Skip main navigation

The Gut Microbiota in the Elderly

Learn more about the gut microbiota in the elderly.
Microbiota changes during life

This article will cover the gut microbiota in the elderly. What do you think happens to the gut microbiota in the elderly? What kind of changes are associated with ageing? In this article you can learn about the changes that happen to a person during ageing process.

There are many changes that happen to a person during the ageing process. Some of these changes can impact on diet including changes to teeth, resulting in inefficient chewing and poorer breakdown of food; there is also frequently a reduction in taste perception. In addition there are changes in activity levels and lifestyle. As a result with the advancement of age there are changes in diet, which subsequently impact on the microbial community.

In particular, the changes associated with ageing include:

  • Lower amounts of bifidobacteria
  • More degradation of proteins, less SCFA (Short Chain Fatty Acids)
  • Inflammageing
  • How these changes coincide with increased susceptibility to infections

When the microbiota of older volunteers has been compared with younger adults frequently reduced levels of bifidobacteria have been associated with the older age group. Bifidobacteria are a group of bacteria associated with benefits to their host, so such a change could be of concern. Furthermore, the bacteria that break down proteins tend to increase, whilst those that produce short chain fatty acids decline.

The microbial changes that occur with ageing coincide with changes to the immune system. As we grow older epithelial barriers become weaker, leaving us more susceptible to infections. Furthermore, changes to the immune function can leave us less able to recognise pathogens, concurrent with developing an increased level of inflammation. With the body less equipped to fight pathogens such changes coincide with many different infections. Encouragingly, studies where interventions have been used to boost levels of health promoting bacteria have also led to reduced levels of inflammation and increased pathogen destroying cells. Therefore, there exists the possibility of using dietary interventions (for example, prebiotics and probiotics) to modulate the diet and impact on the immune system.

So in the ageing process our microbiota develops with us and is supported by our food. Changes in our microbiota throughout life will often relate to changes we are making to our lifestyles, and ultimately this can impact on our health. As such, by considering the importance of our gut bacteria we can support it in working for us.

© University of Reading
This article is from the free online

The Human Microbiome

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now