As we age, so does our microbiome. Taking care of your microbiome throughout your life can play a key role in supporting health and longevity, and the best part is, it's never too late to start.
Aging is a natural part of life - an ongoing evolutionary process that, some might say, is a privilege. Despite what many anti-aging slogans would have us believe; our age is not something we can control. However, how we age is another matter.
Many of us are aware of the enormous benefits of healthy eating and lifestyle choices, and one of the main beneficiaries of these choices is our microbiome. While childhood is the most important time for building a healthy microbiome, our later years are an important time for maintaining a healthy microbiome.
But before we understand how to do that, let’s dig a little deeper into the link between the microbiome and aging…
The human microbiome: what is it and why is it so important?
The human microbiome is a term used to describe the large community of microbes and their genetic material that cover both inside and outside the human body. Invisible to the naked eye, this extraordinary microbial "ecosystem" of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites is as unique to you as your genetic blueprint. When in balance, the microbiome lives peacefully with your body, supporting health like a functioning organ. Changes in this balance can affect our health in various ways.
One of the most important microbial communities for human health resides in our gut and performs many important health functions, including:
Food digestion and absorption
Vitamin and metabolite synthesis (e.g., Vitamin B12)
Support healthy immune function
Did you know?...
Gut microbes are very smart. As we age, our microbiome also adapts to our changing environment and our physical and nutritional needs. For example, as energy needs change in late adulthood, our microbiome adapts to the number of energy-producing bacteria.
How does age affect the microbiome?
While our microbiome supports the aging body in many ingenious ways, there are also some age-related changes that are detrimental to the health of these important microbes. For example, we may find ourselves taking more medication, exercising and eating less, or may become more isolated from friends and family; all of which can have a major impact on the health and diversity of our microbiome.
Gut microbiome and age-related disease – what’s the link?
Recent studies have shown changes in the diversity of the gut microbiome (including beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and dominant bacterial species in older adults. While there is still a lot to learn, it is believed that these changes may lead to a variety of age-related health changes.
How can I improve the health of my gut microbiome?
Thankfully, there are many ways to improve the health of our microbiome, and there's no better time to start than today! Try these 4 easy steps:
Eat less fat and more veg – Studies have shown that traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets rich in plant foods are not only associated with longer lifespans, but also a diverse microbiome. Conversely, a high-fat Western diet was associated with changes in the microbiome, which may lead to age-related health changes.
Get moving – Physical activity helps increase the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut, which are known for their gut-wall-supporting properties.
Get a good night’s rest– Sleep disruption is common in older adults and is associated with altered microbial profiles. Developing healthy sleep habits, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, drinking water during the day rather than bedtime, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule, may help improve the health of your microbiome.
Supplement with good bacteria – Taking high-quality probiotics that contain beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, in combination with a diet rich in plant fiber, may help support immune function and maintain healthy cholesterol in healthy individuals. 
Taking these small steps toward a healthier microbiome will support not only your health today, but your health in the future.
If seeking specific advice on supporting your mental or physical health, please consult your health professional.
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