Scientists’ ‘mind-blowing’ discovery ties gut health to age reversal

Gut health: Dr Chris George on how to improve microbiome

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The gut microbial is increasingly recognised as an important regulator of host immunity and brain health. Evidence has been accumulating for almost a decade that the composition of the microbiome changes with age. Changes induced by ageing have been associated with cognitive decline and other mental health conditions. A new study conducted on mice has found that one procedure could reverse aspects of the ageing process altogether.

Research published in the journal of ageing on Monday, revealed that older mice who receive microbiota from younger mice showed improved brain function and behaviour.

The gut’s microbiota is a term used to describe the collection of bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes colonising the gastrointestinal tract.

Marcus Böhme, a neuroscientist with University College Cork and author of the study, said the new mouse model has offered powerful insight on how the stomach affects our brain health as we age.

He said: “It was really great to see that full change in [the mice’s] microbiomes can really excel such effects on cognitive behaviour, like almost resembling the learning performance of young mice, it was pretty mind-blowing.”

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For the analysis, researchers collected fecal samples from younger mice and translated them into the older mice’s intestines to cultivate similar gut microbiomes.

The researchers noted that the procedure was only feasible because older mice already have similar gut microbiota to that of younger mice.

The team then administered behavioural tests to the older mice to measure how their brain function may have changed.

This was determined by submerging the mice in a pool of water to observe how efficiently they navigated their way to a platform, a procedure known as the Morris Water test.

The researchers thereafter carried out further examination of the hippocampus, to determine how the mice’s brains changed following the transplant.

Although fecal microbiota transplants are highly unlikely to be practiced on humans, they provide valuable insight into which microbes may be missing from an older person’s microbiota.

John Cyran, also author of the study, explained: “I’m not recommending that we should go into poo transplants in humans, because we have no evidence that it would work in humans.

“But what we do have evidence of is that by targeting the microbes, we can identify which strains exactly are missing.”

Katherine Guzzetta, Ph.D. student at University College Cork and author of the study, noted that knowledge of gut health may also improve the quality of life of pets, allowing them to feel good into old age.

Furthermore, the study could highlight which aspects of diet are indispensable for brain health as we age.

Previous studies have highlighted strong links between the gut and the brain, notably their ability to communicate to each other through the vagus nerve.

The nerve sends signals from the gastrointestinal tract up to the brain.

Many scientists have referred to the gut as the second brain, because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, like dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid.

Serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating mood, is also made in the digestive tract.

Over the past couple of decades, numerous studies have provided evidence that age-associated shifts in the gut microbiome contribute to increased predisposition of aged individuals to certain diseases.

Such diseases include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, obesity, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases, which affects cognitive health.

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