Scientists Say Gut Microbes May ‘Reverse’ Aging Process in Human Brains
A new study establishes a link between gut microbes and reversed aging in the brain. The findings may help scientists engineer better treatments — and perhaps, even preventive measures — to address dementia, a chronic disease that doesn’t have a cure yet.
The gut microbiome is unique and includes microorganisms that aid digestion and immunity. We know the microbes are affected by the place we live in, the food we eat, the physical touch of other organisms, alongside a host of other factors. But the new findings show that harnessing gut microbes can help aid healthy brain function.
“Previous research… has shown that the gut microbiome plays a key role in aging and the aging process,” says John Cryan, from the department of anatomy and neuroscience at the University College Cork in Ireland, who co-authored the study.
Researchers were able to confirm this by performing experiments on mice. When microbes from the fecal matter of young mice (three-to-four-months-old mice are the equivalent of young adults) were transplanted into the intestines of older mice, the latter group exhibited improved learning ability and cognitive function. “It’s almost like … we could press the rewind button on the aging process,” Cryan told Science Mag.
Published in Nature Aging, this is the first study to demonstrate a correlation between transplantation of gut microbes and improved brain function in aging members of a species. Cryan notes the present study is “a potential game-changer” since it suggests how “the [gut] microbiome can be harnessed to reverse age-related brain deterioration.“
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In the context of rising cases of dementia worldwide — especially in low-and-middle-income countries — the findings are promising. Dementia is an umbrella term to refer to deteriorating memory and other cognitive abilities in a way that can impair daily life and independent functioning.
According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia every year — making it one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. Moreover, the WHO estimates the total number of people with dementia to reach 82 million by 2030, and 152 million by 2050. In India, too, the condition has lead to a significant economic and care burden. Treatment so far has focused on managing the symptoms, but no treatment or cure has aided early diagnosis or prevention.
The researchers aren’t recommending “poo transplants” in humans yet, noting it is too early to confirm the effects in a human body. However, they do believe the link between the gut microbiome and improved cognitive functioning can, perhaps, provide insights into dietary practices that can better people’s brain health.
“Maintaining our gut health is really important for the many aspects of normal physiology, particularly as we age,” Neil Mabbott, an immunopathologist at the University of Edinburgh, who wasn’t involved in the study, commented.