and memory parallels changes in the gut microbiome. John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork, and his colleagues recently clarified in the journal Nature Aging that microbes transferred from young to old mice can reverse age-related changes in immunity and metabolism in the brain. The study suggests that the microbiome could be a suitable therapeutic target for treating age-related cognitive decline.
“If the microbiome is playing a causal role in brain aging, then we should be able to take the microbiome from young animals, give it to old animals and reverse or attenuate some of the effects of aging.” – John Cryan
A good starting point to preventively support our gut microbiome and counteract inflammatory processes is to ensure a healthy diet of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds. One of the key factors influencing our gut microbiome remains diet. We know that properly “feeding” our gut bacteria with various dietary fibres can not only increase microbial diversity, but also increase the production of anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) (30) and decrease the number of bacteria that can produce pro-inflammatory substances. SCFAs have been shown to help the gut cells prevent inflammation in the gut (31).
“By better understanding the links between diet, microbiome and health, we can understand how older people can maintain their microbiome and also help them directly by using pre- and probiotic strategies. This would help us age better and maintain health and quality of life in old age without drugs or surgery.” – Marina Ezcurra, Ph.D.
We are excited about further research in this area as we see the potential to make huge breakthroughs in improving the health and quality of life of older people.
The myBioma microbiome analysis allows you to learn about your microbial composition and which bacteria live in your gut. You get an overall picture of your gut universe and significant insights into how your health is doing. Depending on your results, you will receive dietary recommendations, e.g. to optimise your diversity and species richness. Learn more!
(1) Franceschi C, Motta L, Motta M, Malaguarnera M, Capri M, Vasto S, Candore G, Caruso C, IMUSCE. The extreme longevity: the state of the art in Italy. Exp Gerontol. 2008;43(2):45–52.
(2) Troen BR. The biology of aging. Mt Sinai J Med. 2003;70(1):3–22.
(3) Candore G, Colonna-Romano G, Balistreri CR, Di Carlo D, Grimaldi MP, Listi F, Nuzzo D, Vasto S, Lio D, Caruso C. Biology of longevity: role of the innate immune system. Rejuvenation Res. 2006;9(1):143–8.
(4) Cevenini E, Caruso C, Candore G, Capri M, Nuzzo D, Duro G, Rizzo C, Colonna-Romano G, Lio D, Di Carlo D, Palmas MG, Scurti M, Pini E, Franceschi C, Vasto S. Age-related inflammation: the contribution of different organs, tissues and systems. How to face it for therapeutic approaches. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(6):609–18.
(5) Jeffery IB, Lynch DB, O’Toole PW. Composition and temporal stability of the gut microbiota in older persons. ISME J. 2016;10(1):170–82.
(6) Jimenez E, Fernandez L, Marin ML, Martin R, Odriozola JM, Nueno-Palop C, Narbad A, Olivares M, Xaus J, Rodriguez JM. Isolation of commensal bacteria from umbilical cord blood of healthy neonates born by caesarean section. Curr Microbiol. 2005;51(4):270–4.
(7) Oh KJ, Lee SE, Jung H, Kim G, Romero R, Yoon BH. Detection of urea plasmas by the polymerase chain reaction in the amniotic fluid of patients with cervical insufficiency. J Perinat Med. 2010;38:261–8. ´
(8) Aagaard K, Ma J, Antony KM, Ganu R, Petrosino J, Versalovic J. The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Sci Transl Med. 2014;6(237):237–65.
(9) Collado MC, Rautava S, Aakko J, Isolauri E, Salminen S. Human gut colonisation may be initiated in utero by distinct microbial communities in the placenta and amniotic fluid. Sci Re. 2016;6(1):23129.
(10) Nagpal R, Tsuji H, Takahashi T, Kawashima K, Nagata S, Nomoto K, Yamashiro Y. Sensitive quantitative analysis of the meconium bacterial microbiota in healthy term infants born vaginally or by cesarean section. Front Microbiol. 2016a;7:1997.
(11) Nagpal R, Kurakawa T, Tsuji H, Takahashi T, Kawashima K, Nagata S, Nomoto K, Yamashiro Y. Dynamics of the gut Bifidobacterium microbiota during the first three years of life: A quantitative assessment. Sci Rep. 2017a;7(1):10097.
(12) Nagpal R, Tsuji H, Takahashi T, Kawashima K, Nagata S, Nomoto K, Yamashiro Y. Gut dysbiosis followingC-section instigates higher colonization of α-toxigenic and enterotoxigenic C. perfringens in infants. Benef Microbes. 2017b;8(3):353–65.
(13) Nagpal R, Tsuji H, Takahashi T, Nomoto K, Kawashima K, Nagata S, Yamashiro Y. Ontogenesis of the gut microbiota development in healthy fullterm vaginally-born breast-fed infants over the first 3 years of life: A quantitative bird’s-eye view. Front Microbiol. 2017c;8:1388.
(14) Palmer C, Bik EM, DiGiulio DB, Relman DA, Brown PO. Development of the human infant intestinal microbiota. PLoS Biol. 2007;5(7):e177.
(15) Tsuji H, Oozeer R, Matsuda K, Matsuki T, Ohta T, Nomoto K, Tanaka R, Kawashima M, Kawashima K, Nagata S, Yamashiro Y. Molecular monitoring of the development of intestinal microbiota in Japanese infants. Benef Microbes. 2012;3(2):113–25.
(16) Backhed F, Roswall J, Peng Y, Feng Q, Jia H, Kovatcheva-Datchary P, Li Y, Xia Y, Xie H, Zhong H, Khan MT, Zhang J, Li J, Xiao L, Al-Aama J, Zhang D, Lee YS, Kotowska D, Colding C, Tremaroli V, Yin Y, Bergman S, Xu X, Madsen L, Kristiansen K, Dahlgren J, Wang J. Dynamics and stabilization of the human gut microbiome during the first year of life. Cell Host Microbe. 2015;17(6):852.
(17) Bokulich NA, Chung J, Battaglia T, Henderson N, Jay M, Li H, D Lieber A, Wu F, Perez-Perez GI, Chen Y, Schweizer W, Zheng X, Contreras M, Dominguez-Bello MG, Blaser MJ. Antibiotics, birth mode, and diet shape microbiome maturation during early life. Sci Transl Med. 2016;8(343):343–82.
(18) Odamaki T, Kato K, Sugahara H, Hashikura N, Takahashi S, Xiao JZ, Abe F, Osawa R. Age-related changes in gut microbiota composition from newborn to centenarian: A cross-sectional study. BMC Microbiol. 2016;16(1):90.
(19) Penders J, Thijs C, Vink C, Stelma FF, Snijders B, Kummeling I, van den Brandt PA, Stobberingh EE. Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy. Pediatrics. 2006;118(2):511–21.
(20) Gronlund MM, Lehtonen OP, Eerola E, Kero P. Fecal microflora in healthy infants born by different methods of delivery: Permanent changes in intestinal flora after cesarean delivery. J Ped Gastroenterol Nutr. 1999;28(1):19–25.
(21) Han B, Sivaramakrishnan P, Lin CCJ, Neve IAA, He J, Tay LWR, Sowa JN, Sizovs A, Du G, Wang J, Herman C, Wang MC. Microbial genetic composition tunes host longevity. Cell. 2017;169(13):1249–62.
(22) Bartosch S, Fite A, Macfarlane GT, McMurdo M. E.T. Characterization of bacterial communities in feces from healthy elderly volunteers and hospitalized elderly patients by using real-time PCR and effects of antibiotic treatment on the fecal microbiota. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004;70(6):3575–81.
(23) Claesson MJ, Cusack S, O’Sullivan O, Greene-Diniz R, de Weerd H, Flannery E, Marchesi JR, Falush D, Dinan T, Fitzgerald G, Stanton C, van Sinderen D, O’Connor M, Harnedy N, O’Connor K, Henry C, O’Mahony D, Fitzgerald AP, Shanahan F, Twomey C, Hill C, Ross RP, O’Toole PW. Composition, variability, and temporal stability of the intestinal microbiota of the elderly. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011;15(108):4586–91.
(24) O’Toole PW, Jeffery IB. Gut microbiota and aging. Science. 2015;350(6265):1214–5.
(25) Claesson MJ, Jeffery IB, Conde S, Power SE, O’Connor EM, Cusack S, Harris HMB, Coakley M, Lakshminarayanan B, O’Sullivan O, Fitzgerald Gerald F, Deane J, O’Connor M, Harnedy N, O’Connor K, O’Mahony D, Sinderen Dv, Wallace M, Brennan L, Stanton C, Marchesi JR, Fitzgerald AP, Shanahan F, Hill C, Ross RP, O’Toole PW. Gut microbiota composition correlates with diet and health in the elderly. Nature. 2012;488(7410):178–84.
(26) Collino S, Montoliu I, Scherer M, Mari D, Salvioli S, Bucci L, Ostan R, Monti D, Biagi E, Brigidi P, Franceschi C, Rezzi S. Metabolic signatures of extreme longevity in northern Italian centenarians reveal a complex remodeling of lipids, amino acids, and gut microbiota metabolism. PLoS One. 2013;8(8):e56564.
(27) Mitchell EL, Davis AT, Brass K, Dendinger M, Barner R, Gharaibeh R, Fodor AA, Kavanagh K. Reduced intestinal motility, mucosal barrier function, and inflammation in aged monkeys. J Nutr Health Aging. 2017;21(4):354–61.
(28) Biagi E, Candela M, Turroni S, Garagnani P, Franceschi C, Brigidi P. Aging and gut microbes: Perspectives for health maintenance and longevity. Pharmacol Res. 2013;69(1):11–20.
(29) Pamer EG. Immune responses to commensal and environmental microbes. Nat Immunol. 2007;8(11):1173–8.
(30) Jefferson, A. & Adolphus, K. The Effects of Intact Cereal Grain Fibers, Including Wheat Bran on the Gut Microbiota Composition of Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Nutrition 6, 33 (2019).
(31) Corrêa-Oliveira R, Fachi JL, Vieira A, Sato FT, Vinolo MAR.
Regulation of immune cell function by short-chain fatty acids.
Clin Transl Immunologyl. 5: e73 (2016).