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22nd December 2014

Is the way to a man’s heart through his gut microbiota?

Shape of heartWhen we think of our guts, we may think of food and digestion, or even of bowel regulation, but perhaps we don’t give enough attention to our gut microbiota, as their importance in health is being increasingly recognised.

What is the gut microbiota?

Gut micro -what? Gut microbiota is the collective name given to a large diverse ecosystem, composed of 10-100 trillions of microorganisms, residing in the healthy human intestine. It is therefore not surprising that the activities of this microbial population can have a significant impact.

Differences in gut microbiota have been noted across the lifespan especially at the extremes of age, in infancy and old age. Moreover, changes in both the composition and function have been associated with various conditions including obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and cancer, although more research is required to really understand these links, for example whether changes are a symptom of the disease, an effect of the condition, or a contributing factor and what the relative contribution of microbiota-related factors to such chronic conditions is.

Gut microbiota are different in older people in the community and in long term residential care

Currently the ELDERMET research group at University College Cork is looking at the relationship between diet, gut bacteria and health status in a large number of elderly (over 65), Irish subjects. The group has found that the type of bacteria older people have in their gut is influenced by where they live, even when diet is taken into consideration.

People living in long term institutional care had more limited bacterial types than people living in the community, who had a greater diversity of bacterial types in their gut. The loss of bacterial types commonly seen in the gut of community-dwellers was linked with increased levels of frailty and other indicators of health.

This research supports a relationship between diet, the bacteria in the human gut and health of older Irish people. It indicates that diet, not only has a role in influencing what type of bacteria are found in the human gut, but that it may be possible to use diet to change the type of bacteria living in the gut and thus potentially affect the rate of health decline in older people.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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