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Did you know your gut microbiome can predict your age within years? For those who don’t like to reveal their age, don’t panic just yet! The gut may be an excellent biological clock, but the real takeaway is your microbiome changes as you age – affecting your digestion and immune health.

Science can’t definitively tell us just yet why the gut changes with age, but what we do know is these changes can lead to indigestion, ulcers and chronic diseases. Maintaining your gut health as you age can keep you on your feet, doing more of what you love for longer.

What is Your Microbiome?

Deep within your body inside the large intestine is a pocket called the cecum, or what is commonly known as the microbiome. The microbiome is like a microscopic city, made up of trillions of microorganisms (microbiota) – bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses – responsible for supporting your immune health, synthesizing nutrients and breaking down toxic food particles.

Your microbiome is mixed with both good and bad microorganisms that typically coexist without any issue. However, your microbiome changes a lot as you age due to a process called gut dysbiosis.

How Does Aging Affect the Digestive System?

Gut dysbiosis is when outside influencers such as antibiotics, poor diet and other environmental factors disrupt the peaceful synchronicity of the microbiota in your gut; the diversity of the microorganisms in your gut declines and some of the healthier microbiota are replaced by those that can cause illness.

The following factors can change your gut bacteria for the worse and lead to health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Poor Diet. Aging makes maintaining a healthy diet harder. Going to the grocery store each week may be tougher on your body, cooking your own meals may take longer than it used to and some of the foods you used to eat may now be harder to chew. Eating more processed meals or “beige” foods like white bread can negatively impact your gut health.
  • Reduced Physical Activity. When your physical activity declines, you lose more than your mobility and the freedom to move around as you please. You also lose diversity in your microbiome which is tied to chronic inflammation and other health issues.
  • Weakened Immune System. The immune system naturally declines with age, which in turn affects your gut health. When your immune system is at its strongest, it protects against any contents in your gut that may be dangerous to your health. As your immune system weakens, it is less able to defend against pathogens and your gut is less able to keep out toxins and infections.
  • Certain Medications. Aging oftentimes means painkillers and other prescription medications to manage chronic conditions. Unfortunately, antibiotics can have negative interactions with your microbiome, killing off both good and bad microorganisms in your gut.

Ways to Keep Your Gut Healthy

Your microbiome will continue to change as you age, but there’s plenty you can do to promote a healthy, happy gut. Nurturing your gut can help with digestion and decrease symptoms of IBD, improve your heart health, control and lower blood sugar levels and may even improve brain function.

The following may be able to help improve your gut health and ultimately keep your body and mind in healthier condition for longer:

  1. Diversify your diet. A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains and healthy fats can diversify the microbiota in your gut to keep you healthy. To ensure even greater digestive health, incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your weekly meals. The Mediterranean diet includes more fiber-rich foods than Western diets do, which are necessary for greater microbiome diversity.
  2. Exercise regularly. You don’t have to become an Olympic athlete to improve your microbiome. You should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise in order to diversify the bacteria in your gut.
  3. Add probiotic supplements. Probiotics are live bacteria that can restore the gut to a healthier state after dysbiosis occurs. You can find live active cultures of probiotics in yogurts or fermented foods like cabbage and pickles. You can also take a daily probiotic supplement but be sure to talk to your doctor about the brand of probiotics you should take.
  4. Lower processed food and sugar intake. Processed meats and any foods high in sugar do not promote a healthy gut and tend to raise blood sugar levels. Replace high processed meals with whole grains, olive oil, fiber-rich foods, fruits and vegetables. You can also try plant-based diets, which can lower your risk of disease-causing bacteria like E. coli.
  5. Limit antibiotic use, if possible. Some medications are medically necessary and important to your health. However, antibiotics can kill off good bacteria that you need in your gut to keep you healthy. Talk to you doctor to see if there are any medications you can either stop taking or replace.

At Knute Nelson, Your Health is Our Top Priority

At Knute Nelson, we offer a full range of aging services to ensure you or your loved one receive the quality care needed for optimal health and well-being. That’s the Knute Advantage! Whether you’re part of our independent living communities that offer healthy restaurant-style dining or your loved one is in hospice and requires assistance with daily living, our team strives to enrich your life and the life of your loved one every day.

Contact us today to learn more about the Knute Advantage and find the right level of care for you or a loved one.