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Aging: the duel edged sword. Though youth fades with fine lines and creaky joints, it’s better than the alternative. I’m sure everyone can agree on that.
Throughout life, the wellbeing of our gut is central to our overall health. It is estimated that the human body has up to four and a half pounds of microbiota and 1000 species of known microbes just in the gut (1). Scientists collect data on anything from the diversity of species in each part of the body, to their function and interaction. We hear the word “dysbiosis” a lot in terms of the human health- this refers to the groups of microbiota in a diseased state versus what would normally be thriving in a healthy body. Research studies have observed that changes in gut microbiota are recognized in a growing number of disease states (2).
Human health and the gut
A 2017 research study from NCBI states: “Given the substantial portion of the immune system is dedicated to maintaining host relationship with the microbiome, it is perhaps unsurprising that gut microbiota are heavily involved in local inflammatory response to acute injury and/or infection” (3).
Inflammation in various parts of the body can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, osteoporosis, cognitive decline or dementia, frailty and disability, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even death (3). We know what you’re thinking- all because of my gut health? Not necessarily. Changes in sex hormone concentrations can also lead to low grade inflammation throughout the body.
Aging and the microbiome
As you age, recent evidence shows that your gut microbiome becomes less diverse. These changes have been linked directly to dementia and frailty, specifically (3). A 2016 independent research study observed the changes in the microbiome throughout the human lifespan. Actinobacteria levels decreased significantly, while there was an increase in proteobacteria (4). Scientists also observed a category to which they referred to as “other”- characterizing the lesser observed microbiota. These levels were elevated in the elderly.
The takeaway? The microbiome does change during your lifetime. Perhaps, focusing on ways to maintain diversity in the microbiome may decrease the prevalence of age-related diseases.