FRIDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- The health of elderly people appears closely linked with their diet and the type of microorganisms living in their gut, suggesting that what you eat may affect how well you age, according to new research.
"Our findings indicate that any two given older people, independent of [their] starting health status and genetic makeup, could experience very different rates of health loss upon aging due to dietary choices that impact on their gut bacterial ecosystem," said Paul O'Toole, senior author of the study appearing July 13 in the journal Nature.
"You can think of [diet] as another controllable environmental factor that we can act upon to promote healthier aging," O'Toole added.
Numerous studies have indicated a link between the "microbiota" that live in the human gut and health, including obesity and perhaps even brain health. More recent studies have noted greater variation in the microbiota of elderly people than younger people.
To study the potential meaning of this greater variation, these authors looked at the gut microbiota of 178 elderly individuals (average age 78). None was being treated with antibiotics, which can alter the composition of your gut.
The researchers discovered that intestinal flora (microbes) varied depending on where the participants lived and also with their health.
For instance, people living independently in the community had more varied flora and were the healthiest.
On the other hand, people living in long-term, assisted-living situations had less diverse flora and tended to be frailer.
The differences in flora were associated with differences in diet, although it's unclear if the diet was responsible for the number and type of flora and health status or the other way around.
It does seem likely that it's diet that ultimately determines a person's health status, t
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