Research into the human microbiome has really started to take off in recent years.
In fact, we now know that your microbiome—the environment in your gut and mouth and on your skin where billions of healthy bacteria live—is really “ground zero” for your heath. And it influences everything from your mood to your metabolism to your lifespan!
Of course, your microbiome changes as you age. And these changes can actually speed up the aging process and lead to chronic diseases, such as Type II diabetes.
So, scientists have recently begun to use high-tech tools to study and quantify these changes.
For example, a team of scientists from IBM and the University of San Diego (USD) recently used an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to predict a person’s chronological age based on taking a sample of their GI microbiome. And here’s what they found…
Fewer, less diverse bacteria in your gut as you age
For this new research, IBM and USD researchers took nearly 9,000 microbiome samples from people ages 18 to 90 years. Then, they applied AI to analyze the makeup of the samples and predict the participants’ ages.
It turns out, the skin’s microbiome is actually the most-accurate indicator of chronological age, correlating within a range of 3.8 years.
The second most accurate indicator was the oral microbiome (or mouth, which can be thought of as your upper gastrointestinal [GI] tract), correlating within a range of 4.5 years.
The GI microbiome was actually the least accurate, correlating within a range of 11.5 years. Nevertheless, the researchers came away with some other important findings about it…
They found that older people tended to have fewer bacteria and less diversity in their oral and GI microbiomes compared to younger people. Plus, it appears that people lose key protective probiotic bacteria as they get older.
To make matters worse, many older people follow poor or restricted diets, especially those who live in residential care facilities. In addition, constant hand-sanitizing (which more and more people have been practicing in recent months, due to the coronavirus) creates more problems with our normal microbiomes. In fact, it can even comprise the immune system and lead to all kinds of unusual infections. And, of course, a lifetime of taking antibiotics and other drugs add up to cause great harm to the microbiome.
Steps you can take right now to support your microbiome
Now, as you may recall, I’m always a bit skeptical of using high-tech approaches, such as AI, to influence decision-making in medicine. (I often refer back to the old adage, “garbage in, garbage out.”)
But this is one instance where they got something right. Clearly, supporting your microbiome is a key for healthy aging. So, here are some simple steps you can take to protect it—and even strengthen it—as you get older, starting today:
- Avoid taking antibiotics, which wipe out the healthy bacteria found in your GI microbiome.
- Avoid using antibacterial soaps and gels, which disrupt your skin’s microbiome.
- Eat foods that can introduce and/or support healthy bacteria in your gut, such as full-fat, organic plain dairy (like yogurts and cheeses), sauerkraut, Korean kim chi, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
- Eat “prebiotic” foods that nurture your gut bacteria, including artichokes, barley, beans, green, leafy vegetables, and steel-cut oats.
- Enjoy wine and beer in moderation, which also support your GI microbiome.
- Avoid processed foods and sugary foods, which disrupt the good bacteria in your gut.
I also get a lot of questions about taking probiotic supplements. But these popular supplements just don’t work. In fact, studies show they can cause more harm than good, as I reported in the December 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“WARNING: New research shows probiotic supplements may be doing more harm than good”). So if you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one!
“Oral, and Gut Microbiomes Predict Chronological Aging,” mSystems, Feb 2020; 5 (1) e00630-19. org.doi/10.1128/mSystems.00630-19.