There is a myth that dates back to the olden days involving Tithonus, who was an eponymous protagonist.
The myth has it that Tithonus prayed to the gods of his time if he could live forever. He foolishly forgot to pray for eternal youth.
The gods answered his prayer and granted him to live forever.
He got what he prayed for, which is immortality. Nevertheless, he continued to waste away due to old age with much regret since he didn't pray to remain youthful.
Every one of us would wish to live longer, but length of days without commensurate youthful health can be frustrating.Since everyone is working hard for more extended healthy living, the population of aged persons is increasing faster. In one of the reports by the United Nations, there is an estimate of senior people population increasing by 3 percent every year.
The current estimate data is that people with 60 years and above are over 962 million globally. At this rate, there is a projection that by 2050, the current estimate will have doubled with those above 80 years tripled.
From the above projection, along comes the prediction of an increase in age-related chronic diseases. One report by the Alzheimer’s Association shows that, 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease today in America.
Another report by the World Health Organization in their health report estimates that 47 million people have dementia globally. The estimate projects the figure to increase by the year 2030 to 75 million people.
These are staggering figures that are creating anxiety and giving researchers sleepless nights as they ponder on how to fix this problem.
From the above estimates, the focus should be on “how to live healthier as we strive to live longer” rather than “how to live longer.”
With such a focus, it is evident that to have an extended healthy living; some molecular mechanisms have to be put in place.
Such mechanisms are giving one neuroscience lecturer at QMUL (Queen Mary University of London) School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Marina Ezcurra Ph.D. some sleepless nights to understand these mechanisms.
Her primary focus is based on the microbiome in the process of gastrointestinal aging.
The findings of Dr. Ezcurra presented on 24th October 2018 at one meeting in London carried the following points:
The benefit of Gut Bacteria
The body needs almost every nutrient from the foods you eat to be healthy. Once you eat all kinds of food, they will pass five steps of digestion which are the mouth, the oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestines, and the large intestines.
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It is in the large intestines that breaking down of nutrients as well as absorption take place. But, one primary task with this ‘often ignored’ part of the body is to protect you from harmful bacteria and other substances by use of good gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria are useful for your immunity by putting a barrier against harmful bacteria and inflammation. Also, it digests hard to digest elements of food that supply energy to your body.
Gut Bacteria in Old Age
One essential benefit of gut bacteria or gut microbiota as Dr. Ezcurra reports in her research finding is that it modulates ageing process in human physiology. Also, it regulates a myriad of age-related diseases and the gut-brain axis (GBA). GBA effects modulation of the cognitive function and brain plasticity during ageing.
However, gut microbiota dives downwards as people age. Other aspects that cause a decrease in gut bacteria is the use of medication and change of diet mainly with fewer fibre foods.
The declining of gut bacteria in old age can affect the immune system. It can then increase harmful bacteria or microorganisms, causing age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Even though the reason for frailty in old age may be hard to tell, many health experts associate inflammation or less active immune system to diseases that come with aging.
One famous man in the field of medicine, Hippocrates once said, ‘all diseases begin in the gut.’
How true is that? Can we reverse it to say that a healthy life begins with the gut? Think about that.
Part of the Hippocrates’ statement is correct, and another part is yet to be proved right. The correct part is that your health can be affected by gut lining where some bacteria can penetrate to your bloodstream. Here are some diseases that have a relationship with your gut.
According to Dr. Ezcurra, good gut bacteria in old age decreases when there is an increase in harmful bacteria. In such a condition, ageing-related diseases such as Alzheimer's can occur.
There is new research connecting gut microbiome to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Further research needs to be conducted to confirm these findings and possibly find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
There is a connection between the vagus nerve that links the brain to the digestive tract and Parkinson’s disease. The nerve in the brain controls some of the body processes, including digestion.
From the information, you can easily link Parkinson’s disease with the gut. The link is promising in paving the way in finding a way to treat the disease.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a chronic disease related to the digestive system. It causes abdominal discomfort and in extreme cases, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. The exact cause of IBS has not been established, but it is believed that IBS is linked to gut microbiome.
While there are some promising treatments for IBS that are still being researched on, studies into gut bacteria are needed. One study has revealed that fasting is a useful option in the management of IBS.
Two bacterial types E. coli and B. fragilis found in the gut are a high risk factor for the development of colon cancer. The two bacteria are among trillions of others located in your gut. The collective bacteria in your gut are known as gut flora. Not all are harmful as some play a vital role in digestion.
Others like the two types E. coli and B. fragilis can penetrate the dense mucus layer of the colon wall surface, damaging the DNA, which can lead to colon cancer.
However, when things look gloomy towards this most deadly colon cancer disease, there is a slight relief to know that strategies are underway to prevent it in the future. The concentration will be more on the health of the gut.
One such way is to vaccinate people who are at high risk of getting colon cancer against one of the two bacterial strains, E. coli and B. fragilis.
Neurotransmitters are some chemicals produced in the gut. They play a significant role in your mental health. Imbalance of the two ‘happy’ neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin and gut microbiome can lead to depression and other psychological issues.
Gut-brain-axis is a determiner in the relationship between your gut and mental health through the vagus nerve. Imbalance in some of the gut microbiome can also lead to depression.
It is then evident that your mental health is connected to your gut.
Autoimmune disease can occur when your immune response attacks healthy tissues instead of protecting them. The immune system protects the body against germs and other harmful substances through the use of antibodies.
As you may know, your gut is the hub of most of the immune system in the body to about 80 percent. Therefore, any autoimmune disease is triggered by a condition of the gut bacteria.
Diabetes Type 2 has been classified more like an autoimmune disease more than the metabolic syndrome. Research has it that the immunity system in Diabetes Type 2 attacks body tissues due to insulin resistance.
Diabetes Type 2 is an age-related disease, with about 25 percent of the patients 60 years and above.
Best Foods to Improve Gut Health
The best foods to support or restore healthy gut bacteria are probiotics. The best source of probiotics is fermented foods.
Here are some of them:
Kombucha, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kimchi, kefir, yoghurt, and other fermented foods.
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You can’t feed on probiotic foods and fail to take prebiotic ones. Probiotic foods will need prebiotic foods to support digestion. When the two foods act together, it benefits the gut by the increase of good bacteria.
Prebiotic, which are mostly fibre-rich foods, support probiotic by creating optimal conditions such as such as pH balancing, environmental, and temperature changes.
Some of the prebiotic foods are bananas, whole grains, onions, garlic, asparagus, and chicory.
Improve your gut health for overall good health and good immunity. You can alter age-related diseases by connecting your bowel to your brain and physiological response to psychological response.