Aging is one of the things that many people try to fight. It’s not so much about more candles on the cake, but the effects our bodies feel is what people mostly dread about “AGING”. Especially on our skin, brain and joints.

While there is a huge selection of “age-defying” beauty products & therapies that claim to erase wrinkles and reduce the effects of aging only a handful are based on good scientific evidence. Nevertheless, beauty is only skin-deep. With advances in the “Gut Science” domain, it is now quite clear that how good you look on the outside largely depends on what’s happening on the inside. Poor gut health is one of the major causes of aging-related health issues rather than a lack of Botox.

Research has now shown how a healthy gut plays a major role in how our body ages. And the main player in dictating the gut health functions at all ages is the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota is the community of millions of microbes – bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea – that are housed in our gut, especially in our colon (large intestine). These have evolved to perform various activities & functions that directly or indirectly affect not only the gut but distant organs including brain, liver, heart and lungs.

Alterations of gut microbiota balance or a shift in its composition and function is referred to as microbial dysbiosis. Moreover, gut function will be significantly impaired due to dysbiosis of gut microbiota in multiple ways. Dysbiosis can change intestinal permeability, digestion, and metabolism as well as immune responses. Microbial disturbances in the gut are linked with many diseases ranging from gastrointestinal and metabolic conditions to immunological and neuropsychiatric diseases (link).

Poor gut health typically surfaces as a range of unpleasant symptoms including digestive issues, skin conditions and even neurological conditions like depression, anxiety and sluggish brain function. This is mainly because through its specialised army of microbes our gut is connected to whole body functions.

There is a pool of evidence to support involvement of gut microbiota as a major player in your overall health and wellbeing and that includes aging (link).

Below are 5 ways that poor gut health can accelerate aging:

  • Poor Nutrient Absorption
    Studies show that as we age our ability to absorb many nutrients becomes less efficient. Additionally, with age our dietary needs tend to change for both macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamise & minerals).Poor gut health can lead to poor digestion and poor nutrient absorption. This in turn can manifest a number of disorders where your body struggles to absorb enough of the specific nutrients and fluids to meet your daily needs.Since our body is dependent on a steady supply of nutrients for proper cell function and repair, with poor absorption of nutrients, parts of our bodies will suffer – skin, energy levels, joints, immune system, brain function and more. Subsequently you begin to feel “old” well before your time.
  • Reduced energy levels
    Slowing down is a clear sign of aging and hence, you often hear older people complaining about tiredness and fatigue. Again, poor gut health is shown to be correlated with low energy levels, indicting gut microbiota may be majorly involved (link) (link).Gut microbiota plays a vital role in regulation of energy balance via fermentation of prebiotic fibres that produces metabolites including SCFAs -short-chain fatty acids (like acetate, butyrate and propionate) that can serve as direct energy source. SCFAs can also regulate thermogenesis and thus energy homeostasis while regulating appetite.If your gut is lacking or houses low numbers of fibre-digesting bacteria that carry out this fermentation process, you’ll also more likely lack a major supply of energy.
  • Poor skin health
    Gut health is intricately linked with skin and physical appearance (link). Gut microbiota plays a crucial role in the skin regeneration process. Thus, those with poor gut health are more likely to have skin disorders and show signs of aging like collagen breakdown, redness and sensitivity, compared with people with a healthy microbiome. Gut imbalance can lead to outward issues such as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, wrinkling and other visible signs of aging.In people with acne, increased intestinal permeability is common. Prolonged impairment in the gut permeability can lead to intestinal toxins entering the bloodstream, causing an inflammatory response and thus inflammation of the skin. This in turn can negatively impact the integrity and protective function of skin epidermal layer causing it to wrinkle and sag prematurely.

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(You can read more about increased intestinal permeability aka leaky gut here)

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  • Inflammation
    Inflammation is the leading contributor of both acute and chronic diseases of the modern world. Inflammation is associated with many age-related diseases and often involves microbial dysbiosis. During ageing, chronic, low-grade inflammation — called inflammaging — develops, which contributes to the pathogenesis of age-related diseases. Inflammaging is believed to hasten the process of biological aging and accelerate many age-related diseases ( link).Poor gut health involving microbial imbalance in the gut, favours a shift toward pro-inflammatory microbes and a decline of beneficial microbes such as those that produce beneficial metabolites like butyrate. Such undesirable alterations lead to inflammation and weakens the intestinal barrier, allowing the inflammatory components to enter the blood circulation. Such a cascade further feeds the inflammatory cycle to continue its loop (read more here). Inflammation from dysbiosis interferes with the ability of the immune system to function properly and creates an environment that is conducive to chronic inflammation and other age-related diseases.An increasing number of scientific studies suggest central role of altered gut microbial profiles in inflammaging. When the body is undergoing chronic inflammation fuelled by the poor gut health and dysbiosis, we’re exposing it to premature aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, type-II diabetes, osteoporosis, and several other diseases.

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(You can read more about microbial dysbiosis & inflammaging here)

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  • Cognitive decline and neurodegenerative conditions
    As we age, our mental health and clarity is known to gradually diminish. However, the strength of our gut-brain connection known as “gut-brain axis” impacts the rate and severity of how our brain ages. This is particularly true for neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress is one of the major factors in diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Oxidative stress is also involved in other acute conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (link).Signals in our gut are sent to our brain via the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), that communicates with our brain via the vagus nerve and spans from our oesophagus to our rectum. Evidence suggests that disruption in the digestive system can alter mood and individuals suffering from functional bowel and digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues like anxiety and depression (link).Studies indicate that specific gut microbiota members can increase the risk of chronic inflammation and reactive oxygen species levels. This leads to higher amounts of harmful proteins with potential to cause significant brain injury as we age.

What can you do?

While it is true that “all diseases begin in the gut” – as Hippocrates said, it is also true that being healthy also starts in your gut! With the scientific breakthroughs that highlights a major role of poor gut health and altered microbiota on the inflammatory processes in the body, this knowledge also provides the pathway to achieve and maintain good gut health and promote beneficial microbial members of the gut. A resilient healthy gut is a cornerstone to beat or at least manage the inflammation in assisting with slowing down the accelerated aging propelled by chronic inflammatory events.

  • To keep the gut health in shape it is imperative to feed the gut microbiome with dietary prebiotic fibres. Prebiotic dietary fibres feed the friendly microbial members in the gut to produce various beneficial metabolites which in turn keep the gut environment healthy and consequently the rest of the bodily systems in check. Thus, diet rich in prebiotic fibres can be immensely useful in slowing the accelerated aging.
  • Probiotic supplements (specific strains) can help too especially in events where some of your gut bacterial balance has been impacted – may be due to recent infection/illness, antibiotic exposure, chronic intake of pro-inflammatory diet etc. However, it is important to pair it up with prebiotic rich diet, so they are well fed to provide your gut with the intended benefits.
  • Synbiotic – combination of prebiotics and probiotics offer a great way to support gut health functions and microbiome diversity.

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Its’s important however to note that not all prebiotic fibres are created equal. If you want to know more about different types of prebiotic fibres, check our other blogs for more information here & here. The best prebiotic fibres are those that closely represent the complexity of plant fibres as well as the micronutrients and phytonutrients of the plant material. Same goes for probiotics where species and strains of a specific bacteria determines its interaction with prebiotics. Also, different probiotic bacteria interact differently with the functions in the gut which in turn, dictates the benefits we get from a particular probiotic.

Health Food Symmetry’s Kfibre Pro Synbiotic range of gut health management products contain Kfibre – Virgin Sugarcane Prebiotic (sucrose reduced) and a compatible probiotic Bacillus coagulans. Proven synergistic functioning between Kfibre and Bacillus coagulans makes this synbiotic combination significantly effective at supporting gut health maintenance.

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Other dietary and lifestyle interventions that support a healthy gut microbiome include:

  • Making smarter food choices. People who eat 30 different plant foods per week have a much more diverse and abundant gut microbiome than those who eat 10 or less. So, try to incorporate wide variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds in your diet each week.
  • Reduce or eliminate intake of refined and ultra-proceed foods. While these foods are convenient, high intakes are associated with reduced abundance and diversity of the gut microbiome, increased inflammation and increased risk of age-related chronic diseases. Try to make them the exception rather than the rule.
  • Keep your body active by getting some exercise. It doesn’t matter what movement you do, it’s consistency that is key. Find something you enjoy and do it regularly.
  • Get enough sleep. This is so underrated, especially in our fast-paced society. Lack of sleep is related to increased risk of IBS, increased risk of chronic disease, poor memory, insulin resistance and increases in body weight. Prioritising a good 7-8 hours per night will have you feeling energised and improve long term health and wellbeing.
  • Manage or reduce stress. Stress has a huge impact on gut microbiome, and we know that gut microbiome has a big impact on mental health (link). This is a chicken and the egg scenario. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have all been linked to improvements in gut health. If you’re not looking after your mental health, now is the time to start.

Enjoy the Rewards of Age

Here’s some good news: The older the people get, the more content and satisfied they are. People in their 80s report being more satisfied than people in their 70s. So, look forward to the future. It could be a time of great happiness.

If you eat the right foods, focus on including variety of plants in your diet and reduce the intake of refined foods, your gut health will improve. Over time, this will assist with slowing down the accelerated aging process in your skin, brain and joints induced by unhealthy modern lifestyle factors. The secret to healthy aging is in the gut!

By Dr Tanvi Shinde (PhD), Contributions by Joanna Baker (APD | RN)