As we evolve with age, so does our microbiome. Taking care of your microbiome throughout your lifespan can play a key role in supporting health and longevity and the best part is, it’s never too late to start.
Ageing is a natural part of living – a continuous evolutionary process and, some might say, a privilege. Despite what many anti-ageing slogans would have us believe; our age is not something we can control. How well we age, however, is another story.
Many of us are aware of the far-reaching benefits of making healthy diet and lifestyle choices and one of the key beneficiaries of these choices is our microbiome. Whilst childhood is the most important time to establish a healthy microbiome, our later years are an important time to maintain a healthy microbiome.
But, before we take a look at how to do this, let’s dig a little deeper into the microbiome-ageing connection...
The Human Microbiome: What is it and why is it so important?
The human microbiome is a term used to describe the large communities of microorganisms and their genetic material that coat the human body, both inside and out. Invisible to the human eye, this extraordinary microbial ‘ecosystem’ consists of a diverse collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, which is as unique to you as your genetic blueprint. When in balance, the microbiome coexists peacefully with your body, supporting health like a functioning organ. Changes to this balance can affect our health in various ways.
One of the most important microbial communities to human health resides in our gut and performs many vital health functions, including:
- Food digestion and absorption
- Vitamin and metabolite synthesis (e.g., Vitamin B12)
- Support healthy immune function
Did you know?...
Gut microbes are very clever. As we age, so does our microbiome as it adapts to our changing environment, as well as our physical and nutritional needs. For instance, as energy requirements change in late adulthood, our microbiome adapts the amount of energy producing bacteria.
How does age affect the microbiome?
Despite the many clever ways our microbiome supports the ageing body, there are some age-related changes that are not so beneficial to the health of these important microbes. For instance, we may find ourselves taking a growing list of medications, exercising and eating less, or perhaps becoming more isolated from our friends and family; All of which can have a significant impact on the health and diversity of our microbiome.
Gut microbiome and age-related disease – what’s the link?
Recent studies have shown that gut microbiomes of the elderly have reduced diversity (including beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and a change in dominant species. Whilst there is still much to be learned, it is believed these changes may contribute towards a variety of age-related health changes.
How can I improve the health of my gut microbiome?
Thankfully there are many ways in which we can improve the health of our microbiome, and there’s no better time to start than today! Try these 4 easy steps:
- Eat less fat and more veg – Research shows that traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets, rich in plant-based foods, are linked to not only increased longevity but diverse microbiomes. Conversely, high fat, Western diets are associated with alterations in the microbiome which may contribute towards age related health changes.
- Get moving – Physical exercise can help increase the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut, a substance known for its gut lining supportive properties.
- Get a good night’s rest– Sleep disruption is common amongst the elderly and has been associated with altered microbial profiles. Creating healthy sleep habits such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, drinking water during the day instead of before bed and keeping regular sleeping times may help to improve the health of microbiome.
- Supplement with good bacteria – Taking a good quality probiotic containing beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, in combination with a diet rich in plant fiber, may help to support immune function and maintain healthy cholesterol in healthy individuals.3,
Taking these small steps towards a healthier microbiome will not only maintain your health today but also support your health in the future.
If seeking specific advice on supporting your mental or physical health, talk to your health professional.
Ragonnaud E, Biragyn A. Gut microbiota as the key controllers of “healthy” aging of elderly people. Immunity & Ageing. 2021 Dec;18(1):1-1.
 Finlay BB, Pettersson S, Melby MK, Bosch TC. The microbiome mediates environmental effects on aging. BioEssays. 2019 Oct;41(10):1800257.
 Askarova S, Umbayev B, Masoud AR, Kaiyrlykyzy A, Safarova Y, Tsoy A, Olzhayev F, Kushugulova A. The links between the gut microbiome, aging, modern lifestyle and Alzheimer's disease. Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology. 2020 Mar 18;10:104.
 García-Peña C, Álvarez-Cisneros T, Quiroz-Baez R, Friedland RP. Microbiota and aging. A review and commentary. Archives of medical research. 2017 Nov 1;48(8):681-9.
 Costabile A, Bergillos-Meca T, Rasinkangas P, Korpela K, de Vos WM, Gibson GR. Effects of soluble corn fiber alone or in synbiotic combination with lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and the pilus-deficient derivative GG-PB12 on fecal microbiota, metabolism, and markers of immune function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study in healthy elderly (Saimes Study). Frontiers in immunology. 2017 Dec 12;8:1443.