With the onset of COVID-19 research on probiotics has focused on how they support the gut microbiome in helping defeat viruses. But new research is highlighting how important it is for healthy aging and overall longevity.

According to the research, published in the journal Nature Metabolism, the health of a person’s gut microbiome is directly linked to whether the individual has a healthy or unhealthy “aging trajectory.”

As the term implies, an aging trajectory is able to accurately predict longevity in a population of older individuals.

Based on a 4-year follow-up, having a unique and diverse mix of gut bacteria was a good indicator of higher survivability.

Understanding of the gut microbiome continues to be a hot topic among scientists, especially in the age of pandemics, but its importance in the human aging process isn’t entirely clear. Researchers hope this preliminary study will help pave the way for more studies highlighting the importance of a healthy gut as a person ages. 

Study details

In this study, a research team analyzed the gut microbiome and other clinical data from over 9,000 people.

The information was culled from three independent cohorts, and the subjects ranged in age from 18 to 101 years old.

The research was carried-out by the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), a non-profit scientific research organization located in Seattle, in cooperation with researchers from five participating U.S. universities.

The team focused, in particular, on a cohort of over 900 community-dwelling older individuals. Their ages ranged from 78-98 years old, with health and survival outcomes readily available.

The researchers found that gut microbiomes became increasingly unique as individuals aged. The trend started in mid-to-late adulthood and corresponded with a steady decline in the abundance of common bacteria (bacteria that tends to be shared across humans).

Unique and diverse gut microbiomes support health as we age

The researchers noted that while microbiomes became increasingly unique to those individuals in the “healthy aging” group, the metabolic functions the microbiomes were carrying out to promote health shared common traits.

For example, uniqueness was highly correlated with several microbially-derived metabolites in blood plasma. One of these metabolites, phenylacetylglutamine, has been shown in earlier studies to be highly elevated in the blood of people living past the age of 100.

Still other metabolites have been associated with uniqueness and longevity in studies on mice.

“Interestingly, this uniqueness pattern appears to start in mid-life—40-50 years old—and is associated with a clear blood metabolomic signature, suggesting that these microbiome changes may not simply be diagnostic of healthy aging, but that they may also contribute directly to health as we age,” said ISB Research Scientist Dr. Tomasz Wilmanski, who led the study.

The research highlights the fact that the adult gut microbiome continues to develop, and needs to be supported, even at an advanced age.

Though just a preliminary study, the finding that diversity and uniqueness in gut bacteria equates to an overall healthier individual has been corroborated by other studies.

This research project was supported in part by a Catalyst Award in Healthy Longevity. This grant is provided by the National Academy of Medicine, and the Longevity Consortium of the National Institute on Aging.

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Sources: Nature Metabolism, Nutraceuticals World.