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We have long searched for ways to slow or prevent the inevitable effects of aging. But a new study suggests we might have to close our eyes and pinch our nose to drink the fountain of youth.
Fecal transplants, where one stool is implanted into another, from young to old mice, reversed some of the effects of aging in the retina and brain, according to a recent paper published in Microbiome.
“This ground-breaking study provides tantalizing evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in ageing and the functional decline of brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy,” said Simon Carding, head of the Gut Microbes and Health Research Programme at the Quadram Institute in the United Kingdom.
It’s well known that many diseases are associated with changes in the types and behavior of germs in the gut with some changes in the composition of these microorganisms occurring as we age, such as with inflammatory bowel diseases, cardiovascular, autoimmune, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders, according to the statement on the study.
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So the researchers exchanged the gut microbes among three groups of mice: 3 months old, designed as “young,” 18 months old, designated as “old,” and 24 months old mice, classified at “aged.” A mouse that is two years old is equivalent to a human who is 70 – 80 years old.
They analyzed the changes in gut composition to better understand how fecal transplantation affected inflammation on the gut barrier, retina of the eye and the brain, which decline with age partly due to chronic inflammation, known as “inflammageing.”
The researchers found transferring “fecal slurries” from aged donors to young mice led to a weakening of the gut lining, which allowed bacterial products to enter the circulation, triggering an inflammatory response in the brain and eyes. But the harmful effects could be reversed by fecal transplants from the young donor mice into older mice.
The team found specific proteins associated with retinal degeneration were elevated in the young mice who received a fecal transplant from the old donors, while the cells associated with immune cell activation in the brains were over-activated in the young mice who received aged fecal transplants.
“Our data support the suggestion that altered gut microbiota in old age contributes to intestinal and systemic inflammation, and so may contribute to driving inflammatory pathologies of aged organs,” the study said.
Although the human gut microbiota changes significantly later in life, the researchers caution about comparing their results directly to humans until more studies in older humans can be done.
They suggest, however, their findings could lead to a “poo pill” that humans take to ” … promote long-term health benefits in aged individuals and ameliorate age-associated neurodegeneration and retinal functional deterioration.”
A new facility is being built in the Quadram Institute, so new trials can be performed relating to fecal transplants and microbiota-related conditions, per the statement.
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Fecal transplantation can be offered to a select group of patients to treat a bacterial diarrheal infection called Clostridium difficile (or “C. diff”), a complication from being on antibiotics, when patients don’t respond to standard therapy, according to the Federal Drug and Administration (FDA).
Potential donors are screened thoroughly, then once approved, their stool is collected and filtered, then transferred into the recipient’s colon, commonly through a colonoscope, which consists of thin, flexible tube with a small camera at the tip, according to Mayo Clinic.
The procedure is generally considered safe, but the FDA released a report in 2019 of two patients who underwent the procedure who contracted drug-resistant infections, per the medical organization.
The American College of Gastroenterology 2021 guidelines recommends fecal transplants can be administered as oral capsules in addition via colonoscopy, as well as other routes if these two methods are not possible, but the treatment is not yet approved by the FDA.
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“We were excited to find that by changing the gut microbiota of elderly individuals, we could rescue indicators of age-associated decline commonly seen in degenerative conditions of the eye and brain,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Aimée Parker, who is also from the Quadram Institute, in a statement.
“Our results provide more evidence of the important links between microbes in the gut and healthy ageing of tissues and organs around the body. We hope that our findings will contribute ultimately to understanding how we can manipulate our diet and our gut bacteria to maximize good health in later life.”