A good gut feeling
The most recent findings from Eldermet published last Friday in British journal Nature show that the individual microbiota of people in long-stay care is significantly less diverse than that of community dwellers – due mainly to differences in diet – and loss of community-associated microbiota correlates with increased frailty.
The researchers studied the faecal microbiota composition from 178 elderly subjects living in the community, day-hospital, rehabilitation or in long-term residential care. While other factors undoubtedly contribute to health decline, this new data suggests that diet shapes the microbiota which then affects health in older people.
The authors explain: “Diet-determined differences in microbiota composition may have subtle impacts in young adults in developed countries. These would be difficult to correlate with health parameters, but become far more evident in the elderly who are immunophysiologically compromised. This is supported by the stronger microbiota-health associations evident in the long-stay cohort, and there is now a reasonable case for microbiota-related acceleration of ageing-related health deterioration.”
The association of the intestinal microbiota of older people with inflammation and the clear association between diet and microbiota outlined in this and previous studies argue in favour of an approach of modulating the microbiota with dietary interventions designed to promote healthier ageing.
“Dietary supplements with defined food ingredients that promote particular components of the microbiota may prove useful for maintaining health in older people.
On a community basis, microbiota profiling . . . offers the potential for biomarker-based identification of individuals at risk for, or undergoing, less-healthy ageing,” the authors state.
Findings published from the Eldermet project earlier this year confirmed that the gut microbiota of older people was strikingly different from that of younger people.
However, more unexpectedly, the research also showed that there was a huge variation of gut microbiota among the cohort of older people, mainly from the Munster area.
“There was also a striking variation in the proportion or number of bacteria associated with disease found among the older group. Some people had very high levels of potentially harmful bacteria and very little good bacteria. This is the generation beyond probiotics and we believe our findings will probably have good application in some new products,” Dr O’Toole says.