Everybody needs a healthy gut for a healthy life; it’s just common knowledge, right? What you may not know, however, is that there are some very specific reasons why men and women over 60 need probiotic support more than any other age group. Read on for three reasons why probiotics for seniors are important.
Your Gut Health and Immune System Are Connected
Before we dive into why people over 60, in particular, need probiotics, let’s take a look at the importance of gut health for everyone – no matter what your age, gender, or even species (yes, animals need good gut health too!).
Every human carries around several pounds of bacteria in their body, mostly in the gut but also in the skin, the mouth, and other areas .”
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the beneficial (i.e., the “good”) bacteria and other microorganisms that are living in and on you. The word “probiotic” is derived from the Latin phrase “for life,” and that is just what these beneficial bacteria do for you – support you staying alive and well.
The gastrointestinal tract houses up to 80% of all immune cells in the body. Without healthy bacteria in your system, infectious pathogens would be allowed to flourish, with potentially dire consequences to your health.
Good Gut Health Is More Than Just Digestion
For all people, a healthy gut is equated with healthy metabolism, a healthy immune system, healthy hormones , and even a healthy heart . In fact, some studies have found that maintaining gut balance can be disease-preventative across the board.
According to Dr. Eamonn Quigley, Division Chief of the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, “(a) new era in medical science has dawned with the realization of the critical role of the ‘forgotten organ,’ the gut micro-biota, in health and disease .”
If you’re a man or woman over 60, chances are you never heard much (if anything) about gut health growing up. But understanding how to achieve and maintain good gut health and the benefits of probiotics for seniors is vital. Here are the three reasons why…
#1 – Seniors Have Fewer Healthy Bacteria in their Gut
Older people tend to have less healthy bacteria in their digestive systems in general when compared to younger generations. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Food Microbial Sciences Research Group at the University of Reading in the UK, “the aging process leads to alterations of gut microbiota and modifications to the immune response, [and] such changes may be associated with increased disease risk .”
In particular, aging adults are more prone to pathogenic overgrowth that can lead to gut diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Other wide-sweeping chronic conditions also linked to poor gut health include autoimmune conditions, heart complications, diabetes, and even cancer.
A 2016 German study  of over 800,000 older individuals found high levels of 10 different chronic diseases; hypertension being the most common. They also found that the number of people with more than four chronic conditions at once was increasing in that country significantly.
The bottom line here is this: when gut health deteriorates, the risk for disease increases.
#2 – Seniors Are More Affected by Antibiotics and Other Medications
Americans, in general, are heavy users of pharmaceutical drugs. On any given day, roughly half of the population of any age is taking at least one prescription drug. About a quarter of the population has taken three or more prescription drugs within the previous 30 days, according to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics .
These numbers jump to approximately 70% (for a single drug) and 35% (for three or more drugs) for individuals aged 45 to 64 and to a whopping 90% and 66% respectively for those over the age of 65. For this last population, 40% have taken five or more prescription drugs over the last 30 days, according to the 2014 CDC survey.
The Overuse of Antibiotics
Around 269 million prescriptions for antibiotics were dispensed in the U.S. in 2015. Of these, roughly 35% of all antibiotics prescribed for individuals aged 20 to 64 years and about 18% of those prescribed for Americans over the age of 65 were considered unnecessary by the CDC .
There is also mounting evidence that over-prescription itself can lead to lower life expectancy. More than two million people in the U.S. will acquire infections which are resistant to antibiotics, in large part because of antibiotic overuse. Of these individuals, about 23,000 will die as a result . Many of these individuals are elderly.
While some of these pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, may be helpful and even life-saving in the short-term, overuse of antibiotics can wreak havoc on the gut. This can, in turn, wreak havoc on overall health.
A 2016 meta-analysis of current research published in the journal Genome Medicine found “mounting evidence” that antibiotic overuse, in particular, can influence our capacity to process food in the gut as well as impair our ability to resist infection .”
Studies indicate that probiotics can help counter the damaging effects of antibiotics on the gut. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) discovered that taking probiotics while one is on antibiotics can reduce gut-related symptoms such as Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (AAD) by as much as 42% .
#3 – Seniors Have Lowered Immune Function
Declining immune function is part of an organic process called immunosenescence (sometimes called immune senescence) which occurs as one gets older. Immunosenescence is defined as “the aging of the immune system.”
According to researchers at John Hopkins University, immunosenescence is characterized by changes in immune system cell development that can lead to chronic inflammation and overall “functional decline .”
Immunosenescence also sets up older adults for higher risk of viruses. An example of this is chickenpox. Chickenpox can lay dormant in the nervous system for years. Later it can become the painful condition known as shingles. Shingles is very common in older adults, according to the Mayo Clinic .
Although immunosenescence may be inevitable to some degree as we age, it doesn’t have to determine the fate of your health. Upping the number of healthy bacteria in your gut can go a long way at slowing its progression.
The connection between gut health and immune system function is crystal clear, and that includes for older adults as well. Remember the fact we shared earlier – roughly 80% of our immune system cells reside in the gut!
A clinical trial conducted by researchers at the Gut Health and Food Safety Research Program and the Institute of Food Research at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK , found that upping healthy probiotics through healthy food and other means can reduce the severity and frequency of infection in the frail elderly. This study, of course, is just one of many that point towards gut health as key in overall immune boosting for older individuals.
Prebiotics and Probiotics for Seniors
Research suggests that the “sweet spot” in improving your immune health in general as you age is to consume lots of probiotics in the form of whole foods and supplements as well as dietary prebiotics.
PREbiotics are specific fibers that act as “food” for beneficial probiotic bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are obtained from foods. Here is a list of some foods  which are considered excellent sources of prebiotic materials:
- Root vegetables such as sweet potato
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Green bananas
- Apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized)
- Spirulina and Chlorella
- Dandelion greens and roots
Researchers with the University of Reading study mentioned earlier also found that consuming both probiotics and prebiotics could decrease the inflammation associated with aging. Research at the University College Cork in the UK describes similar results.
“A combination of prebiotic (dietary) and probiotic agents may prove most effective in targeted modulation of the microbiota,” write the authors in the journal Aging Health .
Make Your Senior Years Truly Golden
Getting older doesn’t have to mean suffering with your health! Besides eating right, moving your body, and managing stress, supplementing with the best high-quality probiotics formula you can find just makes sense if you are over 45, and especially if you are over 60.
When it comes to your health as you age, focus on improving your gut health and you simply cannot go wrong. Make your golden years your best years – stay healthy, vibrant, and active with the help of life-enhancing probiotics!