Did you know that your body is an ecosystem?
Over the past several decades, scientists have discovered a whole new world. We now know our body is covered in trillions of tiny microbes, most of which live in the gut. Many people recoil at this news because we ’ve been taught for so long that bacteria are bad. While some bacteria, like Clostridium difficile (C.diff), are very bad, most of the bacteria on your body are good and live in harmony with you. Like an ecosystem, they work to allow our bodies the ability to not only survive but thrive. They create hormones that support the brain and provide nutrients needed for survival. They even influence how we process pharmaceutical medications. We now refer to this previously unseen world as the human microbiome.
So, what does the microbiome have to do with you and healthy aging?
The more we learn, the more we see that a diverse, balanced microbiome is the key to a healthy aging body. In fact, loss of diversity appears to be one of the most important things we can correlate with biologic age. So if you want to be a 90-year-old with the biologic age of a 60-year-old, the key may lie in the diversity of your gut ecosystem.
How do you know you have an imbalance from loss of diversity?
When symptoms like constipation and diarrhea appear, they are often indications of a problem with this gut ecosystem. Imbalances can come from many things including poor nutrition, troubled sleep, or even medications. For example, when a person takes antibiotics for an infection, a side effect is that the good bacteria are killed along with the bad. It is like clear-cutting a forest. Killing aspects of the ecosystem create open space for bad bacteria, like C.diff, to grow, causing infectious diarrhea. Yikes! These imbalances put a strain on your body’s ability to function as a healthy ecosystem. With aging, we lose diversity and our bodies take longer to bounce back from an imbalance. However, there are many ways to reestablish equilibrium.
How do you support the microbiome?
There are many ways to support your gut microbes. Things like a healthy diet, exercise, and even stress management all support microbiome diversity. In the specific case of people suffering from C.diff, there are options like Fecal Microbiota Transplant. It’s the process of putting healthy stool from a donor into the colon of a sick recipient. The good bacteria outcompete the infectious C.diff bacteria and re-establish a balanced environment. That may seem crazy but it’s the perfect example of the power of this microbial ecosystem. So next time you think about healthy aging, think about supporting your gut.
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