The Key To Old Age Lives In The Gut

The key to old age may be in the guts, a new study in the journal Nature suggests.

By the gut, they don’t mean the foods you eat, but in the bacteria that live in your digestive system, called your microbiome or microbiota. A healthy selection of these bacteria provide us with vitamins, regulate our metabolism and impact our immune systems. But, having the wrong ones can cause problems.

Previous studies have found that there’s more variety in the types of gut microbes, mainly bacteria, between old people (their sample included 176 people over 65) than is normally found between any two young people. In the latest study, published July 13 in Nature, the researchers saw that these bacteria differ by diet, location and health status in these people.

People who were living on their own had the healthiest bacteria, and those in assisted living facilities had less diversity in their gut bugs, which is less healthy. This is likely due to changes in gut bacteria as a result of dietary changes when entering a home.

In an interview with HealthDay for US News and World Report, the study researchers said:

“Our findings indicate that any two given older people, independent of [their] starting health status and genetic makeup, could experience very different rates of health loss upon ageing due to dietary choices that impact on their gut bacterial ecosystem,” said Paul O’Toole, senior author of the study appearing July 13 in the journal Nature. “You can think of [diet] as another controllable environmental factor that we can act upon to promote healthier ageing.”

By keeping a finger on the pulse of our gut bacteria, we may be able to extend our lives, the researchers said, by making sure we have the right bacteria in the right amounts.

Old age gut microbe variabilityThis chart shows how differences in gut microbes of those over 65 vary based on their diet, living situation and health status. The participants were divided into eight groups based on where they lived — on the left are community dwellers and the right are those in long-term care (the plot in the centre is the entire group). They grey plots show the different types of bacteria found in their guts, and the overabundance of some types in different groups.

Photo: Claesson, et. al, Nature, 2012

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