The Bacteria in Your Gut Define Your Real Age

October 19, 2020

The Bacteria in Your Gut Indicate Your Real Age

No kidding. How old you are "biologically" can be understood by the changes that happen to the "biome" in your gut. Let's explain. For starters, we all have about 100 times the number of cells in our gut compared to our entire bodies. 100 times. Our gut doesn't just digest the food we eat, it has an immune function that is only now becoming more understood. And real understanding comes from recognizing that our brains, our immune system, and our guts are all on a team together. Your brain will never be happy if your gut isn't happy. How so?

For starters, a healthy gut needs to be mostly low oxygen-consuming "anaerobic" bacteria. That might be the crux. Your gut cells lining your intestinal lining are formed deep in the depths of your villi in your intestine: the "crypts of Lieberkühn". A healthy human gut lining uses a ton of oxygen with the paradoxical effect of making very little available inside the gut. That results in more "anaerobic" bacteria in your gut, which results in the making of more short-chain fatty acids, the major one being beta-hydroxybutyrate. In this desired, balanced world, we make all the signaling messages for us to produce a balanced set of T-reg cells (the T cells that boss around your immune system and balance it) and macrophages (the garbage trucks that clean up cellular gunk).

This is where it gets fun and very interesting. The Western diet that we now eat, characterized by high saturated animal fat, no fiber, and too much protein, changes the way energy is consumed in our gut lining, thereby changing the amount of oxygen getting into the gut (much more gets in) thereby changing the beneficial bacteria to not-so-good bacteria. These changes lead to different levels of T-reg cells, different levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate, different levels of macrophages, different levels of neurotransmitters in our brain. Throw in antibiotics that we take orally and which decimate huge populations of gut bacteria and add a good dollop of sugar and a whole raft of artificial poisons: no wonder we are a mess. I've carefully selected some reading in the references you can do a deep dive into. Click on some links and spend an afternoon in the dizzying depths of your suffering gut, your aging brain and your faltering immune system.

But let's just look at some of the clinical implications for you. A study from Cornell two years ago showed that midlife folks in America who eat a Mediterranean diet, (more vegetables, fish, fruits, legumes, olive oil, less red meat, animal protein, saturated fat, tiny bit of alcohol) can be shown to develop less amyloid in their brains and have better cognitive performance.

A study from Wake Forest with folks with mild cognitive impairment versus controls show in an immediate change in gut flora, beta-hydroxybutyrate and central nervous system markers of Alzheimer's as determined by spinal tap) when diet is changed to a "Modified Mediterranean ketogenic diet" (which meant it was high fat with olive oil and less carbs) versus the American Heart Association diet.

There is an explosion of interest in this idea. Lots of papers are being published. You can correlate the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate in your gut and blood with your cholesterol forming amyloid plaques. The biome of your colonic bacteria is correlated with their oxygenation. Eating more olive oil makes for better synapses. If you read one extra paper, read the Frontiers in Endocrinology about gut bacteria and your brain.

All these advances are now being commercialized. You can measure your "biological age" by measuring your gut bacteria in relationship to the health of your white blood cells and your genetic markers of mitochondrial health. As you age, your ability to make a healthy "redox" environment in your mitochondria deteriorates. Your production of NAD+ drops and your SIRT proteins, tasked with keeping your DNA properly protected, disintegrates. A company by the name of VIOMEwill happily tell you your "biological age" compared to your calendar age based on whether your diet, your gut bacteria, and your blood markers are in healthy ranges. Got $ 300 looking for a brand new test?

WWW. What will work for me. I've been taking NAD-riboside and metformin to align with Sinclair's admonitions. That should be helping. And I make myself an Instapot of legume curry every week. I use that to eat less animal protein. We have a giant salad made with olive oil every night (mostly). I should be the picture of virtue. Well, my Viome test came back raunchy. I'm biologically "older" than my calendar age. Bummer. Faced with data, I do the obvious. I attack the validity of the test. And then I look at the brownies in the fridge and have an apple instead.

References: Science, Neurology, Lancet, Nature, Nature Reviews, Aging Cell,Frontiers Micro,

Pop Quiz

1. Your colon has more or fewer cells in it than the rest of your body? T or F.                    Answer:   True, 100 times more. Trillions and trillions more.

2. The beneficial cells in your gut depend on what sort of environment?                             Answer: low oxygen, high fiber, not too much protein, sugar, or animal fat and please, please, hold off on the antibiotics and artificial .....everything.

3. Can you name the immune cells that direct your immune system that depend on eating a Mediterranean diet? Answer: T-reg (aka bossy pants)

4. Can you identify the elements of a Mediterranean diet?                                      Answer: More vegetables, more whole grains, fish, fruits legumes, and LOTS of olive oil, with less animal fat, protein sugar)

5. What short-chain fatty acid comes out of your colon that is wonderful brain food?                        Answer: beta-hydroxybutyrate, made when you eat olive oil, made when you fast for more than 12 hours, made when you tip the balance of nutrients to more plant away from refined grains, sugars, and animal products)