05 . 2020
While it would seem that your gut microbiome would simply never age due to its ability to regenerate itself, it is unfortunately not the case. Studies show that the gut microbiome of a 30-something is different than that of a centenarian. This goes beyond, “Grandpa’s poop smells weird.” In a study comparing the gut microbiome of Northern Italian centenarians to young adults (30-somethings), they found that the elders had a loss of generally healthy microbes and an increase in inflammatory microbes. The genetic makeup of the elder microbiome was less capable of processing fiber and producing short-chain fatty acids.
As you may recall from my prior article on SCFAs and exercise, they are the currency of gut health and critical to health throughout the body. So to be less capable of producing them is a sign of diminished health… or ageing.
In a different study out of Ireland, they showed that ageing was associated with a decline in diversity in the gut. Diversity is important to gut health, and when we lose diversity we tend to make ourselves vulnerable to disease. Once again, they saw the loss of the microbes that produce SCFAs.
Taken together, it appears that the gut microbiome does in fact decline with age, and that these changes may help to explain the emergence of disease that occurs as we age. For example, one study found that brain amyloid, the thing that causes Alzheimer’s, was associated with an increased level of pro-inflammatory microbes in cognitively impaired elderly.
Maintaining a healthy gut as we age doesn’t happen by accident. Frankly, it doesn’t happen by accident for any of us, does it? Our 21st-century lifestyle is largely working against us when it comes to gut health. In considering the changes that occur with age, it comes as no surprise that diet and antibiotic use appear to be the driving factors. For example, rates of antibiotic prescriptions are actually rising in the elderly, and even more so among those 80 years of age or living in a residential care facility. Regarding dietary choices, bear in mind that as we age there can be altered dentition, salivary function, taste, and smell – all of which may contribute to changes in eating habits.
So how do we take control of our gut microbiome as we age? Here are a few approaches:
Image Source: meatseafood.com
 Biagi et al., “Through Ageing, and Beyond.”
 Claesson et al., “Composition, Variability, and Temporal Stability of the Intestinal Microbiota of the Elderly.”
 Cattaneo et al., “Association of Brain Amyloidosis with Pro-Inflammatory Gut Bacterial Taxa and Peripheral Inflammation Markers in Cognitively Impaired Elderly.”
 Lee et al., “Outpatient Antibiotic Prescribing in the United States”; Lim, Kong, and Stuart, “Reducing Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescribing in the Residential Care Setting.”