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Study links gut microbes to age-related inflammation

People with high levels of inflammatory molecules are more likely to be frail, less independent and require hospitalization as they age.

By Amy Wallace
Study links gut microbes to age-related inflammation
Researchers have linked gut microbes to age-related inflammation in mice. Pictured, isolated white blood cell macrophages from mice. Photo courtesy of McMaster University

April 12 (UPI) -- New research with mice by McMaster University in Canada suggests gut microbes can lead to age-related inflammation and premature death.

Researchers found that imbalances in the composition of gut microbes in older mice cause the intestines to become leaky and release bacterial products that trigger inflammation, impair immune function and reduce lifespan.

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Inflammation can make older adults more susceptible to infections, chronic conditions like dementia and cardiovascular disease, and early death.

Researchers studied the effects of inflammation by raising mice in germ-free environments and compared them to mice raised in conventional settings. The germ-free mice did not show age-related increases in inflammation and a larger proportion lived longer than mice in the conventional setting.

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Increases in levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, in the bloodstream and tissues are linked to age and researchers found that the germ-free mice did not have increased TNF with age.

"To date, the only things you can do to reduce your age-associated inflammation are to eat a healthy diet, exercise and manage any chronic inflammatory conditions to the best of your ability," Dawn Bowdish, professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University, said in a press release. "We hope that in the future we will be able to use drugs or pre- or probiotics to increase the barrier function of the gut to keep the microbes in their place and reduce age-associated inflammation and all the bad things that come with it."

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The study also showed that mice in the conventional setting that were treated with anti-TNF drugs had reduced age-related changes in the microbiome.

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The study was published in Cell Host & Microbe.

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