Gut health, it probably seems like we’re going on and on about it. It’s with good reason. The gut as the gateway between nutrients and all the places they need to go is paramount to our health and has not been emphasized enough. Many studies have proposed that a healthy gut can help you live longer! How so? Let’s take a look.
What Is The Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome can be thought of as a network of trillions of microorganisms that coexist to help break down the food we eat. A healthy gut has a nice balance of these organisms, but many things can disrupt this balance such as antibiotics, other bacteria-destroying medication, or certain diets.
[READ: The Worst Foods for Gut Health]
The Signs of a Healthy Gut for Longevity
Less diversity in the gut microbiome in older adults has generally been linked to frailty. And oppositely, healthier seniors were found to have more diverse gut bacteria.
So are there any specific strains or combinations of strains that can lengthen your lifespan? There might be.
In a recent study, researchers examined the gut bacteria of 160 centenarians (people aged 100 years or over) with an average age of 107. They compared the gut microbe composition of this group to that of two other groups; 112 people aged 85 to 89, and 47 people aged 21 to 55.
The results showed that centenarians had a distinct "signature" of gut microbes not seen in the other two age groups. Specifically, this signature was that certain bacterial strains did in fact exist in greater and smaller numbers in the centenarian group. Read more about the study findings.
Is There a Link Between Gut Health and Disease?
With the correlation between gut health and longevity and aging, the question arises as to whether we can use gut microbiome composition as a disease predictor. Concrete differences have been found between the gut microbiomes of those who suffered from various diseases and healthy individuals. However, a causal link or a specific “disease-causing signature” doesn’t seem to have been determined.
We should also mention here that 70% of your immune system resides in the gut. So your ability to fight off infectious diseases relies on a healthy gut.
How the Gut Typically Changes as You Age
Generally, once we begin to eat solid food, the gut is relatively stable and diverse. Then around age 60, the gut microbiome can become less diverse. Cedars Sinai has identified a strain of disruptive microbes called coliforms. While normally present, they can overpopulate and negatively affect the gut microbiome.
The Link Between Gut and Brain Aging
In a mouse study cited in Nature Aging, fecal microbiota cultures were transplanted from young mice to old ones. The result? The effect of aging on learning and memory was reversed! Of course, as with all studies, it may not apply directly or at all to humans but it is an interesting look into how the gut and brain are linked.
[READ: 11 Good Mood Foods to Brighten Your Day]
How the Gut Microbiome Affects Specific Health Areas
Just as important as longevity is our quality of life and overall health. With that in mind let’s take a look at how the gut microbiome affects specific health areas.
As one would expect, the gut microbiome has a strong relationship with our metabolic health. Specifically, microbial metabolites have an effect on liver activity and endocrine system function.
When these systems don’t work right, it can lead to obesity or metabolic syndrome, either of which may shorten your lifespan.
Gut Health and Mental Wellness
Interestingly, there’s a feedback loop where your gut health may also affect your neurological health in the areas of cognition and mood to the extent that there is a class of probiotics called “psychobiotics.”
Stress and other neurological conditions contribute to our longevity in a number of ways. For example, “stress eating” often involves junk food which can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and more. So a healthy gut may help to fend off the negative effects of excessive stress.
So How Can You Maintain a Healthy Gut?
We’ve previously covered 15 Gut Health Hacks for a Healthier You. But if you want a quick mnemonic device, just think “PPE.”
[READ: Gut Health Foods: Probiotic, Prebiotic and Enzyme Rich Foods You Should Be Eating]
Probiotics can be found in a number of ways including supplements or fermented foods. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt or unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.
Probiotics are rightly emphasized for our gut health. But to help them proliferate, they need prebiotic fiber to feed on. Oatmeal, bananas, asparagus, leeks, onions, and garlic are all densely packed with prebiotics.
Your digestive system uses various enzymes to break down the food you eat. For various reasons, these enzymes can be depleted and you might benefit from an enzyme supplement or eating foods that are rich in these such as pineapple, papaya, avocado, banana, mango, miso, or ginger.
The human gut is home to thousands of bacterial strains. The makeup of one’s gut microbes can tell us about his or her health and perhaps longevity. There is evidence to suggest the gut’s relationship with specific health areas like cognition, mood, and metabolism.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have immediate concerns about your health, please seek the help of your physician.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
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