Five Ways That Poor Gut Health Can Make You Age Faster

Staying younger through what you eat isn't just about your appearance.

healthy food

Nobody likes getting older. There’s a huge industry for “anti-aging” products and therapies that make you look and feel younger. Some of these are based on good evidence – and some are not! It may surprise you that one of the major causes of aging isn’t a lack of Botox or too few vacations – but rather poor gut health. We already know that poor gut health is a major cause of many health issues. When you suffer from an imbalance of gut bacteria due to dysbiosis, infection or yeast overgrowth, your gut function will be significantly impaired.

Poor gut health typically results in a range of unpleasant symptoms, from digestive upsets and skin conditions to depression and sluggish brain function. This is because everything in your body connects to your gut! There is now substantial evidence that your gut microbiome plays a major role in your overall health and wellbeing. And that includes aging.

Here are five ways that poor gut health can make you age faster!

1) Poor Nutrient Absorption

Research has shown that as we age, our ability to absorb and utilize many nutrients becomes less efficient. As a result, our nutrient requirements tend to increase. This is why the most recent set of nutrition recommendations issued by the Institute of Medicine include separate recommendations for people age 70 and older.

Poor gut health can lead to malabsorption syndrome, in which your small intestine cannot properly absorb nutrients from the food you eat into your bloodstream. This can lead to a number of disorders in which your body can’t absorb enough of certain nutrients and fluids.

Dietary needs change with age, and this includes both macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) – and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), or both.

Your body is dependent on a steady supply of nutrients for proper cell repair and function. Without the right vitamins and minerals, every part of your body will suffer: your joints, skin, energy levels, immune system, brain function and more.

As a result, you may begin to feel “old” well before your time!

2) Inflammation

Having inflammation is a leading cause of disease. Inflammation has been linked to many age-related diseases – and it is often caused by imbalances in gut bacteria. Research from the Netherlands has shed new light on how an imbalance of the gut microbiome may be the cause of what they have termed “inflammaging”: inflammation in the elderly. Inflammaging is low-grade chronic inflammation that occurs as we get older. It often correlates with the development of life-limiting conditions such as stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease.

This link was made when researchers transplanted gut bacteria from aged mice into young healthy mice. They were able to see that the young mice then developed the same response as the elderly donors. This breakthrough shows how your gut bacteria have a huge influence on inflammatory processes in the body. It may then be possible to beat – or at least manage – the inflammation that leads to disease. At the same time, keeping inflammation down by maintaining a healthy gut could help to slow down the aging process. That’s why probiotic supplements can be so useful to slow the aging process.

woman gut health
Image: Frank Flores

3) Poor Gut Health Leads To More Wrinkles

It’s been found that digestive problems and skin disorders are intricately linked, which means conditions such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can make your skin age faster. When there is an imbalance of ‘bad’ bacteria in your small intestine (as is common in people with rosacea and acne), your skin is more likely to show the signs of aging. In addition, people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are more likely to have skin conditions than those who do not.

More studies have shown that increased intestinal permeability is common in people with acne. If untreated, leaky gut can lead to intestinal toxins entering the bloodstream, causing an inflammatory response from the immune system – and inflammation on the skin. This kind of stress can impair the integrity and protective function of the epidermal layer of your skin, causing it to wrinkle and sag prematurely.

4) Poor Gut Health Can Reduce Your Energy Levels

You’ll often hear older people complaining about tiredness. This could actually be due to their poor gut health rather than their age! A healthy gut microbiome is essential for adequate energy production. Strong evidence suggests that your gut bacteria play a major role in how active you are.

Many studies show how the gut microbiome contributes significantly to how well we digest our food. The microbiome is dependent on nutrients from the carbohydrates we eat each day. They ferment the carbs that aren’t able to be digested in the gut (these are called dietary fiber) and produce strains of probiotic bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Fecalibacterium, and Enterobacteria. These in turn produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as butyrate, propionate and acetate, which are rich sources of energy for us.

woman exercising
Image: Jacob Postuma

If your gut is lacking in the bacteria that carries out this fermentation process, you’ll also lack a major supply of energy.

5) Poor Gut Health Can Lead To Neurodegenerative Diseases

The gut-brain connection has been recognized as an important contributor to your aging process, particularly in terms of neurodegenerative diseases. This is largely due to the impact of oxidative stress on your body. Oxidative stress is one of the most serious factors in disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. It’s also in acute conditions such as stroke or traumatic brain injury.

It’s been found that particular microbiota can increase the risk of chronic inflammation and reactive oxygen species levels. This leads to a higher amount of harmful proteins. These proteins can cause significant brain injury as we get older. It appears that the bacteria in the lining of our gut can generate physiological levels of oxidative stress. This links to diseases of the central nervous system.

What Can You Do?

Nothing can stop you aging, but looking after your gut health can certainly slow it down! Boosting your gut health with a healthy diet and probiotic supplements can make a huge difference to the effect that your advancing years have on your skin, brain and overall wellbeing.

Make sure that you eat a diet that is low in inflammatory foods like added sugars and gluten. Avoid junk food and anything with a long list of ingredients that you don’t recognize (like these 56 names for sugar!). Instead, eat high-fiber vegetables and fruit, whole foods wherever possible, and some fermented foods to boost your gut health.

Probiotic supplements can help too, but most are almost completely ineffective. Instead, look for a time-release probiotic that will get its bacteria to your gut. Also make sure that your probiotic contains at least 5 strains and at least 10 billion CFUs of bacteria.

If you eat the right foods, focus on reducing inflammation, and take a good probiotic, your gut health will improve. Over time, that will slow down the aging process in your skin, brain, joints, and elsewhere. The secret to healthy aging is in the gut!

While you’re here, check out why the plant-based movement is growing faster than ever. 

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