Aging Microbiomes: A New Wrinkle for the Elderly

Guest BloggerMicrobiome Environment


Expect to live at least a few decades longer than your ancestors born a century ago. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, not all of those bonus years promise the joys of good health.

Aging bodies and minds are much more susceptible to disease. Aging changes are inevitable and built into the DNA of every cell. The immune system weakens in aging, making the elderly more likely to catch colds, flus, and also deadly infections from germs including Clostridium difficile which are rampant in hospitals.

Our microbiome in aging

A new line of thinking implicates our microbiomes in the aging process.

Yale Medical School Professor Vincent Quagliarello, MD discussed the vagaries of the microbiome in older adults at the Harvard Probiotics Symposium held in 2016.

There are “a myriad of clinical changes, including a basal proinflammatory state (inflamm-aging), that directly interface with the microbiota of older adults and enhance susceptibility to disease accompany aging,” according to Quagliarello.

The microbiota have been linked to other physical conditions that affect older adults, detailed in “The microbiota and microbiome in aging: potential implications in health and age-related diseases,” which appeared in the Journal of American Geriatric Society in April of 2015 by Heidi Zapata and Vincent Quagliarello.

One recent study with elderly people demonstrated diet as a force in microbiota alterations in respect to different rates of frailty in aging.

Thus, microbiome structure and function are quite different at the end of our time on earth. Disease states, exercise and diet all impact the changes.

Changes in the microbiome in aging
  • Reduction in Bacteroidetes/Firmicutes (B/F) in the intestinal microbiota of aging rats.
  • Diversity of the intestinal microbiota of aging rats is also reduced.
  • Increase in pathogenic bacteria in rats

In addition, a new study looked at a peptide tasked with fortifying gut walls. It seems that a growth factor called glucagon-like peptide 2 (GLP-2) reduces intestinal permeability and affects intestinal microbiota. Effect of Aging and Glucagon-like Peptide 2 on Intestinal Microbiota in SD Rats appeared in Aging and Disease in August of 2018.

Baseline data show that young and aged rats differ in diversity and structure of the intestinal microbiota: old ones show less diverse microbiomes.

Following administration with GLP-2 in a random controlled design with rats, changes to the diversity and relative abundance of the intestinal microbiota were monitored.

Results: GLP-2 changed the intestinal microbiota of aging rats by decreasing the abundance of some harmful bacteria and increasing some potentially beneficial bacteria. However the diversity was not enhanced with GLP-2 treatment.

The results add one more avenue to explore to improve microbiome changes wrought by aging. Someday those added years may also be healthier years.

Other reading from IPA:

Probiotics and Alzheimer’s Disease: Rich in Potential

Probiotics May Improve Immunity in Aging

How Gray are your Microbes?

In Old Age, Our Altered Microbiomes Can Lead to Disease

Microbe Changes at 100 Years Old