That’s not a pair of words most people hear very often, much less even know what it means.
In case you’re like me and didn’t know much about gut microbes:
Essentially, gut microbiota are tiny living organisms that reside in your gut and GI tract.
We provide them food and a cozy place to live and in return, they play a vital role in helping us digest our food.
In the scientific world, this cohabitation is called a symbiotic relationship, where both parties benefit from each other.
It might sound kind of gross thinking about all these little bacteria that swim around in our gut, but they play a vital role in food digestion and immunity.
More recently, it has been discovered that gut microbes may play a role in aging.
And who doesn’t want to live longer and look younger while doing it?
In this case, aging means a gradual decrease in function and ability due to tissue damage & decay and faulty self-repairing mechanisms within the body.
While it might seem a little absurd that these microbes could have that large of an influence on our health, but the evidence is pointing us in that direction.
Gut Microbe Origins
But where do these microorganisms come from in the first place?
Well, in the microbe community, that’s a hot topic.
Some evidence suggests that newborns get their first microbes from their mothers through ingesting breast milk. Other studies have data suggesting that babies’ first microbe communities are determined by the method of birth, whether through vaginal or Cesarean (C-section) delivery.
Another school of thought (yes, another!) is babies obtain microbes while in the womb even before birth!
Once a baby is born, it will continue to get microbes essential for gut health from their mom until they start to consume solid food. After that, their gut microbiota population will start to vary based on foods they frequently eat.
So no two people have the exact same microbe population because everyone eats slightly differently.
Like most subjects in the medical field, the exact method of natal exposure to microbes is highly debated.
What we do know is that microbes are essential for our physical well-being.
We also know that our microbe composition varies from person to person and that diet plays a huge role in the variety of microorganisms in our gut. Just as humans mature over time (at least, that’s what we hope for), our gut microbes mature over time with us.
In fact, in many ways, gut microbes are like mini humans!
Like us, they age, are active during certain times of day (scientific term: diurnal rhythmicity), and feed at varying times. And just like humans highly benefit from interacting with diverse populations, microbes work best in diverse conditions.
I guess Mom was onto something when she said to make my plate as colorful as possible, eh?
Can Age Be Altered?
So how do gut microbes come into play with aging?
Well, remember how I said microbes are kind of like mini humans?
Like humans, gut microbes age over time and can decline in function and ability as they get older. In fact, older microbes might actually cause symptoms of age in humans, like inflammation in the GI tract, changes in muscle composition, leading to muscle degradation, and other age-related issues.
So the thought process is, what if we could somehow keep our gut microbes young and fresh?
Could this help in the way humans age and prevent complications?
Or at least use them as an indication to determine if someone is susceptible to developing complications like type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, neurological diseases, and more?
Enter in gut microbe transplants.
Essentially, several studies have looked at the effects of transferring microbes from young mice and pigs to older mice and pigs, respectively.
One study that used mice specifically transplanted gut microbes from some older mice (24 months old) into young mice (42 days old) and watched what happened.
They also monitored gut microbes in other older mice to see how their composition changed over time. After several weeks, they discovered several interesting finds.
Firstly, they found that essential microbes like probiotic bacteria and short-chain fatty-acid producers decreased in older mice over time. This was expected and confirmed what many researchers already suspected.
Secondly, they found that the younger mice actually had a spike in a fatty-acid producer called butyrate. The spike in butyrate appeared to cause an increase in intestinal development and brain neuron production.
Boy, were those researchers surprised with those secondary findings!
Their evidence suggests that while some microbes degrade over time, some actually mature and get better with time (just like good wine).
Another study was published around the same time.
Their evidence suggests the same thing! That gut microbes mature at different rates!
Unfortunately, both studies were performed using animals, so researchers are unsure if this phenomenon will apply to humans as well.
Clearly, more studies need to be done to give a definitive answer on the effects of age and gut microbes, but it appears there is a connection.
If true, this opens up a whole new world (cue Aladdin and Jasmine flying on a magic carpet) in the fields of health & wellness and aging!
Doesn’t new research just get you so excited?!?!?!