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Healthy Ageing and your Gut Microbiota

Healthy Ageing and your Gut Microbiota, Supporting Your Gut Microbiota to Promote Healthy Ageing Naturopath Kirily Thomas

As I contemplate entering the start of my sixth decade on Earth (even if I can’t quite believe that this is possible), considerations surrounding supporting healthy ageing and reducing the risk of cognitive decline are understandably starting to pop-up in my thoughts from time to time, and I am sure that some of my fellow middle-aged patients may also be thinking about this too. So I thought I would share some information on the link between healthy ageing and your gut microbiota.

The good news is that there is lots we can do to improve health outcomes as we age. And you guessed it, one of the big ways we can do this is by looking at the health of our microbes in our gut microbiota!

In western countries, the balance of our microbiota generally changes as we age. It is thought that this is probably caused by age-related changes in gut function, a progressive change in diet with poor, or restricted, food choices that are lacking in dietary diversity and fibre, spending less time in nature, exercising less, having less sleep and the increased use of pharmaceutical medications.

Due to these changes, we can be more prone to dysbiosis (an imbalanced gut microbiota) as we age. Some common changes may include a reduction in microbial diversity (a less rich rainforest), decreased butyrate producers (my favourite all important anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acid), and an overall trend of increasing pro-inflammatory microbes with a corresponding reduction in beneficial species (including key species such as Bifidobacterium ssp. and Akkermansia spp.).

Age-related conditions associated with dysbiosis

What’s so important about these possible changes to our microbiota as we age, is what age-related conditions dysbiosis can be associated with, and I’m sure that many will sound familiar! Some examples of these conditions include (the specifics of which could be the subject matter for many more blogs!):

  • Cognitive decline
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Frailty
  • Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass)
  • Inflammation (or inflammaging)
  • Immune dysregulation
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability)

How to look after our beneficial gut flora as we age?

Well, if you’ve read a few blogs of mine before this is all going to sound pretty familiar 🙂. We need to support our digestion to help us get most nutrition from our food, and in addition to supporting our beneficial microbes through diet, a healthy gut microbiota is supported by a diverse, unprocessed, wholefood diet that is high in plant-based foods, rich in fibre, moderate fat, moderate protein and has a lot of variety – wholegrains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts. As well as nourishing us, what we eat also nourishes our gut flora, promoting their growth into healthy populations of beneficial flora.

If we support our beneficial gut microbes through our diet and improve our gut health, this can then translate into our improved general health and reduced inflammation because of the valuable metabolites our beneficial gut flora produces (like butyrate). If you improve your dietary diversity (depending on tolerance), so you are eating a wide variety of different plant foods every week, this increases your exposure to compounds that feed beneficial flora such as:

  • Polyphenols (all those lovely deep colours) – berries, green tea, purple cabbage, red carrots, olives, olive oil
  • Resistant starches – cooked and cooled potatoes, legumes
  • Insoluble fibre – potatoes, nuts, green beans, cauliflower
  • Soluble fibre – oats, rye, legumes, apples, psyllium
  • Mucilage – flaxseeds, chia, seaweeds
  • Prebiotic-like foods – carrots, cacao, brown rice, blackcurrants, almonds (with skin)
  • Prebiotic-rich foods – asparagus, onion, garlic, artichoke
  • Monounsaturated fats (more microbiome friendly than saturated fats) – olive oil, macadamias
  • Fermented foods (transient assistance only) – small amounts of sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha
  • Prebiotics – PHGG, FOS/Inulin and GOS

Other important activities that can support a diverse gut microbiota are gardening, spending time in nature, and moderate exercise.

How do I know what’s happening with my gut?

How to know if your gut microbiome is imbalanced or high in pro-inflammatory microbes or if you have a low diversity? The best way is via gut microbiome analysis, ensuring you use a highly trained practitioner (preferably a microbiome analyst) and a certified lab like Microba/Co-Biome that use validated sequencing techniques and have strict testing parameters. Microbiome analysis provides me with the detailed information I need to give you a run-down of who’s who in your own unique gut microbiota. This includes what your overall bacterial diversity is like (how many species hang out in your “rainforest”), who exactly is living in there, in what kind of numbers (populations) and are the bacteria who hang out in your large intestine known to be beneficial to our health, or could they possibly have a detrimental and/or inflammatory influence. You can read more information about microbiome analysis here.

I hope this has given you a starting point in thinking about healthy ageing and your gut microbiota might look like for you and your lifestyle. If you would like some help, please book in for a consultation.


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