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What does your gut tell you about your life expectancy?

April 22, 2021

Woman stomach microbiome

The trillions of microbes in our guts change over a lifetime – more for some than others. Bigger changes in the composition of our gut microbiomes later in life correlate with longer, healthier lives.

That’s according to new research by the Institute of Systems Biology published in Nature Metabolism. It showed that young adults tend to have similar microbiomes, and in middle age they often diverge into more differentiated compositions. The greater the genetic divergence through old age, the healthier and longer the life, say researchers. It’s the opposite for patients whose microbiomes changed little.

The findings flip the script on popular assumptions about aging well.

“A lot of aging research is obsessed with returning people to a younger state or turning back the clock,” study co-author Sean Gibbons told the New York Times. “But here the conclusion is very different. Maybe a microbiome that’s healthy for a 20-year-old is not at all healthy for an 80-year-old. It seems that it’s good to have a changing microbiome when you’re old. It means that the bugs that are in your system are adjusting appropriately to an aging body.”

Large study population, many samples

Gibbons and his colleagues looked at data on more than 9,000 adults age 18 through 101 who had their microbiomes genetically sequenced. Over the years, the makeup of microbiomes generally diverged from one another.

“People who had the most changes in their microbial compositions tended to have better health and longer life spans,” theTimes reported in its review of the research. “They had higher vitamin D levels and lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. They needed fewer medications, and they had better physical health, with faster walking speeds and greater mobility.”

Their blood contained metabolites, produced by gut microbes, that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Another metabolite is found in high levels in some Northern Italians who live past 100.

Understanding the relationship between microbiomes, genes, blood composition and healthy aging often requires analysis of human biospecimens such as blood and stool. iSpecimen regularly supplies researchers with human biospecimens like these.

“This is exciting work that we think will have major clinical implications for monitoring and modifying gut microbiome health throughout a person’s life,” said ISB Professor Dr. Nathan Price, co-corresponding author of the paper.

We look forward to seeing how this plays out in the clinic – and perhaps in our diets.

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