Can Your Gut Microbiome Predict Your Longevity?
In a paper by Dr. Nathan Price, PhD, Thorne’s Chief Scientific Officer, and Dr. John Earls, PhD, Director of Health Intelligence at Thorne, published by Nature Metabolism, microbiome and deep phenotypic data from more than 9,000 adults, between ages 18 and 101, were studied,1 making it one of the largest and most comprehensive microbiome publications to date.
We know the microbiome goes through immense changes in our early years, beginning at birth. A person’s microbiome is different depending on being born vaginally or via C-section, whether being nursed or formula-fed, and by the timing and types of solid foods eaten. Research suggests that a younger adult’s microbiome is relatively more stable compared to childhood and older years.
As a person ages, there can be considerable changes to their microbiome’s ecosystem and how they compare to others. In adults older than 65, the microbiome is associated with physical fitness,2 frailty,3 and diet.4 However, despite knowing its great importance on overall health and disease risk, little is known about the microbiome and longevity.
Research on individuals older than 104 shows lower levels of specific core taxa like Bacteroides, Roseburia, and Faecaliabacterium spp., among others, and increased levels in rare taxa in their microbiomes.5 Similarly, alpha-diversity – or how many different microorganisms there are in a microbiome – tends to be higher in these individuals than younger adults,6 suggesting that even during the later decades of life, a person can experience great changes in their microbiome and health.
Price and Earls’ paper is revolutionary in analyzing different cohorts: a deeply phenotyped cohort from a scientific wellness company, ages 18-87, and the Osteoporotic Fractures in Med cohort, ages 78-98. These groups were further subdivided into groups and together provided more than 4,500 microbiome samples. Participants provided longitudinal samples, and the researchers identified aging patterns and confirmed findings comparing them to an external dataset of 4,575 samples provided by the American Gut Project.
From these cohorts, microbiome aging patterns were identified across most of the adult lifespan. Also analyzed was how these patterns corresponded to host physiology using detailed health metrics and follow-up data on mortality, health, and survival in the latter decades of life. The results apply to you today, no matter your age!
Microbiome samples were analyzed for their beta-diversity. Beta-diversity is a measure of how many different microorganisms are present and their quantity compared to other individuals, and it can be statistically translated to a measure the researchers described as microbiome uniqueness. Find your microbiome beta-diversity by testing with the Thorne Gut Health Test.
Results showed that at age 40-50 the adult microbiome begins to change to a more unique composition, and with each passing decade, it becomes more unique at a deeper taxonomy level. Interestingly, although age had the strongest correlation with gut microbiome uniqueness, prescription medications and alcohol consumption were also found to be significant. After adjusting for age, individuals with healthier metabolic and lipid blood profiles were found to have a more unique microbiome.
Blood metabolites from microbial origin
To better understand how a person’s physiology can impact uniqueness, blood plasma metabolites were statistically associated with uniqueness. Seven metabolites (all microbial in origin) that are known to affect immune regulation, inflammation, aging, and longevity were significantly associated, mainly impacting the phenylalanine and tryptophan pathways.
Previous research on individuals older than 100 also showed greater activation of these pathways in their gut microbiomes, suggesting that more unique microbiome compositions associated with age are characterized by gut microbial amino acid metabolism. In the future, these metabolites and pathways may be a useful biomarker for changes across the lifespan.
Specific microbial taxa
Looking at microbiome samples in men older than 78, the study found higher uniqueness in individuals not displaying a Bacteroides or Prevotella dominated biome. Many genera from the Firmicutes phylum showed a positive association. Another interesting note: positively associated with longevity were the beneficial taxa Christensenellaceae and potentially pathogenic Methanobrevibacter and Desufibrio. (You can learn your levels of each of these taxa through a Gut Health Test by Thorne).
Adults who reported worse health tended to have a decline in the genus Lachnoclostridium and the Ruminococcaceae family.
Researchers reported these results to indicate multiple gut microbiome aging patterns in the later stages of human life associated with distinct health outcomes.
This data suggests that healthy individuals continue to show an increasingly unique gut microbiome composition and a decline in common core taxa in later decades of life. This pattern is worse or nonexistent in individuals of worse health status.
Using a subset of participants who had longitudinal data and were not living in a nursing home or recently hospitalized, the statistics show a significant positive association between relative Bacteroides abundance and increased risk of all-cause mortality, independent of age, body mass index, location, self-perceived health, or relevant diagnoses. Only looking at individuals ages 85 and above showed an even stronger association. In these older adults, mortality risk decreased in those with higher microbiome uniqueness.
What does this mean for you?
Now is the time to understand how your gut health impacts your aging process and to act on it. First, if you are a young adult, then you should consider a Gut Health Test to establish a baseline for your gut microbiome. If you are older than 40, then it’s not too late! Thorne’s Gut Health Test with a revolutionary microbiome wipe can provide necessary information to understand how your lifestyle has affected you to date and how to best move forward with new healthy habits.
Second, be aware of your levels of the specific bacteria discussed in this study – Bacteroides, Prevotella, Christensenellaceae, Methanobrevibacter, Desufibrio, and others – and watch them as you age. Thorne’s Gut Health Test will graph your historical microbiome results so you can easily monitor changes and adapt accordingly.
Third, make gut health a priority. Work to optimize your gut bacteria levels by following your recommended dietary style, adding purposeful nutritional supplements, increasing your exercise, and changing lifestyle habits that might be affecting your gut ecosystem and subsequent blood metabolites. Work with a health-care practitioner to consider options if you take antibiotics or numerous other prescription medications.
Thorne’s Gut Health Test uses Thorne Health Intelligence, an AI-driven platform, with the collective intellect of researchers Drs. Price and Earls, their colleagues, internationally recognized leading researchers, and multi-omic datasets from around the world to bring you the most impactful information and actionable recommendations on all Thorne health tests.
- Wilmanski T, Diener C, Rappaport N, et al. Gut microbiome pattern reflects healthy ageing and predicts survival in humans. Nat Metab 2021;3:274-286.
- Castro-Mejía J, Khakimov B, Krych L, et al. Physical fitness in community-dwelling older adults is linked to dietary intake, gut microbiota, and metabolomic signatures. Aging Cell 2020;19(3):e13105. doi: 10.1111/acel.13105.
- Yatsunenko T, Rey FE, Manary MJ, et al. Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography. Nature 2012;486:222-227.
- Claesson M, Jeffery IB, Conde S, et al. Gut microbiota composition correlates with diet and health in the elderly. Nature 2012;488:178-184.
- Biagi E, Franceschi C, Rampelli S, et al. Gut microbiota and extreme longevity. Curr Biol 2016;26:1480-1485.
- Wu L, Zeng T, Zinellu A, et al. A cross-sectional study of compositional and functional profiles of gut microbiota in Sardinian centenarians. mSystems 2019;4(4):e00325-19. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00325-19.