“Does my gut age just like the rest of me?”
At Triborough GI we get this question a lot, especially from older folks who are starting to understand the connection between the gut and their health in ways that matter directly to them, like maintaining their bones and preserving their cognitive skills.
The simple answer: The composition of bacteria in your gut evolves with time just like your body. Your microbiome develops rapidly from infancy to age 3, stabilizes through middle age, then changes rapidly later in life, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Those changes can be a good thing. In fact, the more your gut bacteria evolves as you age, the better your overall health may be, based on recent research appearing in Nature Metabolism.
The composition of human gut microbiota changes with age, and the most drastic change happens 2-3 years post-birth and then a steady-state arrives as we transit into adulthood. At older ages, the decline in human physiological functions leads to a decrease in the number of these beneficial microorganisms in the intestinal microflora and consequently, the occurrence of various intestinal diseases.
A plant-based diet and eating prebiotics/probiotics supplements may increase the number of intestinal probiotics, thereby preventing intestinal diseases. However, the connection among diet, microorganisms, and host has not been fully elucidated. Genome-scale metabolic models can help clarify their relationship, deepen the understanding of intestinal microbial metabolism, and predict the metabolic changes of the intestinal microflora during aging, so as to screen out better probiotics/prebiotics.
Gut microbiota of healthy young people
Microbiology’s non-cultivation technology testing shows a large gap in the intestinal microflora between individuals caused by many factors such as diet, geography, health care level, host genetic characteristics, and early microbial exposure. It is also affected by birth method, antibiotic application, feeding type, hospital environment, and the type of probiotics/prebiotics. Vaginal delivery and breastfeeding are considered to be the best options for maintaining a healthy gut microflora for the newborn.
A healthy human gut environment, which contains many different types of good bacteria, contributes to better overall health and longer life. Regular exercise, an active social life, and a nutritious diet rich in fiber, probiotics and prebiotics can improve and restore gut health. Better gut health can help to lift mood, sharpen your mind, and boost immunity.
The human microbiome, or gut environment, contains many different types of beneficial bacteria that are essential to a person’s health and well-being. A 2021 Nature Metabolism study reported that better gut health—a more diverse array of bacteria in the gut—is associated with healthier aging and longer life. *The researchers found that older adults with more diverse gut environments walked faster and had better mobility, had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation, higher levels of vitamin D, and participants with less diverse gut environments were nearly twice as likely to pass away* during the study period.
Here are some important ways improving gut health can support better overall health and healthy aging:
- Regular exercise promotes better gut health. A University of Illinois study found that people who exercised three times a week for six weeks showed an increase in beneficial gut microbes and a decrease in harmful ones. Participants who continued exercising maintained the gains, while those who became sedentary reverted to less bacterial diversity.
- Lift your mood with gut-friendly foods. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and other whole foods, and limit packaged or processed foods, which are high in food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut to improve your mood. Advises Harvard University.
- High-fiber foods stimulate a heart-healthy gut. A high-fiber diet encourages growth of short-chain fatty acids, which help control blood pressure and blood sugar.
- Microbiome diversity is good for the mind. People with gut microbial diversity performed better on standardized tests of thinking skills and memory, reported a 2022 JAMA Network Open study.
- Socializing makes your gut happy. People with broad social networks enjoy better gut health, and social interactions promote a more diverse gut community, according to a University of Oxford study.
- Nourish healthy bacteria with probiotics and prebiotics. Eating probiotics regularly, such as yogurt, helps prevent the gut environment from being overrun by unhealthy bacteria. Probiotics can improve digestive health and may help treat gastrointestinal problems including irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation. Prebiotics such as beans, bananas, onions, asparagus, and yams stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
- Fermented foods improve immune response. A diet rich in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, sauerkraut, and kombucha tea, enhances gut bacteria diversity and improves immune response, while decreasing inflammation.
- Manage stress to restore gut health. Chronic stress causes the gut microbiome to be disrupted and become unstable. Managing stress through mindful eating, better sleep, and mind-body practices such as yoga and tai chi can help ease the impact of stress on microbiome diversity and restore gut health.