Posted on Feb 21, 2022, 4 a.m.
Becoming a centenarian is a rare milestone, recent research suggests that those who do may in part have their gut microbiome to thank for exceptional longevity, adding another reason as to why we need to make our gut health a top priority.
Centenarians have unique gut bacteria that enable them to live to a ripe old age, according to recent research. Scientists in Japan say this unique gut makeup fuels bile acids that protect against disease.
The study found that these longevity warriors carry distinct groups of bacteria within their guts that create unique compounds that possibly help to fight off infections and environmental stressors. The discovery could lead to yogurts and other probiotic foods that increase longevity.
“In people over the age of 100, an enrichment in a distinct set of gut microbes generate unique bile acids,” says lead author Professor Kenya Honda of Keio University in a statement per South West News Service. “They might inhibit the growth of pathogens.”
The complex fluids are vital in ridding the body of fat and waste. They also control cholesterol. “The community of microbes in our gut changes as we age,” Prof. Honda adds.
Typically, centenarians are less susceptible to age-related chronic illnesses and they are generally able to avoid infectious diseases as well. Recent research suggests that the gut microbiome is helping longevity warriors achieve this.
While many believe that the secret to exceptional lifespan is hidden in our genes, that is not the only factor as genetics only account for around 30% of longevity leaving avenues open for other anti-aging factors that can change over time such as diet, physical activity, relationships, and the ever-important gut bacteria.
In healthy individuals, the trillions of microbes that live in our intestines become increasingly distinctive. In particular, centenarians have specific strains of an organism known as Odoribacteraceae. It makes bile acids that act as antimicrobials against a range of illnesses, the study finds.
“Centenarians are less susceptible to age-related chronic diseases and infection than are elderly individuals below the age of 100,” the microbiologist explains. “It is thought the composition of their gut microbiota may be associated with extreme longevity, but the mechanisms have been unclear.”
Experiments in mice showed they even destroyed hospital superbugs like Clostridioides difficile and Enterococcus faecium. They can cause severe diarrhea, especially in vulnerable people taking antibiotics. Additionally, a study in Sardinia, Italy found that those over the age of 100 had a higher diversity of core microbiota species in their intestines than younger people.
“These findings suggest specific bile acid metabolism may be involved in reducing the risk of infection – potentially contributing to the maintenance of intestinal health,” Prof. Honda says.
The team analyzed the gut bacteria of more than 300 adults in Japan, including 160 centenarians over 100 years old, 112 between 85 and 89, and 47 under 55 years old. “Compared with elderly and young individuals, centenarians are enriched in gut microbes capable of generating unique secondary bile acids through novel biosynthetic pathways,” the professor says.
The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests they may hold the key to an “elixir of youth” within their gut microbiome. “It may be possible to exploit the bile-acid-metabolizing capabilities of the identified bacterial strains to manipulate the pool for health benefits,” Honda continues.
The discovery sheds fresh light on why centenarians are less prone to age-related illnesses, chronic inflammation, and infectious diseases. Prof. Honda and colleagues screened 68 species of bacteria from a stool sample of one of the centenarians. The results add to growing evidence the community of microorganisms in your belly can help predict if you will have a long and healthy life.
The findings show this partially depends on your mother’s microbiota, your environment at birth, and your current diet and lifestyle. These organisms line your entire digestive system, with most residing within your intestines and colon. These important organisms are also believed to have an impact on your metabolism and the immune system.
“It has been postulated there are centenarian-specific members of the gut microbiota which, rather than representing a mere consequence of aging, might actively contribute to resistance against pathogenic infection and other environmental stressors,” Honda concludes. “We aimed to identify such beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiota of centenarians.”
However, let us not forget that there are plenty of other things in the anti-aging arsenal that are linked to longevity that everyone can do such as maintaining a healthy diet, keeping stress in check, getting enough sleep, staying social, being positive, participating in regular physical activity, brain exercises, and taking the time to go outside to smell those roses.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.