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Aging healthy

Inevitable? Or are there options for microbiota management?


Population ageing drives a growing interest in ways to help us age healthily. Over the past few years, research has shown that our gut microbiota changes as we age, and that there is a link between this change and deteriorating health. Is this inevitable or do we have options for mirobiota management?

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Thanks to the enormous strides made in research into intestinal micro-organisms, the link between a balanced gut flora and a healthy old age is once again at the centre of attention.   As people age, the diversity of their gut flora decreases. In addition, immune function will also begin to falter: the cells of the adaptive immune system, its “special forces”, start to weaken and more low-grade inflammations set in that contribute to the development of conditions including cancer and cardiovascular disease. This suggests a link between the two, but the exact nature of this link is still not clear. After all, a healthy immune system supports a balanced, diverse microbiota in the gut, whereas an unbalanced microbiota is a possible cause of chronic low-grade inflammations. 

So, which is the chicken and which the egg? In one study, published in Genome Medicine in 2016, it was shown that the diversity of the gut population already starts to decline at an early stage, although the immune system continues to function reasonably well. This decrease in diversity, researchers wrote in Cell Host & Microbe in 2017, gives harmful bacteria a chance to proliferate. They cause mild inflammations that weaken the intestinal barrier. We know this because in germ-free mice living under sterile conditions this barrier shows no such weakening.

      The compostion of our gut microbiot achanges over time.

      Source Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology

Seaweed the ultimate prebiotic_872

Especially in vulnerable elderly people, the change in the gut and body is clear: in their system, inflammation-inducing bacteria, that would normally be suppressed by the immune system and beneficial bacteria, have gained the upper hand. This initiates a vicious cycle of degeneration.  

Aging is most often associated with the brain and with dementia in particular. Recent studies have yielded clues suggesting that the cause of dementia may actually originate in the gut instead of the brain. Harmful gut bacteria are said to produce all kinds of metabolites that are detrimental to the brain, including amyloid and the inflammation‑inducing lipopolysaccharide (LPS)

All this begs the question: can pre- and probiotics support the health of elderly people and, for instance, prevent or at least delay the onset of dementia? Can they break the vicious cycle of immune system decline and gut flora depletion, especially in vulnerable elderly people? For the time being, the answer is “maybe they could”.  

Modifications in lifestyle, nutritional behavior, increase in infection rates, inflammatory diseases and medication are thought to affect the composition and activity of the microbiota in elderly

A systematic review conducted by Dupont (Danisco), for instance, revealed that probiotics had a beneficial effect on certain immune cells. There are some clues suggesting that probiotics can lower the concentration of metabolites involved in Alzheimer’s disease. And there is reason to assume that the flu jab is more effective when combined with probiotics. Probiotics also lower the likelihood of constipation, although this is not regarded as a typically age-related condition. The hunt for the factors responsible for aging has just begun and coming years of research in this emerging field will deliver new answers on how the gut microbiota is involved in  aging processes anddisease development.





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Healthy aging and the microbiome

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