Irish Researchers Link Gut Bacteria to Healthy Aging

July 17, 2012

“The healthiest people live in a community setting, eat differently, and have a distinct microbiota compared to those in long-term residential care.”

Gut bacteria may be a measure of healthy aging, according to new research published in the journal Nature.

Researchers from University College Cork and the Teagasc Food Research Center compared the fecal microbiota of 178 elderly subjects in the South of Ireland. Subjects represented various living situations, diets, and levels of immune function, mental health, and physical health. The premise for investigating the elderly stems from observations showing that aging adults have much more varied bacterial compositions than younger adults.

In weighing the data, the researchers concluded that the bacterial profile of the gut may positively and negatively impact the health of older adults within the population. The association was most evident when considering where subjects lived, as “community dwellers” showed a significantly more varied microbiota than subjects living under long-term care. Lower bacterial variety even correlated with frailty.

“The healthiest people live in a community setting, eat differently, and have a distinct microbiota compared to those in long-term residential care,” said lead researcher and University College Cork professor Paul O’Toole, PhD. “It can be inferred from findings related to increased inflammation and increased frailty, that there is a diet-microbiota link to these indicators of accelerated aging.”

“The findings provide exciting new opportunities for the food industry, as there is now the scientific basis for developing foods to promote healthier aging,” read a Teagasc press release, referring to the fact that food ingredients can promote particular microbial growth in the gut.

The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, the Health Research Board, and Science Foundation Ireland provided funding for the study.