These ecosystems seem to change as we age—and these changes potentially put us at increased risk for age-related diseases. So how can we best care for them in old age? And can a Class A ecosystem help fight disease and help us live longer, healthier lives?
It’s a question I’ve pondered over this week, in part because I know some people who have had to take antibiotics to treat a winter infection. These drugs – although they can save lives – can cause mass destruction of gut bacteria, eliminating both the good and the bad. How can the people who use them best recover a healthy ecosystem afterwards?
I also found a recent study in which scientists looked at thousands of samples of human gut bacteria populations to see how they change with age. The standard approach to finding out what type of bacteria is living in a person’s intestines is to look at the stool. The idea is that when we have a bowel movement, we excrete a lot of gut bacteria. Scientists can work out what species and strains of bacteria are present to estimate what’s in your gut.
For the study, a team based at University College Cork in Ireland analyzed data that had been collected from 21,000 human stool samples. They come from people all over the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. Nineteen nationalities were represented. The samples ranged from adults aged 18 to 100.
The authors of this study wanted to better understand what constitutes a “good” microbiome, especially as we age. Microbiologists have struggled to solve this problem. We know that certain bacteria can produce compounds that are good for our gut. For example, some seem to aid digestion, while others reduce inflammation.
But when it comes to the entire ecosystem, things get more complicated. Currently, the accepted wisdom is that diversity seems to be a good thing—the more microorganisms, the better. Some scientists believe that unique microbiomes also have benefits, and a different set of bacteria from the norm could help keep you healthy.
The team looked at how young people’s microbiomes compare with older adults’ microbiomes, and how they seem to change with age. The scientists also looked at how the microbial ecosystem changes with unhealthy signs of aging, such as cognitive decline, depression and inflammation.
They found that our microbiomes seem to change with age, and that in general, our gut ecosystems tend to become more unique—we seem to lose aspects of our microbiome. “core” organisms in general and towards a different microbiome. individual one.
But this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, this uniqueness seems to be related to the unhealthy aging process and the development of the age-related symptoms listed above, which we should all prevent as long as possible. the better. And measuring diversity alone doesn’t tell us much about whether the bugs in our gut are helpful in this regard.
These findings reinforce what these researchers and others have seen before, challenging the notion that uniqueness is a good thing. Another group came up with a good analogy, called Anna Karenina’s principle of the microbiome: “All happy microbiomes are the same; Every unhappy microbiome is unhappy in its own way.”
The big question, of course, is: What can we do to maintain a happy microbiome? And can it really help us prevent age-related diseases?
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that, overall, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber is good for the gut. A few years ago, researchers discovered that after 12 months of following the Mediterranean diet – a diet high in olive oil, nuts, beans and fish, as well as fruits and vegetables – the the older. have seen changes in their microbiome that may benefit their health. These changes are associated with a reduced risk of developing asthenia and cognitive decline.
But on an individual level, we can’t really be sure about the effects of changes to our diets. Probiotics are a prime example; You can kill millions of bacteria, but that doesn’t mean they will survive their journey to your gut. Even if they do, we don’t know if they can form niches in the current ecosystem or if they might cause some kind of unwanted disruption. Some microbial ecosystems can respond very well to fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, while others do not.
Personally, I like kimchi and sauerkraut. If they really do support my microbiome in a way that protects me from age-related diseases, it’s just the icing on the cake that’s less microbiome-friendly.
For further reading, check out these stories from the Tech Review archive:
At-home microbiome tests can tell you what germs are in your stool, but not much more than that, because Emily Mullin found.
Industrial scale fermentation is one of the technologies that change the way we produce and process food, According to these experts.
Can restricting your calories help you live longer? It seems to work for monkeys, like Katherine Bourzac wrote in 2009.
Adam Piore bravely tried calorie restriction to find out if it can also help people. The teaser: even if you live longer on the diet, you’ll be miserable doing so.
From around the web:
Would you pay $15,000 to save your cat’s life? Many people are turning to expensive surgery to prolong the life of their pet. (Atlantic)
The World Health Organization will begin using the term “mpox” instead of “monkeypox,” will be phased out over the next year. (WHO)
Technology that allows scientists to listen to the natural world is revealing some truly amazing discoveries. Who knew that Amazon sea turtles make over 200 distinct sounds? And that they start making sounds before they hatch? (Guard)
These recordings provide plenty of inspiration for musicians. Whale songs are particularly popular. (New Yorkers)
Scientists are using tiny worms to diagnose pancreatic cancer. The beta was launched in Japan and could be available in the US next year. (Reuters)