I really liked this summary article on Medical Net about the bacterial microbiome through the aging process.[i] It is certainly worth a post, as all of us are getting older every day! 🙂
- Multiple factors can lead to dysbiosis as we age:
- Poor nutrient intake because of poor dental health. Those with fewer teeth, for example, will avoid hard-to-chew foods like those higher in fiber.
- Poor intestinal motility is both the result and the cause of dysbiosis. Remember that reduced physical activity can lead to poor motility.
- The overuse of antibiotics, of course, negatively alters the microbiome, destroying an average of 33% of good flora. Many of us end up on too many antibiotics throughout the course of our lives.
- The chronic use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like Advil and Motrin) and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), both too commonly used in the elderly population, are also extremely problematic in terms of gut health.
- Other risk factors facing the elderly include:
- Hospital-induced infections like clostridia. Clostridia overgrowth is not only very dangerous (inducing chronic, potentially life-threatening diarrhea), but it reduces the quantity of good, short-chain-fatty-acid producing bacteria. (You can read more about that in this post.) Remember that a reduction in these good bacteria can compromise the health of the gut epithelial barrier, which allows toxins to pass into the blood stream.
- Reduction of immune function and increasing levels of inflammation as we age (read more about inflamm-aging here) can lead to an increase in bad bacteria and…and vice versa.
- A reduction of good bacteria can cause frailty in the elderly by reducing appetite and nutrient intake.
One factor the article does not mention that I would be willing to bet is a huge factor in the elderly is loneliness. Remember that stress is a biome-destroyer. I remember reading an article last year about this that really struck me. A new study had shown that loneliness is as much a “silent killer” as obesity and smoking.[ii] One meta-analysis of 70 studies that involved almost 3.5 million people from all over the world, “…looked at the impact social isolation, loneliness and living alone have on mortality. The team found that these three factors had a significant impact on the risk of premature death, placing it on par with, or even exceeding, other well-known risk factors like obesity.”
As you all know, a healthy gut biome can help combat many age-related disorders, ranging from frailty to Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s to cardiovascular diseases and more. A healthy diet that is high in fiber is a great first step. Making sure the older people in our lives are not isolated though is equally as crucial.