Living longer – do you have the stomach for it?

It takes guts to be a centenarian, literally. Here’s why.

Key Points

  • Study finds centenarians have ‘special’ bacteria in their guts. 

  • These bacteria can fight infections and stressors. 

  • This could lead to greater longevity. 

Isn’t the secret to a long life in our genes? You either have it, or you don’t. That’s what most people believe. 

However, genetics accounts for less than 30 percent of longevity, which means other factors also play important roles - diet, relationships, and now, possibly, gut bacteria. 

A study of Japanese people who have lived for more than a century, has found that they have ‘special’ bacteria in their stomachs that produce unique bile acids, which can fight infections and other environmental stressors that cause ill health. 

Reporting in the Nature publication, the researchers raised “the possibility of manipulating the bile acid for health benefits.” 

The study recruited 160 centenarians and compared the bacterial communities found in their faecal samples, to the gut bugs of another 112 elderly people in their late 80s, and to 47 younger people.

While some of the centenarians showed typical signs of aging, such as low-level inflammation, the majority were free of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

Their bile acids included a substance known as isoallolithocholic acid, which is known to have antimicrobial effects against a range of gut pathogens.  

Experiments in mice have shown that isoalloLCA can inhibit the growth of a bacterium that can cause severe diarrhoea. 

Researcher, Professor Kenya Honda said it was unclear why centenarians would be more likely to have certain microbes in their guts. 

“As you imagine, both their genetic factors and diet have affected shaping the composition of the gut microbiota,” he said, adding the bugs could also be inherited. 

Probiotics are often heralded as a healthy treatment for our guts. However, such treatments containing live bacteria thought to confer health benefits have had variable results in research thus far. 

There are many things that have been linked to long life which we can all try to do, from staying social to reducing stress and eating well. 

Source: Science Alert