The gut microbiome could well be the key to helping the ageing population overcome many of the barriers in front of them.
In the elderly, a more diverse microbiome has been strongly associated with decreased frailty and an increased ability to cope with stressful situations, as well as an increase in cognitive performance. On the other hand, a reduction in microbiome diversity is associated with increased depression, anxiety and social isolation.
After a stroke, it is very common for a patient to be treated with antibiotics for 7 days, which causes changes in the composition of the gut microbiome that can be detected two years afterwards. These changes in the gut are thought to contribute to post-stroke depression, incredibly common in the elderly stroke affected population.
The ageing brain is associated with neuroinflammation and increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which is there to protect our brain from the many different substances circulating in our blood. The deterioration of the blood-brain barrier is linked to declining memory function and cognitive impairment. Treatment with probiotics has been shown to help “tighten up” the blood brain barrier, which could be particularly helpful in staving off dementia and alzheimers.
Depression has been associated with a change in gut microbiome composition, with increases and decreases in specific types of bacterial populations. For the full list of these bacteria, there is a separate blog post out later this week. Elderly people who experience depression and anxiety, particularly alongside social isolation, can benefit from change in diet to increase microbiome diversity. Treatment with the specific probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression behaviours in healthy mice.
So what should I do?
· Encourage the older people in your life to eat a diverse diet too – help out your grandparents with some cooking on a regular basis
· Consider taking probiotics – although the actions of individual bacteria are not yet well understood, it may be worth looking into some strains mentioned above, or reading the next blog post about which strains of bacteria are deficient and overpopulated in the depressive gut.
Can I treat my depression with food and probiotics?
· It may well help, though you shouldn’t come off any medication without full consultation with your doctor. A diverse diet and some research into which strains of probiotics may be useful for you should contribute to aiding your recovery. There is no harm in eating more vegetables as a good start.