Aging in good health, the secret is in the microbiota

The immunologist Minelli: “An important element in the definition of how much and how a human being can age”

Healthy aging is one of the goals of modern medicine. A an important but often not too well known ally is the microbiota. To explain the connections and the key mechanisms of this relationship around which the attention of science is increasingly focusing, precisely with the intention of controlling and containing, where possible, the different peculiarities from which the frailty of the elderly subject is generated, is the immunologist Mauro Minelli, professor of dietetics and human nutrition at the Lum University of Bari.

“The intestinal microbiota is a very high-density ecosystem – explains Minelli to Adnkronos Salute – made up of billions of microorganisms mainly (although not exclusively) hosted in our intestines. And in fact, acting on multiple aspects of human physiology with particular reference to regular functioning of the immune system and the correct dynamics of energy metabolism (especially fats and carbohydrates), the intestinal microbiota seems to represent an important element in the definition of ‘how much’ and ‘how’ a human being can grow old, keeping himself as healthy as possible“. Today Minelli was among the speakers of the training course for doctors (Ecm) ‘Intestinal microbiota between nutrition and health’ at the Omceo Bologna headquarters.

‘There is a kind of hard core of our microbiota that contributes to health’

Is it possible to identify the presence in our body of bacteria capable of guaranteeing successful ageing? And, if so, with which tools can they be identified? “What is currently emerging from increasingly precise studies is that there is a sort of ‘hard core’ of our microbiota (called ‘core microbiota’) made up of some bacterial species – he replies – which live in mutual equilibrium with the host organism and to which they make an important contribution in terms of health, above all through the production of short-chain fatty acids” (SFCA). Thanks to these molecules, which are extremely important for our health – recalls Minelli – the ‘friendly’ microbial species (especially represented from Ruminococcaceae, Lachnospiraceae and Bacteroidaceae) are able to keep the peculiar criticalities of old age under control as much as possible, such as the progressive loss of cognitive function, sarcopenia (i.e. the loss of muscle mass and strength), the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes or atherosclerosis”.

“Today, the development and fine-tuning of new methods of analysis of the intestinal microbiota based on the identification of its specific genetic heritage thanks to molecular diagnostic techniques, have allowed a detailed and complete characterization and, consequently, a possible correction planned through appropriate integrative strategies”, warns the immunologist.

‘Long-lived people have a stable balance in the composition of the intestinal flora’

But if the presence of ‘supportive’ bacterial components exists and is documented as we age, why can aging methods vary so much from person to person? “Unfortunately, the abundance of ‘beneficial’ bacterial species, in the great context of the so-called ‘intestinal flora’, tends to decrease quantitatively and qualitatively with the progress of age, this – observes Minelli – which makes possible the contextual growth of opportunistic species which , taking advantage of any spaces left free by other inhabitants of the intestine, they improperly occupy strategic positions, generating progressive conditions of imbalance, which in turn can favor the onset of inflammatory states”.

“In fact, one of the characteristics of aging is precisely the alteration that is generated in the levels of representation with which the various microbial species relate to each other in the large cauldron of the intestinal microbiota. As if to say that the most peculiar characteristic of long-lived subjects – he concludes – it seems to be precisely that of maintaining a stable balance in the composition of the intestinal flora for as long as possible, with a relative abundance of anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory bacteria capable, as such, of being real health promoters”.