Anti-aging: Research focuses on our intestinal microbiome
An increasing number of studies have addressed the answer to a very important question: do the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract hold the key to healthy aging?
According to mythology, Tithonus asked the gods to grant him immortality but failed to ask from them eternal youth. Although he was immortal, he confronts all the evils of old age, and eventually, he regretted his desire. And while achieving longevity is a goal worth pursuing and an ambition that humanity has pursued since antiquity, the myth of Tithonus reminds us that prolonged longevity is worthless if it is accompanied by age-related diseases.
The population is aging, the diseases of old age are increasing
As human life expectancy increases, the world's population is aging at much higher rates. The United Nations estimates that the elderly population - that is, the number of people aged 60 years or over - is growing at a rate of about 3% per year. Currently, according to the latest estimates, there are 962 million people aged 60 years and over worldwide. By 2050, this number is expected to be more than doubled and the number of people aged 80 years and over is expected to triple.
A range of chronic diseases accompanies aging. By 2060, for example, the financial burden of Alzheimer's disease in the United States is expected to be double and it is estimated that 14 million people will have Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. That's why researchers are struggling to prevent this condition as well as other age-related diseases.
So the question "How can we live longer maintaining our health?" replaces that of "How can we live longer?". As scientists begin their research for better health, it is clearer that aging is not just an inevitable process that just happens, but precise molecular mechanisms regulate it.
Marina Ezcurra, a lecturer of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University in London, devotes her time to the investigation of these mechanisms. Her research focuses on how aging and related diseases occur in a roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans. Recently, Ezcurra and her team focused on gastrointestinal aging and the role of the microbiome in this process. On October 24, 2018, Ezcurra presented its research at the London Microbiome Meeting, and here is what it revealed.
An intestinal parasite hides secret
In her presentation, Ezcurra introduced C. elegans as a living model for the study of aging. C. elegans has a lifespan of only 2-3 weeks, but as it grows, it develops various pathologies, as the human body does. However, in the case of C. elegans, all pathologies are due to a single cause, gastrointestinal aging. As Ezcurra explained, all the life-enhancing therapies applied by scientists to C. elegans had the effect of suppressing intestinal aging. Using C. elegans as an experimental model, the researchers were able to examine a number of age-related processes, such as resistance to stress, growth, fertility, and longevity. Scientists have also used C. elegans as a model for many human diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Ezcurra based its research on the observation that C. elegans feeds with Escherichia coli, known as E. coli. Her team created about 4.000 mutant strains of E. coli, and each one had a specific gene depleted. Then scientists fed C. elegans with these strains and examined the results. Of the nearly 4.000 bacterial genes tested, 29, when depleted, increased the lifespan of C. elegans. Twelve of these bacterial mutations protected C. elegans from tumor growth and amyloid-beta accumulation, characteristic of Alzheimer's disease in humans.
The future of research
"The next step in my research is to use C. elegans to answer specific questions about the role of the microbiome in human health", Ezcurra told in her interview for the Medical News Today. "There are many studies that show that there is a link between the microbiome and diseases, such as psychiatric illness, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, diabetes, etc., but we do not understand why and how." "There is a real need to understand the exact relationship between the composition of the intestinal microbiome and the disease," she continued. "The identification of microbial strains, that contribute to health or disease respectively and the investigation of the underly mechanism is very important. It has become clear that microbial diversity is important for human health, Ezcurra added. "Many factors contribute to the microbial diversity such as diet and lifestyle, and as we get older, we usually have a decline of our microbiota diversity". "With the better understanding of the link between diet, microbiome, and health, we can find ways in which older people can maintain their microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics. This would help them to age better, to be healthier and to have a good quality of life without drugs or surgeries".
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