It’s a well-known fact that our diets play a role in our general well-being, but research shows that your gut health is actually vital for healthy aging. As we grow older, we will inevitably experience changes in our gut microbiomes, such as decreased diversity and fewer beneficial microbes. In a recent webinar, Cheryl Burdette, N.D. joins us to discuss the interplay between the gut microbiome and the aging process.
Let’s dive a little deeper into aging and the gut:
How aging affects the gut microbiome
We’re likely all aware of the typical outward signs associated with aging — more pronounced wrinkles, dryer skin and the growth of gray hairs — but other changes like loss of lean tissue and diminished bone density aren’t immediately visible to us. Similarly, changes in the gut microbiome can increase intestinal permeability, which can cause complications without being apparent to you or your physician. As we age, we see a decrease in digestive enzymes, less mucosal immunity and overall a less diverse microbiome. Age-related illnesses can also impact the microbiome, increasing instances of infections, antibiotic usage and comorbidities which can disrupt digestion and strip the microbiome of beneficial bacteria. Opportunistic bacteria that can cause infections also increase as we grow older, heightening the risk for complications in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s important to keep in mind that microbes that may have been harmless or even beneficial to us in our younger years can become harmful in old age.
How to keep your gut microbiome diverse
1. Diversify your diet
It’s no surprise that one of the best ways to keep your microbiome stocked with healthy bacteria is to be mindful of what you use to fuel your body. A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains and healthy fats can help diversify your gut microbiome and keep you healthy. Meats like fish are a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids that can help lubricate the digestive tract and keep the body running smoothly. When you feed yourself, it’s important to remember that you’re feeding your body’s microbes too — if you take care of them by eating fiber-rich foods and whole foods like fruits and veggies, they’ll help keep your overall health stable. Plus, giving your body substantial nourishment prevents your microbes from munching on the protective mucus layer that lines the gut.
2. Exercise regularly
Not only does exercise help you digest food more efficiently, but it also changes the composition of your gut microbiome, making you healthier from the inside out. Regular exercise can help beneficial disease-fighting microbes become even stronger and therefore better able to protect your body. Other lasting effects of exercise include a healthier immune system as well as a reduction in stress, which can allow the body to function better. Short-term effects like increased blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system lead to quicker and more effective digestion, delivering nutrients to your body’s cells swiftly and with increased efficiency. We recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.
3. Use probiotic supplements
Probiotic supplements can help your digestive system break down fiber, which increases nutrient intake and even produces beneficial fatty acids and vitamins. These live bacteria offer immediate benefits, helping your body digest foods and nutrients — even those which are considered difficult to metabolize, like lactose. Sources of live active cultures of probiotics include yogurt, fermented foods like cabbage and pickles, sourdough bread and even olives.
4. Avoid processed foods and sugar
It’s no surprise that highly-processed foods and sugar can take a toll on your health, but did you know that they can disrupt your gut microbiome? Research has shown that those maintaining a healthy lifestyle see a decrease in Bacteroides as their microbiome changes. These bacteria are commonly seen in developed countries where people eat a lot of processed foods full of fat, sugar and salt, and may increase risk of infections while exhibiting resistance to antibiotics.