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An anti-aging primer for GI health.

As we age, changes take place in our body systems. Cellular processes slow down, and our organs and tissues become less robust in performing their functions. Such is the case for the gastrointestinal (GI) system: with aging, there is a decline in the actual form of the intestines--the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract. Scientists have observed alterations in the structure and membrane composition of the intestine. This causes declines in the absorption of some nutrients, such as fatty acids and cholesterol. In addition, the following changes are common in the GI system during aging:

The human intestines remove toxins created by the digestive (as well as cellular) processes. The intestines are home to bacteria, known as intestinal flora. Representing 400 different species, these microorganisms typically comprise 2 to 3 1/2 pounds of body weight. In all, the intestines may be home to as many as 100 trillion organisms--more than the total number of cells in the entire body!

We all have armies of "good" and "bad" bacteria in our intestines. The "good" (friendly) bacteria perform functions necessary to sustain life, from vitamin and enzyme production to enhancing digestion and absorption of proteins. Good bacteria also suppress potentially threatening microorganisms from multiplying and spreading. Of the 400 or so known species of bacteria that colonize the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract, Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are the most important and beneficial.

Bacteria coexist in the intestine with colonies of yeast. In fact, bacteria keep yeast growth in check. Frequent or prolonged use of antibiotics can kill enough bacteria to destroy this balance and cause an overgrowth of yeast, which leads to infections such as vaginitis and chronic diarrhea. Out-of-control intestinal yeast is also thought to precipitate allergic symptoms or to aggravate existing allergies.

This column reviews recent scientific evidence that reaffirms the notion that it is essential for overall health to maintain plentiful "good" bacteria in the GI system.

GI Bacteria Diversity Linked to Obesity

People who do not have a rich array of healthy gut bacteria may be more prone to metabolic dysfunction and low-grade inflammation. Oluf Pedersen and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) conducted DNA analysis on intestinal bacteria from 292 Danish patients, of whom 169 were obese and 123 were not. The researchers found that among the obese subjects, 23% had low "bacterial richness," with an average of 380,000 microbial genes, compared with an average of 640,000 genes in those who had more diverse microbiomes. Subjects with less diverse gut bacteria also had greater adiposity, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia, and a more pronounced inflammatory phenotype than those with high bacterial richness. Those subjects also gained significantly more weight over the previous 9 years. The study authors submit that these correlations help to "identify subsets of individuals in the general white adult population who may be at increased risk of progressing to adiposity-associated co-morbidities."

Le Chatelier E, Nielsen T, Qin J, et al. Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature. 500:541-546; 28 August 2013.

Pine Tree Compound Aids GI Health

A polysaccharide from Picea abies (spruce) may selectively enhance the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Researchers from the University of Turku (Finland) report that the spruce tree is abundant in galactoglucomannan, a type of hemicellulose that has been suggested by previous studies to exert prebiotic effects. L. Polari and colleagues showed that Bifidobacterium (beneficial bacteria) species could ferment the spruce-derived compound in a lab model. Additionally, the team observed that the amount of viable bacteria was nearly 100 times higher in samples exposed to galactoglucomannan, as compared with the control samples. Observing, "Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis strain Bb12, a commonly used probiotic, was able to adapt to the galactoglucomannan leading to more efficient utilization of hemicellulose-derived saccharides," the study authors submit: "Our study demonstrates prebiotic properties for galactoglucomannan."

Polari L, Ojansivu P, Makela S, Eckerman C, Holmbom B, Salminen S. Galactoglucomannan extracted from spruce (Picea abies) as a carbohydrate source for probiotic bacteria. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Oct 24.

Dietary Fiber Supports GI Health

Microbes that live in the gut are responsible for fermenting fiber in the intestine, producing short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites beneficial for the body. It is therefore important that sufficient dietary fiber is consumed daily, in order to promote the growth of such beneficial bacteria. Kelly Swanson and colleagues from the University of Illinois (US) studied 20 healthy men, consuming an average fiber intake of 14 g a day, who were given snack bars to supplement the diet. A second group ate bars that contained 21 grams of polydextrose, a common fiber food additive; a third group received bars with 21 grams of soluble corn fiber; and a fourth group received bars that contained no fiber. The team collected fecal samples from the participants, and used the microbial DNA obtained to identify which bacteria were present. DNA was then subjected to 454 pyrosequencing, a technique that provided a snapshot of al I the bacterial types present. The researchers found that certain bacteria grew as a result of the respective fibers consumed. Observing specifically that when soluble corn fiber was consumed, the numbers of Lactobacillus bacteria, often considered a probiotic for their beneficial effects on the gut, increased.

Hooda S, Vester Boler BM, Rossoni Serao MC, et al. 454 pyrosequencing reveals a shift in fecal microbiota of healthy adult men consuming polydextrose or soluble corn fiber. J Nutr. July 2012;142:1259-1265.

'Good Bugs' Battle Colds

Previous studies have suggested the utility of probiotics, bacterial organisms that help maintain the natural balance of microflora present in the intestines, to help modulate the immune response. Tracey J. Smith and colleagues from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (US) recruited 200 college students, administering a supplement of 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, for a 12-week period. When the participants contracted an upper-respiratory infection, the researchers observed that it lasted 4 days, as compared with 6 days in a control group who did not receive probiotic supplementation, equating to a 34% reduction in the duration of the common cold. The study authors suggest: "[Probiotic supplementation] may be beneficial among college students with [upper respiratory infection] for mitigating decrements in [health-related quality of life]."

Smith TJ, Rigassio-Radler D, Denmark R, Haley T, Touger-Decker R. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG(R) and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12(R) on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. Br J Nutr. 2012 Oct 1:1-9.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the largest system in the body, is 28 to 30 feet long with a total surface area of almost 6000 square feet--about the dimensions of a tennis court! As the above studies suggest, abundant "good" GI bacteria help to achieve overall wellness and vitality.

To stay updated on the latest breakthroughs in natural, nontoxic approaches that may help to boost gastrointestinal health, visit the World Health Network (www.worldhealth. net), the official educational website of the A4M and your one-stop resource for authoritative anti-aging information. Be sure to sign up for the free Longevity Magazine e-journal, your weekly health newsletter featuring wellness, prevention, and biotech advancements in longevity.

by Ronald Klatz, MD, DO, and Robert Goldman, MD, PhD, DO, FAASP
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Title Annotation:Anti-Aging Medicine; gastrointestinal health
Author:Klatz, Ronald; Goldman, Robert
Publication:Townsend Letter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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