Most of us would like to live long and healthy lives, although few would go as far as 45-year-old American tech multimillionaire Bryan Johnson, who reportedly eats more than 70 pounds of vegetables a month, plus dark chocolate and lots of it. supplements to counteract the effects of aging.
Is he crazy? Maybe not. I recently finished making a TV series about the science of aging, traveling the world and meeting “super agers” – people in their 80s and 90s who look and act like someone decades younger. is.
Like Arakaki Toshimitsu, a karate master from Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan. At the age of 80, he is in great shape and attributes this to daily workouts and a diet relatively low in calories but packed with vegetables and seaweed.
While making the series, I also talked to leading scientists who are researching ways to slow down or even reverse the aging process.
One of the things they said that really surprised me is that genetics play a relatively small role in how well you age – your lifestyle is much more important.
Most of us would like to live long and healthy lives, though few would go as far as 45-year-old US tech multimillionaire Bryan Johnson (pictured), who reportedly eats more than 70 pounds of vegetables a month, writes Dr. Michael Mosley
Genetics play a relatively small role in how well you age – your lifestyle is much more important
We know that what and how much you eat plays a key role in whether or not you stay healthy, but what seems to be just as important is the impact these foods have on your gut microbiome, the mix of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your gut.
It seems every few weeks a new study reveals a new way these microbes affect our bodies and brains.
For example, they play a vital role in regulating your immune system, which is central to not only protecting against infections but also detecting and destroying cancers.
Now there’s mounting evidence that your microbiome has a major impact on how well you age.
In a study published earlier this month in the journal Nature Aging, scientists at the Guangxi Academy of Sciences in China compared the microbiomes of 1,575 people ranging in age from 20 to more than 100.
They found that the healthy centenarians (those least affected by age-related diseases) had a very diverse mix of insects in their guts, with particularly high levels of a type of bacteria called bacteroidetes. This bug has previously been linked to thinness and is present in much smaller amounts in the guts of overweight people.
Bacteroidetes seem to absorb the fat we consume less well than other gut bacteria, so people who have more of it tend to remove more calories from their bodies.
Dr. Michael Mosley (pictured) spoke with leading scientists who are researching ways to slow down or even reverse the aging process
Another benefit of having plenty of bacterioids is that they are very good at converting the fiber in the food we eat into short-chain fatty acids, chemicals that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body.
Given that chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases associated with aging, such as cancer, heart disease and dementia, it’s not surprising that this particular bug seems to play an important role in keeping us healthy as we age.
The best way to boost the bacterioidetes (and other “good” bacteria) in the gut is to eat a largely plant-based, high-fiber diet and make sure you eat lots of different colored fruits and vegetables.
If you look at the dietary habits of communities around the world with many people reaching healthy old age, this is exactly what you see.
Daily servings of fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, have also been shown to boost your “good” gut bacteria, while sugary foods have the opposite effect.
But interestingly enough, it seems that not everyone has enough of the good bugs in their guts necessary to benefit from a high fiber diet – although there’s no easy way to tell if this applies to you.
So what about undergoing fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) from someone who already has many? To do this, doctors collect a healthy donor’s stool, treat it to remove anything potentially harmful, and transplant it into the recipient’s gut (usually through a tube passed down the nose or into the rectum). ).
It can be life-changing. I have seen a patient infected with a nasty bacteria called Clostridium difficile, which had caused them pain for years and was resistant to all available antibiotics. Within hours of receiving FMT, she was cured thanks to the influx of healthy donor bugs.
But can it affect aging? Animal studies certainly suggest that.
In a report from the University of East Anglia last year, poop samples from three-month-old mice were transplanted into 24-month-old mice; the equivalent of 80 in humans. They also did the reverse experiment, transplanting gut microbes from old mice into young mice.
Remarkably, the young mice fed the old poop soon showed signs of accelerated aging, with widespread inflammation in their brains, eyes and nervous systems.
The transfer of young poop into old mice had the opposite effect, boosting the number of beneficial bacteria, calming inflammation and making the older mice look younger and healthier.
It’s clearly still early days, and I doubt the quest for eternal youth will end with fecal transplants – but it just goes to show how important our gut bacteria are and why you should cherish and respect them.