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Aging Healthily Is Possible And It Starts With A Healthy Gut

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jan 20, 2022

The secret to successful aging may rely on a changing gut microbiome

 

How well are you aging?  Good, fair, or poor?

The passage of time is out of your control but how you age is a different story. No matter how many birthdays you celebrate, your biological age can either be “younger” or “older” than your chronological age. And guess what – aging healthily begins in your gut starting with an overall healthy composition of gut microbes.

Zooming in on gut health 

Your gastrointestinal tract is teeming with trillions of microbes composed of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These amazingly efficient microbes work round the clock keeping you healthy. Their jobs include digesting and absorbing food, manufacturing vitamins and minerals and protecting against invasion of harmful microbes. Sounds good but that’s not all. Healthy gut bacteria also influences your sleep, brain health, heart health and cancer risk.

What about immunity? Yes, a strong immune system depends on gut health too. Seventy percent of the immune system is intimately intertwined inhabiting the gut. What’s present in the gut determines the health of your immune system.

Aging well and gut health

Research is now showing that how you age may depend on these microbes nestled within in your gastrointestinal tract.

2021 study published in Nature Metabolism, may have found a key component of healthy aging. The secret?  Older adults, whose mix of gut microbes changed the most over time, lived longer and healthier than people with less change.

The study did not prove that having a diverse gut microbiome was responsible for people living longer. Rather, simply having an eclectic mix of micro biota was associated with people who could walk faster, had greater mobility, higher vitamin D levels, and reduced cholesterol levels. The ability to walk fast and have healthy blood lipid levels are factors already associated with a longer lifespan.

Aging well with good gut health

Living a healthy, long life doesn’t just happen.  It takes some work and know-how getting from point A to point B.  Living a healthy lifestyle is a good start. Setting achievable and consistent lifestyle goals is your guide to aging healthily.

Here are the steps to take:

Feed your gut microbiome well 

Gut bacteria get hungry but not just any food will do. They require foods with diverse health-promoting nutrients such as fiber helping increase microbes survivability. Here’s a list of some of the best foods for gut health:

Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, Swiss chard

Legumes like lentils, peas and beans

Whole grains such as farro, buckwheat, sorghum, and brown rice

Sauerkraut

Kefit

Miso

Tempeh

Onions

Garlic

Raspberries

Bananas

Pears

Greek yogurt

A less diverse gut microbiota suffers when fed the typical “western” diet of energy-dense, processed foods high in fat and sugar and low in fiber. This may lead to inflammatory diseases including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Refrain from highly processed, sugary, unhealthy fatty foods such as chips, donuts, or greasy burgers and fries. These foods create a nutrient-poor environment making it difficult for gut microbes to do their jobs.

Exercise with a purpose

Physical activity always benefits gut health. Regular walking, lifting weights, bicycling, swimming, or stretching, are activity ideas your gut will love. Simply moving more improves interaction between gut microbes. Exercise also enhances how your body processes food, reduces gut inflammation, and alters your appetite.

Get a dog

Owning a dog does wonders for your wellbeing including gut health. Why?  Dogs have to be let outdoors to do their business. And when they come back in, they track in things from outside – dirt, grass, and insects – exposing you and your family to more microbes.

Exposure to outdoor microbes is beneficial. Sanitation measures and modern medicine are absolutely good, but it’s also possible to be “too clean.” Children, who grow up in households with an indoor dog, have a diverse-rich microbiome and less risk of allergies.

Refrain from smoking

Here’s an excellent reason to refrain from smoking: Cigarettes are loaded with chemicals and toxins harmful to the entire body, including your gut and its residents.

Smoking can kill off microbes reducing microbe diversity. Less diversity means more stress that can alter the function of gut microbes. These changes also creates an imbalance of harmful microbes compared to helpful microbes.

Emphasize prebiotics and probiotics

To achieve a healthy gut microbiome, you can either use supplemental forms of prebiotics and probiotics or better yet, what’s naturally found in fermented foods.

Prebiotics are naturally occurring non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. They promote “good” bacteria and may improve gastrointestinal health. The best foods containing natural prebiotics include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans, and whole-grain foods.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria – or live cultures – like those naturally found in your gut. Foods naturally containing probiotics include live cultured yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso, pickles, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Foods containing live cultures help repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora, improving overall gastrointestinal health.

Always consult with your physician or a registered dietitian when considering using a prebiotic or probiotic supplement.

 

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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