Everyday the science community finds surprising new ways our gut microbiome— once considered the ‘forgotten organ’—contributes to our overall health. Mental well-being, fertility, heightened sports performance, fighting degenerative diseases, and now even our appearance—these are just a few of the areas in which a healthy microbiome can really make a positive difference in our lives.
Scientists are now aiming to take research a step further by seeking the catalyst to our very own fountain of youth, and they are looking to the gut for the ultimate anti-aging formula.
Researchers working together in China and the U.S. recently conducted one of the largest studies on human microbiota to date and found that the key to aging gracefully may lie in the gut. In fact, their results showed a direct correlation between an individual’s health and the quality and quantity of microbes in the intestine—no matter what the person’s age.
Furthermore, the healthiest 90 year olds had a microbiome that was no different than that of a 30 year old. The researchers were able to conclude that GI diversity is a good indicator of healthy aging.
Such fascinating news begs the question: is this just a one-off study, or could fostering a robust gut help ensure a healthy and youthful lifespan?
The Real Story: You Age as Well as You Eat
The gastrointestinal tract is probably one of our most complex organ systems, and its function is even more important to our health and longevity as we age.
Therefore, it’s essential to think ahead and combat the major causes of age-related deterioration and dysfunction—like excess inflammation– which the microbiome significantly regulates, regardless of our age.
While anyone from babies to centenarians can suffer from inflammation, it is more likely to strike as our cells age and as we unconsciously alter our GI microbial makeup through diet and lifestyle choices. These alterations to microbiota composition result in reduced microbial diversity known as dysbiosis, and that has far-reaching consequences. Dysbiosis can be caused by a variety of lifestyle factors, but the key element we can use to control dysbiosis is our diet.
Eating conscientiously increases our microbial diversity, but this also means that bad habits can cause GI distress. For example, foregoing plant fiber can reduce the efficiency of the immune system and cause inflammation of the gut to go unchecked—such effects can lead to issues with digesting food, perhaps even to IBS.
An inability to effectively digest certain foods, alongside the changes of nutrient intake, will lead to an even more dysbiotic and inflamed gut.
Even crazier: Changes to the microbiota and intestinal immune system during our lifespan inevitably can contribute to other signs of aging throughout our bodies including on our skin.
So it’s important to focus on what we can do to prevent dysbiosis— It’s up to us to make the right food choices. That’s why I stress the importance of diet in targetting the microbiome and producing those beneficial effects scientific research keeps touting.
Gut Circulation, Prebiotics, and Probiotics: The Fountain of Youth For your Gut
A key component I could never promote enough of is plant fiber.
My recommendation: eat at least 50 grams a day. Why? Studies show that fiber produces a profound change in the gut microbiota, and that it also has the potential for improving our lifespan, with welcome anti-aging side effects. If you’re looking for a more immediate incentive to eat more plants, consider the dysbiosis I mentioned above and fuel your gut’s immune system with more delicious fiber. In Wild Mediterranean, I recommend a 6:1 serving ratio of plants to protein; it’s as easy as looking to the palm of your hand for serving size guidance.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics are the dynamic duo of diversity–they are like two peas in a pod. Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibers that boost the strains of beneficial bacteria in your gut, while probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut and can be found in a variety of whole foods (especially fermented vegetables like beets, cabbage, or carrots). Add some cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and you’ll gain the benefits of polyphenol antioxidants to enhance prebiotic and probiotic goodness.
Finally, be sure to move more! Remember the 3 M’s in a previous article? Increasing your gut circulation through exercise is a great way to boost your overall health while still targeting the microbiome. Emerging data shows that regular exercise can reduce inflammation related issues, improve microbiome composition, and foster optimal gut immune function. It’ll make you less stressed too!