Today we begin a 3-part series about healthy aging and gut bacteria...
Chances are good that you’ve heard about the microbiome, which is the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit primarily our digestive tract but are also found throughout our body. Our genetics determine the makeup of our unique microbiome at birth, and we are then exposed to various microorganisms throughout our life via the environment and foods we eat that change the composition of our individual microbiome on an ongoing basis. More and more research is showing the important role that the microbiome plays in health, and how our food choices influence the composition of the microbiome.
The microbiome contains some organisms that are beneficial and others that can promote disease. When the disease-promoting microorganisms outnumber the beneficial ones, the imbalance makes us more susceptible to chronic disease.
Previous research suggested that a poor diet that is low in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and fresh foods reduces the types of helpful bacteria in the microbiome, which then plays a role in increased physical frailty and possible dementia as we age.
If you want to stay physically strong and mentally vibrant as you age, eating to promote a healthy microbiome is one strategy to consider. New research published in the journal Gut shows that changing our food choices to increase the variety and amount of helpful microorganisms in our microbiome has a strong impact on aging. The researchers analyzed the gut (digestive tract) microbiome of 612 people age 65-79 years living in five different countries: France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, and the UK both before starting a 12-month trial of an eating plan they call NU-AGE, and after 12 months of changing their food choices.
Study participants who more closely followed the NU-AGE eating plan had an increase in helpful bacterial diversity in their gut microbiome and also several indicators of reduced physical frailty, such as walking speed and hand grip strength as well as improvements in brain function such as memory. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but there’s nothing to lose in eating a healthier diet and potentially much to gain.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC
Next month, we'll be back with the details of the NU-AGE eating plan in our next installment of this new series...
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Microbiome. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/ accessed 3-29-20
- Ghosh TS, Rampelli S, Jeffery IB, et al Mediterranean diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people reducing frailty and improving health status: the NU-AGE 1-year dietary intervention across five European countries Gut Published Online First: 17 February 2020. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-319654
- Science Daily. Mediterranean Diet for one year promotes gut bacteria linked to healthy aging. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200217192025.htm published 2-17-20. Accessed 3-28-20.
- Berendsen AAM, van de Rest O, Feskens EJM, et al. Changes in Dietary Intake and Adherence to the NU-AGE Diet Following a One-Year Dietary Intervention among European Older Adults-Results of the NU-AGE Randomized Trial. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1905. Published 2018 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/nu10121905
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.