More and more research is coming out every day on just how big an impact our gut function & microbiome has on our whole health.
When the gut is compromised through poor diet and lifestyle choices it can create chronic inflammation, disrupted microbiome function, increase risk of autoimmune disorders, imbalance our hormones and even impact our skin and how healthy it is.
For optimal longevity and anti-ageing it is vital we support a healthy gut. And this doesn’t need to be complicated.
Through diet & lifestyle changes you can repair your gut and support a healthy microbiome so can help slow down the ageing process and live a long and healthy life.
What Causes Ageing?
There are many theories as to what causes ageing and age-related disease.
- Oxidative stress
- Poor immune function
- Gene expression & Epigenetics
- Imbalanced hormones and many more.
So when we look at ageing and how to address it, we need to look at all of these factors. And all of these factors are impacted by how healthy our gut and microbiome is.
How Does Your Gut & Microbiome Play into Ageing?
Our gut and microbiome play a huge role in the maintenance of our health.
Because this is where we absorb all of the nutrients required for the proper functioning of our body, our whole body runs on nutrients and without adequate amounts, we get nutritional deficiencies that can increase our risk of many diseases and accelerate the ageing process. When the health of the gut wall is compromised we also get increased inflammation and overactive immune reactions.
Our microbiome (which is not just located in our gut) is made up of trillions of bacterial cells. In fact, we actually contain more bacterial cells in our bodies than we do human cells.
Our microbiome plays many critical roles in our health and therefore ageing including:
- Converting sugars into short-chain fatty acids for energy (and also shown to reduce the risk of many inflammatory & age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and more).
- Help digest the food we eat and assist in the absorption of many minerals including calcium & iron (calcium is needed for healthy bones)
- Helps make many vitamins such as all the B vitamins and fat-soluble nutrients like Vitamin A & K
- Helps create hormones
- Modulates the immune system (80% of the immune system is located in the gut)
- Makes our digestive enzymes (super important for breaking down food properly)
- Support a healthy PH (this is important for anti-ageing)
- Helps support and maintain the lining of the gut (a healthy gut wall is critical for good health, reducing inflammation and proper absorption of nutrients)
- Epigenetic regulator: it regulates our gene expression
- Fights cancer-causing compounds
And so many more.
All of the benefits both our gut and our microbiome have for our health directly impact healthy ageing.
What Can Go Wrong With Your Gut & Microbiome to Affect Ageing?
Healthy gut & microbiome function can be negatively impacted by many things:
- Microbiome Starvation: Yes, you can starve your microbiome. Not eating enough fibre (both soluble & non soluble) will starve your microbiome, leading to something called dysbiosis (imbalance in the types of bacteria in our gut), this can lead to increased intestinal permeability (which can increase the risk of autoimmune disorders & chronic inflammation), liver inflammation (reduced ability to process and clear toxins, creating oxidative stress and hormonal imbalances) and compromised immune system functioning.
- Stress: Studies now show that chronic stress is as bad for our health as smoking. Chronic stress over time leads to increased intestinal permeability (this means that compounds such as toxic by-products made by bacteria, undigested food and more can get into our bloodstream, sending our immune system into overdrive and creating even more inflammation).
Stress also reduces the number of good bacteria (in our microbiome) that we have, leading to dysbiosis and more as discussed above (remember that our hormones are synthesised through our microbiome so the less good bacteria we have the more our hormones are likely to be impacted).
- Excess alcohol: This also causes dysbiosis (imbalance of good/bad bacteria) and increased intestinal permeability, whilst also shutting down liver detox phases increasing the amount of oxidative stress in the body.
- Highly processed diet
- Poor sleep/shift workers and disrupted circadian rhythm
- Toxin exposure: pesticides, herbicides, environmental toxins (painters, hairdressers, cleaners, renovators)
So How Does This Impact Ageing?
As you have read above our gut and microbiome play a role in all of these known causes of ageing. When our gut and microbiome is in poor health this increases the amount of inflammation & oxidative stress in our bodies, dampens our immune system and our hormone production is impacted.
Chronic inflammation is associated with a decline in testosterone, add in the fact that after the age of 35, testosterone declines by 1.5% each year. Combining chronic inflammation with the normal decline of testosterone can lead to a testosterone deficiency which is known as Andropause, and is one of the factors involved in accelerated ageing in men.
Inflammation & oxidative stress increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases. Cardiovascular disease is associated with erectile dysfunction.
The dampening of our immune system reduces our bodies ability to recognise cancer cells, increasing our risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer.
It is important we understand that each body system is not isolated, in fact, every-body system interacts with each other and when one is out of balance it is highly likely others are too.
How to Support a Healthy Gut & Microbiome?
- Feed your microbiome: Eating a diet rich in insoluble and soluble fibre is essential.
- Plenty of fruit & vegetables. At least 10 serves a day. Try a green protein smoothie for breakfast, meaty salad for lunch and a serve of steamed vegetables (alongside your chosen protein) for dinner. Snack on berries, kiwi fruit, nuts & seeds.
- Prebiotics are essential for a healthy microbiome: Green tea, garlic, onion, globe artichoke, asparagus are perfect for feeding our microbiome.
- Try making a gut-loving potato salad. Potatoes when cooked and then cooled (in the fridge) turn into resistant starch (a potent prebiotic food). So get your cooled potatoes, add some Greek yoghurt, fresh green onions, fresh grated garlic, salt & pepper and you have the perfect gut loving food (bonus the by-products created from eating this help burn visceral fat).
- Avoid/Reduce Alcohol: There is no safe limit for alcohol consumption, that being said it isn’t realistic for everyone to give up cold turkey. Try limiting your alcohol consumption to 1-2 days per week
- Reduce inflammatory foods: Highly processed foods (such as fast food, chips, lollies, prepacked foods) will create inflammation and disrupt our gut health. Try reducing or eliminating these where you can
- Stop smoking
- Reduce stress: Avoiding stressful situations isn’t always possible but what you do about stress is in your hands. Try meditation, going for a walk, sitting out in nature on the grass, going to the beach, having an Epson salt bath, getting a massage. These will all help you reduce stress hormones.
- Eat some probiotic-rich foods: Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, probiotic yoghurts. 1-2 serves a day is ideal (1-2 tablespoons of sauerkraut for example).
- Avoid gluten & dairy: These can be triggers for increased intestinal permeability and a large portion of the population have sensitivities/intolerances to these. If you find you are bloated, gassy, get reflux, nausea, chronic blocked sinus after eating these foods (up to a day after) It could be a sensitivity.
- See a naturopath: Naturopaths are training extensively in gut health. Naturopathy is an evidence-based modality that looks at the underlying causes of disease and illness and addresses the whole person (so all the body systems and how they interact with each other). There are many tests they can do from food intolerances to microbiome mapping to create a personalised treatment plan for you.
Michaela Sparrow is the founder of The Longevity Remedy and is a degree qualified naturopath, clinical nutritionist and certified anti-ageing practitioner (ACAAM). She runs a successful clinic in Newcastle and also does online consults Australia wide. Michaela has a specialty interest in all things relating to ageing in particular andropause (male menopause), gut health, stress & anxiety. You can follow her Instagram @thelongevityremedy or check out her services at www.thelongevityremedy.com