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Does the gut microbiome influence our ageing process?

October 7th, 2021  

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.

What defines the ageing process in humans?

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.

A brief insight into the development of the gut microbiome

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).

development of the gut microbiome
Even the type of birth plays a role in the development of the gut microbiome

What influences the development of the gut microbiome?

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)

Microbiome & ageing processes

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).

How does the gut microbiome of the elderly change?

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.

Fecal transplantation can improve brain health

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.

One of the key factors that influence our gut microbiome is a varied diet rich in fibre.
One of the key factors that influence our gut microbiome is a varied diet rich in fibre.

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.

With myBioma to a healthy gut microbiome into old age

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!

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