The scientific community is still buzzing over a fruit fly study earlier this year that showed a connection between a healthy gut microbiome and living longer. The connection may shed light on the elusive secret to living longer.
Scientists from Montreal’s McGill University fed fruit flies with a combination probiotics and an Ayurvedic herbal supplement called triphala that prolonged the fruit flies’ longevity by 60 percent (from the normal life span of 26 days to 66 days). The fruit flies also showed reduced traits of aging such as mounting insulin resistance, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
“Probiotics dramatically change the architecture of the gut microbiota, not only in its composition but also in respect to how the foods we eat are metabolized,” says Satya Prakash, professor of biomedical engineering in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and senior author of the study.
Yes, these were fruit flies, but the fruit fly is remarkably similar to mammals with about 70 percent similarity in terms of their biochemical pathways, making them a good indicator of what would happen in humans.
“Given what we know about the neuroendocrine connections between our gut microbiota and brain, it is not at all a stretch to believe the same effects noted in the fruit flies would apply to humans,” says microbiology professor Holly Ahern.
“This study shows that administering probiotics and related substances to fruit flies increases longevity,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease physician and Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The study provides important proof-of-concept and will need to be replicated in other organisms, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that alterations in the microbiome is the key to many disease processes.”
In fact, that was another important aspect of this study: The probiotics protected the fruit flies against chronic diseases associated with aging.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 80 percent of Americans age 65 and older suffer from at least one chronic disease; 68 percent have two or more chronic conditions. The top age-related chronic diseases as reported by NCOA include:
The McGill study follows several others showing much the same: The secret to longevity is in the gut. ScienceDirect published a study that concluded the changing physiology and lifestyle of elderly people affect the gut microbiota composition, which in turn impact the “health maintenance” of the ageing host.
Another report in NCBI, drew parallels between extreme longevity and a healthy gut microbiota.
Yet, conventional doctors have largely ignored the immensity of stomach bacteria and the gut microbiome’s role in our overall health – this despite volumes of research advocating the efficacy of the 70 trillion microbes (more than the stars in the Milky Way) that live in our digestive tract.
In addition to studies already completed, there were over 800 registered clinical trials (as of the first of the year) taking a look at how stomach bacteria can help us treat human diseases, according to Labiotech.eu.
Adalja believes the microbiome “holds many answers” to health and disease.
“Almost daily new research is announced linking dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) to many disease processes from infections to cancer to neurological diseases,” says Adalja.
Or as Ahern puts it:
“I think it’s safe to say that the microbiome influences all aspects of human physiology and that would include longevity.” Or, in laymen’s terms, herein lies the secret to living longer.
Gut Check – Balance Is Everything
The gut microbiome is made up of microbes such as bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and even parasites. The majority of gut microbes are beneficial and help us out in all kinds of ways such as digesting food, making vitamins, sculpting our organs, tuning our immune systems, and shaping our behavior.
The gut microbiome can be thrown out of balance and exposing us to chronic diseases in a number of ways. The problems can start early.
Increasing evidence on early microbial contact suggests that human intestinal microbiota is seeded even before birth, largely influenced by the health of the mother.
Breast-feeding has been shown to significantly increase the relative abundance of Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, including lactobacilli and Enterococcus spp.
Even the modality of our birth may influence our microbiota and subsequent health. According to Dr. Ted Dinan, a clinical psychiatrist at University College Cork in Ireland, babies born from C-sections largely get microbes from the mother’s skin, from the doctor’s skin, and from operating instruments. Babies born vaginally receive bacteria from their mother’s vagina and her fecal material.
“There are consequences to this,” says Dinan. “We know that babies born by cesarean section are more likely to have allergies and asthma than babies born per vagina. They may also be more likely to put on weight and become obese.”
More gut microbiota issues await us and become accumulative as we age. Essentially, our modern existence equals dysbiosis due to a number of factors, including:
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Horrendous diets packed with non-nutritional (but good tasting) processed foods.
- Contaminated food or water
- Pesticides and herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup
A mix of these microbe-destroying factors can cause central nervous disorders (e.g., autism, anxiety-depressive behaviors) and functional gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease). In particular, irritable bowel syndrome can be considered an example of the disruption of these complex relationships, and a better understanding of these alterations might provide new targeted therapies.
Authors of the McGill fruit fly study also report that the findings can be explained by the “gut-brain axis,” a bidirectional communication system between microorganisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract – the microbiota – and the brain.
This is because the enteric nervous system (ENS), which governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract, communicates with the central nervous system (the brain) via the vagus nerve — the most important nerve you probably didn’t know you had. The vagus nerve is a long meandering bundle of motor and sensory fibers that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut.
The ENS is also known as the gut-brain axis, and is often referred to as the second brain or backup brain centered in our solar plexus. But in actuality, this second brain often acts as the first brain.
“We now know that the ENS is not just capable of autonomy but also influences the brain,” says Dr. Mark Sircus, acupuncturist, and doctor of Oriental and pastoral medicine. “In fact, about 90 percent of the signals passing along the vagus nerve come not from above, but from the ENS.”
For example, scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin (a feel good neurotransmitter), dopamine, and GABA, all of which play a key role in mood.
The Genetic Override
Studies into longevity and a balanced gut microbiota also point out another aspect: We actually have more control over our health and life span than we once thought, and that our environment has a greater impact on our well-being than the gene pool we were dealt.
This is referred to as epigenetics, a mechanism by which our environment communicates with our genes.
“The evidence is overwhelming that genes are a vulnerability factor rather than the cause of disease,” says Dr. Jennie Ann Freiman, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist. “Risk can be modified depending on choices we make.”
Some of those choices include the food we eat, exercise, and exposure to the chemicals in our environment, according to holistic practitioner Dave Brethauer.
“By making dietary changes, eating naturally-raised meat, removing the chemicals from our environment, and reducing the stress in our lives, we change not only our health but also we improve our DNA,” says Brethauer.
And, of course, all these healthy lifestyle choices also have a positive impact on our gut microbiome.
Crack The Secret To Living Longer — 5 Ways To Improve Your Gut Microbiome
1. Avoid Antibiotics When Possible — Of the estimated 154 million prescriptions for antibiotics written in doctor’s offices and emergency departments each year, 30 percent are unnecessary according to data compiled by the CDC and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Adalja says the five most over prescribed antibiotics are Azithromycin, Amoxicillin, Cephalex, Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazol, and Ciprofloxacin.
2. Probiotics And Prebiotics – Probiotics are a microorganism supplement that introduce friendly bacteria in the digestive tract to promote healthy gut function. It’s important to use probiotics like Just Thrive that survive stomach acids, meaning have a proper enteric coating that is not made up of plastic.
While probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics act as a fertilizer for the good bacteria that’s already there. A prebiotic is a specialized plant fiber that beneficially nourishes the good bacteria already in the large bowel or colon. An excellent prebiotic is in the mix of some superfoods, such as Equilibrium.
3. Molecular Hydrogen – This antioxidant supplement helps gut microbiomes stay healthy by reducing oxidative stress, which often leads to inflammatory conditions. Molecular hydrogen tablets like Hydra are potent and easy to use. Tablets are simply placed in a liquid beverage, preferably water, and take 10-15 minutes to completely dissolve.
4. Watch What You Eat – Diet is crucial to maintaining a more balanced gut microbiome. Eat fermented foods that contain live cultures and have not been pasteurized, since pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria. Good choices include sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut kefir. Many of these foods are rich in lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that can benefit your gut.
Many holistic practitioners believe fruits and vegetables (especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiota. They are high in fiber, which can’t be digested by your body, but fiber can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, which stimulates growth. Try to find true organic fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides. Chemical sprays and systemics are proven to destroy good bacteria.
5. Exercise — A variety of published studies show how exercise exerts a significant effect on our gut microbiome. One such study in GEN showed that daily exercise in the young can stimulate the formation of a healthier microbial system that will pay benefits for a lifetime.
Another study shows how exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of gut microbiome damage caused by environmental contaminants. And yet another interesting report shows how athletes exhibit a “significantly greater” microbiome diversity than non-athletes, and that the modification of gut microbiota through exercise can be a “powerful tool” in the fight against disease.
And the secret to living longer.
Taking Stock Of Your Gut Biome
Until recently, the health of a person’s gut microbiome was somewhat of a mystery.
However, due to advances in RNA sequencing, it’s now possible to receive a cutting-edge microbial report from a team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and physicians who take the gut microbiome very seriously.
Less than two years ago they founded a startup called Viome and now offer the Gut Intelligence Test that analyzes a stool sample to determine microbial balance, as well as what gut microorganisms are actually doing. Based on the result, supplements are recommended along with foods to eat (or not eat) to improve overall health, which means more energy, better moods, improved skin, and sounder sleep.
Viome’s Gut Intelligence test costs $399 and includes personalized and actionable dietary recommendations via a Viome app. The first report normally is received three weeks after initial testing. During the year of service, customers may also re-test for an additional $199 per test. To save $50, click here and use code HONEYCOLONY at checkout.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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