TOKYO — Centenarians have unique gut bacteria that enables them to live to a ripe old age, according to new research. Scientists in Japan say this unique gut makeup fuels bile acids that protect against disease.
The discovery could lead to yogurts and other probiotic foods that increase longevity.
“In people over the age of 100, an enrichment in a distinct set of gut microbes generate unique bile acids,” says lead author Professor Kenya Honda of Keio University in a statement per South West News Service. “They might inhibit the growth of pathogens.”
The complex fluids are vital in ridding the body of fat and waste. They also control cholesterol.
“The community of microbes in our gut changes as we age,” Prof. Honda adds.
Fighting off superbugs that shorten lives
In healthy individuals, the trillions of microbes that live in our intestines become increasingly distinctive.
“Centenarians are less susceptible to age-related chronic diseases and infection than are elderly individuals below the age of 100,” the microbiologist explains. “It is thought the composition of their gut microbiota may be associated with extreme longevity, but the mechanisms have been unclear.”
In particular, they have specific strains of an organism known as Odoribacteraceae. It makes bile acids that act as antimicrobials against a range of illnesses, the study finds. Experiments in mice showed they even destroyed hospital superbugs like Clostridioides difficile and Enterococcus faecium. They can cause severe diarrhea, especially in vulnerable people taking antibiotics.
“These findings suggest specific bile acid metabolism may be involved in reducing the risk of infection – potentially contributing to the maintenance of intestinal health,” Prof. Honda says.
“Compared with elderly and young individuals, centenarians are enriched in gut microbes capable of generating unique secondary bile acids through novel biosynthetic pathways,” the professor says.
Is healthy gut bacteria the ‘elixir of youth’ for centenarians?
The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests they hold the key to an “elixir of youth.”
“It may be possible to exploit the bile-acid-metabolizing capabilities of the identified bacterial strains to manipulate the pool for health benefits,” Honda continues.
The discovery sheds fresh light on why centenarians are less prone to age-related illnesses, chronic inflammation, and infectious diseases. Prof. Honda and colleagues screened 68 species of bacteria from a stool sample of one of the centenarians. The results add to growing evidence the community of microorganisms in your belly can help predict if you will have a long and healthy life.
The findings show this partially depends on your mother’s microbiota, your environment at birth, and your current diet and lifestyle. These organisms line your entire digestive system. Most live in your intestines and colon. They also impact your metabolism and the immune system.
“It has been postulated there are centenarian-specific members of the gut microbiota which, rather than representing a mere consequence of aging, might actively contribute to resistance against pathogenic infection and other environmental stressors,” Honda concludes. “We aimed to identify such beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiota of centenarians.”
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.