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Aging & Gut Health

by previlli

The surprising link between Aging and Gut Health and what you can do about it!

Good news from the gut about aging

Finding out that our gut health plays an important role in aging and the appearance of our skin is great news! We have long believed that most aging and skin health was determined by exogenous factors like pollution, genetics, or stress. We now understand through clinical and epidemiological studies that gut health, aging, and skin quality are impacted by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The intrinsic factors are things we can control, while extrinsic factors, which are those which are out of our control, are often things that are hard wired into our genes or present in our environment. Good news! There are a lot of things in our control.

Factors determining how we age, and factors influencing skin and gut health

Diet, Yes Diet, Matters if you want to be a “SuperAger”

Dietary habits appear to have the most profound influence on gut architecture and the quality of the gut microbiota and, hence, its efficacy to the human body. Healthy eating patterns are crucial to optimal gut health and include 10+ servings of fruits and vegetables per day, healthy fats (MUFAs and PUFAs), and whole grains, ensuring a rich source of dietary fiber. A diet high in superfoods, fiber, and healthy fats will help to improve gut function, promote microbiota diversity, and activate energy metabolism.

When it comes to diet, studies have shown that in addition to eating a nutritious diet, the following items will improve your chances of living longer, boosting microbiota diversity, maintaining mental and physical health, and looking younger.

Comparison of consequences of dietary choices on gut health, including gut barrier, mucin coating, immune mediation, and gut microbiota.

Individual variability of the microbiome, personalized dietary interventions, and epigenetic interventions are finally shedding some light on why people age differently and why not all diets work equally well for everyone. Scientists have now found a correlation between the onset of chronic age-related diseases and progressive changes in the composition and activity of the microbiome. These changes in the microbiota are correlated with an increase in inflammation which has caused scientists to coin the term, “inflammaging.” 

Elderly exhibit a higher Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio when compared to adults with a concomitant reduction in protective commensal bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides

Why is our gut microbiota changing as we age? Aging has a significant impact on the gut microbiota with dramatic compositional and functional changes observed in the elderly microbiota (in general >65 years). A newly published article highlights the importance of the GI health, especially gut mucosal integrity, as we age. If we don’t take action to help build and maintain our gut architecture, then it starts to crumble as we age, causing a domino effect in the gut and through the body. Our gut is one of our hardest working organs and it has the fastest renewing tissue in the body. It needs a lot of TLC. Without extra support, as we age our gut will have lower microbiota diversity, impaired motility, reduced digestion and absorption, greater permeability, drug-induced alterations, and diminished immune and elevated inflammatory responses.

One researcher noted the importance of constantly renovating and fortifying gut architecture saying, “New insights have surfaced showing that critical functions, including intestinal stem cell regeneration and regulation of the intestinal crypt homeostasis, barrier integrity, production of regulatory cytokines, and epithelial innate immunity to pathogenic antigens change as we age.”

In general, the elderly microbiota has been characterized by a decline in microbial diversity, an increase in the abundance of opportunistic pathogens, and a decrease in species associated with short chain fatty acid (SCFA) production, in particular butyrate. Butyrate changes may be associated with slowing metabolism and increased fat storage. Additionally, less microorganism diversity in the gut was associated with increased frailty, lower quality of life, and a decrease in the abundance of microbiome gene activity related to vitamin B and essential amino acid production.

Here are 5 things you can do today to take advantage of the great new science showing that you can control many of the factors that accelerate aging and change the appearance of your skin.

Sciences show that we can slow the hands of time with these 5 things that “SuperAgers” have in common:

As we age, we naturally drift away from getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Be extremely protective of your sleep. Be religious about maintaining a sleep routine and be fastidious about sleep hygiene..

Stay Mentally Active. Push yourself to take on new challenges. Don’t let frustration or fear keep you from experiencing new things. Exercising your mind is just as important as exercising your body. Studies show that people who continue to pursue talents, hobbies, puzzles, volunteer work, and other activities that stretch their capabilities and encourage them to engage in lifelong learning reduce their risk of age-related memory problems.

Don’t give up on exercise. Studies indicate that people can lose up to 10% of their aerobic capacity every 10 years after age 30. Just 30 minutes per day of even gentle exercise like walking can make a difference. While gentle exercise is great, just because you are getting older doesn’t mean your exercise can’t raise your heart rate a bit. You can calculate your maximum target heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. You may start by just trying to reach 50% of your maximum heart rate and slowly work on increasing the intensity of your exercise. Studies show that people in their 80s who still exercise at moderate to high intensity for 20 to 45 minutes a day have an aerobic capacity of someone 30 years younger. Additionally, adding 2-3 days per week of appropriate weight-bearing exercise will help maintain lean muscle and prevent bone loss. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program. 

Stay connected, reach out to both family and friends, but also seek experiences to make new friends. Be involved in your community, family, and friend groups. People who remain socially active also tend to be happier, suffer from fewer illnesses, and stay cognitively intact longer than people who spend most of their time alone. 

Wear Sunblock. Sun exposure and smoking are two of the biggest deleterious factors related to the physical manifestations of aging. Smoking, junk food, stress, and UV sun exposure can all lead to the premature aging of your skin. Your skin will thank you for sunblock and refraining from smoking. 

Guard Your Gut Health. One of the things that all items above have in common is that they also support good gut health. Sleep, exercise, skin health, social interactions, and eating healthy have all been shown to have a positive impact on gut structure and microbiota diversity and balance. Adding a variety of prebiotics and gut nutrients to your diet can help you delay or offset the changes that are common with age. While microbiome diversity has been shown to significantly decrease in subjects 63-76, the microbiota of centenarians (99–104 years) seems to recover or maintain a much “younger” microorganism profile. Specifically, they have been shown to maintain (or increase) levels of important bifidogenic bacteria, mucosal microorganisms and continue to produce levels of short chain fatty acids similar to much younger subjects. You can help maintain diversity in your gut by eating a wide selection of superfoods; fruits, vegetables and other prebiotics; and giving your gut important down time for repairs and generation by limiting your food intake to 12 hours or less per day. (Not for people on certain kinds of medications or medical conditions. Consult your healthcare professional before making any significant changes in diet.)

Branca, Francesco et al. “Transforming the food system to fight non-communicable diseases.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 364 l296. 28 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1136/bmj.l296 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30692128/


Greenhalgh K, Meyer KM, Aagaard KM, Wilmes P. The human gut microbiome in health: establishment and resilience of microbiota over a lifetime. Environ Microbiol. 2016 Jul;18(7):2103-16. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13318. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27059297/


Mariat, D et al. “The Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio of the human microbiota changes with age.” BMC microbiology vol. 9 123. 9 Jun. 2009, doi:10.1186/1471-2180-9-123. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19508720/


Mills S, Stanton C, Lane JA, Smith GJ, Ross RP. Precision Nutrition and the Microbiome, Part I: Current State of the Science. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 24;11(4):923. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31022973/


van Tongeren, Sandra P et al. “Fecal microbiota composition and frailty.” Applied and environmental microbiology vol. 71,10 (2005): 6438-42. doi:10.1128/AEM.71.10.6438-6442.2005. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16204576/

1.       https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30692128/

2.       https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27059297/

3.       https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19508720/

4.       https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31022973/

5.       https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16204576/

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