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How ageing impacts your gut

A new study says that ageing produces significant changes in the microbiome of the human small intestine, distinct from those caused by medications or illness

Ageing can impact your gut health
Ageing can impact your gut health (Unsplash)

Ageing doesn't just leave silver streaks in your hair and make your knees ache: it also, apparently, has a direct impact on your gut health. According to researchers at Cedars-Sinai, growing old significant changes the microbiome of the human small intestine. These changes are very distinct from those caused by medications or illness burden, reported ANI. 

Ruchi Mathur, MD, the study's principal investigator published in the journal 'Cell Reports', told ANI that they plan to tease out the microbial changes that occur in the small bowel with age, medication use and diseases. "We hope to identify unique components of the microbial community to target for therapeutics and interventions that could promote healthy ageing," she said. She added that research exploring the gut microbiome, and its impact on health, has relied predominantly on faecal samples; this does not represent the whole. 

According to ANI, investigators from Cedars-Sinai's Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) Program analysed samples from the small intestine, which is over 20 feet in length and has the surface area of a tennis court, for examination of the microbiome and its relationship with ageing. "This study is the first of its kind to examine the microbial composition of the small intestine of subjects 18 years of age to 80. We know that certain microbial populations are influenced more by medications, while others are more affected by certain diseases. We have identified specific microbes that appear to be only influenced by the chronological age of the person," said Mathur, an endocrinologist and director of the Diabetes Outpatient Treatment and Education Center, told ANI. 

While researchers already know that age impacts microbial diversity, this study also discovered "bacteria in the small bowel they refer to as "disruptors" that increase and could be troublesome," reported ANI. Study co-author Gabriela  Leite pointed out that while coliforms are regular residents of the intestine, any change in their number can directly impact gut health. "We found that when these rod-shaped microbes become too abundant in the small bowel-as they do as we get older-they exert a negative influence on the rest of the microbial population. They are like weeds in a garden," she told ANI. 

Additionally, as people age, the number of aerobic bacteria reduces while anaerobic goes us, something researchers hope to understand further. "Our goal is to identify and fingerprint the small intestinal microbial patterns of human health and disease," said Mark Pimentel, MD, director of the MAST program and a co-author of the study. He added that given the critical role the small bowel plays in the absorption of nutrients, changes in the microbiome in this gut location might have a more significant impact on human health and warrant further study.

(With inputs from ANI)


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