The link between gut health and ageing

woman holding hand over stomach
Our gut health becomes even more important as we age.

Naturopathic practitioners have traditionally focused on gut health and the fundamental role it plays in maintaining wellbeing. Science is now catching up with many emerging studies confirming the important role a healthy gut plays in supporting wellbeing.

It does make sense when you think about it. Water and food are essential to survival, and the gut (including stomach and intestines) are the place where these are absorbed. What’s more, when we eat and drink we inadvertently consume many undesirable substances such as toxins and unfriendly bacteria. If the gut is working well, and if it is home to enough “friendly” bacteria, then this team can effectively block the uptake of toxins into the body and prevent harmful bugs making a home and causing symptoms.

Now we can’t talk about gut health without also discussing the bacteria that live there and this is due to their pivotal role in supporting the processes that go on there. Read on to understand some of the ways in which gut health and bacterial balance play a role in protecting against the negative effects of ageing.

1. Bone health

There are many nutrients that are essential for bone health as we age. Two of these include calcium and vitamin K2 (which plays a role in directing calcium into bones). Calcium from food requires an acidic environment in the gut in order to be absorbed into the body, and the good bacteria that reside there produce substances known as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help to create this beneficial acidity. Furthermore, vitamin K2 is actually produced by the good bugs in your gut, and therefore if you’re lacking in bacterial numbers you may be at risk of a vitamin K2 insufficiency. Therefore, to support bone health, eat lots of fibre to feed the good bugs in your gut, and if you’ve recently taken antibiotics it can be a good idea to try a probiotic recommended for you by your healthcare practitioner. Don’t forget to also consider vitamin D, a healthy diet and regular exercise!

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2. Immune health

As we reach our older years, the risk of infection can increase due to a decline in the functioning of immune defences. At least 70 per cent of your immune tissue is found associated with your gut, and therefore looking after it can assist in maximising your protection against infection.

Read more: Vital diet and exercise changes you should make in your 60s

3. Preventing inflammation in the body and brain

Research supports the theory that inflammation in the body due to a poor diet and compromised gut health can contribute to subsequent inflammation in the brain. This can increase the risk of mood disorders (e.g. anxiety and depressive symptoms) plus cognitive decline (e.g. dementia). Don’t forget, if you are experiencing the symptoms of depression, anxiety or cognitive decline it is important to seek the advice of a qualified health professional.

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4. Antioxidant protection

Protecting against the effects of oxidative stress on cellular ageing in our body with antioxidants is often discussed. Foods such as those from the plant kingdom that are deep or bright in colour are great to include in abundance within the diet to provide antioxidants and other nutrients to support healthy cells (e.g. skin cells, brain cells, liver cells etc.) and prevent premature ageing. More recently, some of the bacteria that reside in the gut have been shown to stimulate our body’s own antioxidants that are produced to prevent free radical damage.

Read more: How finding the right diet turned my life around at 70

5. Anti-Ageing

Understanding the role that good bacteria can play in promoting health, researchers have begun to conduct studies using certain types of bacteria taken with drinks or food to determine the beneficial impacts they might have on the ageing process. Some interesting, early findings include their ability to be anti-inflammatory, support skin health, promote hair growth, prevent weight gain commonly associated with the ageing process, and beneficially influence hormones.

So, if you’re looking to maintain your health in the long term, be sure to support your gut health with a fibre-rich diet (i.e. approx. 30g/day), eat lots of fruits and vegetables, heathy omega-3 fats (e.g. from fish), lean protein, and avoid sugar, fried fats and excessive alcohol.

Do you know much about gut health? Is diet a big part of your health plan?