The secret to longevity is in the microbiome and the gut
A research group led by Dr. Satya Prakash at McGill University has recently shown that enriching gut microflora using probiotics and herbal supplements can increase lifespan in fruit flies.
The notion that “Microorganisms in our body are always harmful” has been challenged for a long time now. Instead, the age-old maxim, “You are what you eat“, is becoming validated by many scientific studies. Science now tells us that we are what the bacteria living in our intestinal tract eat and this could have an influence on how well we age.
It is commonly known that our gastrointestinal tract harbors a range of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi etc. This gut microbiota is known to play a beneficial role in a myriad of life processes including digestion, synthesizing vitamins and minerals, fighting against inflammation, mounting immune responses and so on.
On the other hand- age, genetics and diet can severely affect the composition of this microbiome in our body and could potentially lead to disease development and ageing. This is where the use of probiotics or ‘healthy bacteria’ comes into picture.
On similar lines, Dr. Satya Prakash’s team from McGill University has shown the use of probiotics along with a polyphenol-rich herbal supplement (commonly known as Triphala) to increase the longevity in fruit flies by 60%. Interestingly, feeding this “enriched” diet to flies also has a protective role from diseases that are caused due to ageing. This study recently published in Scientific Reports presents yet another shred of evidence on how the gut microbiome can influence health, especially during aging.
It is widely known that ageing occurs by a combination of hereditary, physiological and environmental events. Previous studies have pointed out that beneficial microbes that can prolong lifespan can also postpone age-related diseases.
In this study, Susan Westfall, a former PhD student at McGill and lead author of the study and colleagues have shown that flies, when fed with diet supplemented with probotiocs and Triphala, lived on an average upto 66 days which is 26 days more than the ones fed without supplements. These flies also demonstrated reduced insulin resistance, inflammation and oxidative stress, which are hallmarks of ageing.
“Probiotics dramatically change the architecture of the gut microbiota, not only in its composition but also in respect to how the foods that we eat are metabolized,” says Satya Prakash, professor of biomedical engineering in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and senior author of the study.
“This allows a single probiotic formulation to simultaneously act on several biochemical signaling pathways to elicit broad beneficial physiological effects, and explains why the single formulation we present in this paper has such a dramatic effect on so many different markers”.
Would we see similar effects in humans?
The fruit fly is remarkably similar to mammals with about 70 % similarity in terms of their biochemical pathways, making it a good indicator of what would happen in humans, adds Prakash.
“The effects in humans would likely not be as dramatic, but our results definitely suggest that a diet specifically incorporating Triphala along with these probiotics will promote a long and healthy life.”
How does gut microbiota affect our health?
For this study, the authors explain their results by the “gut-brain axis”, a direct communication system wherein microbes in the gut can affect multiple pathways in the brain. This system is known to play a key role in affecting the physiology in many other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, neurodegeneration and depression.
On the basis of such a communication system, a number of strategies that can modulate microbes in the gut should potentially provide new therapeutics to improve human health.
Few Fun Facts
- A female fly can lay more than 400 eggs in its lifespan, thus generating a large number of offsprings for experiments!
- Fruit flies, which are only a few millimeters in length, have around 15,000 genes (as compared to 25,000 genes in humans) Interestingly, they share 75% genes that cause diseases with humans.
- Triphala, the herbal supplement used in the study, is a formulation made from amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki, fruits used as medicinal plants in Ayurveda, a form of traditional Indian medicine.
Original article can be found here.
Source: McGill University