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Bacteria in the human gut may be key to healthy aging

In a new study from the European Society of Cardiology, scientists are describing how gut bacteria may hold the key to healthier aging. The research links microbes in the digestive tract with dozens of health conditions including body mass index (BMI) and high blood pressure.

“Our study indicates that microbiota might have an important role in maintaining health and could help us develop novel treatments,” said study co-author Dr. Hilde Groot.

Trillions of cells, bacteria, viruses, and other material present in the digestive tract make up the human gut microbiome. Previous studies have produced evidence that the contents of the gut microbiome are correlated with individual diseases.

The current study is the first to investigate the role of gut microbiota in multiple health conditions and diseases at the same time. Using genetic data as a proxy for microbiome composition, the investigation has revealed the staggering extent to which this content influences health and disease.

“Previous research has shown that the human gut microbiome composition could be partially explained by genetic variants. So, instead of directly measuring the make-up of the microbiome, we used genetic alterations to estimate its composition,” said Dr. Groot.

The study was focused on more than 400,000 individuals in the UK Biobank with an average age of 57. The participants had undergone genotyping to identify their genetic make-up, and had been evaluated for specific characteristics such as BMI and blood pressure. 

The researchers identified eleven bacteria that were associated with a total of 28 health and disease outcomes. Higher levels of these bacteria could predict certain conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, allergic diseases like asthma and eczema, high blood lipids, and BMI.

For example, higher levels of the genus Ruminococcus were linked with increased risk of high blood pressure. The researchers also identified bacteria associated with food and alcohol consumption.

“What we eat and drink is connected to microbiome content, so we studied the links with meat, caffeine, and alcohol. We observed a relationship between raised levels of Methanobacterium and drinking alcohol more often. It is important to stress that this is an association, not a causal relation, and more research is needed,” said Dr. Groot.

One of the major strengths of the study was conducting a broad analysis among the same group of people. 

“Considering that the results were observed in one cohort, this cautiously supports the notion that microbiota and the substances they produce (called metabolites) provide links between numerous diseases and conditions.”  

Dr. Groot said the findings may ultimately help to identify common pathways, but more research is needed to confirm the results.

“Follow-up studies are required to study causality before giving concrete advice to the public and health professionals. This study provides clues where to go.”

The research was presented at ESC Congress 2020 The Digital Experience.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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