You’ve heard it before: Act your age! Well, the same rule applies when it comes to choosing your probiotic supplements.
Throughout the human life cycle, the bacteria that make up the gut microbiome (the total of all the different kinds of microbes within the gut) normally maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with their host, providing far-reaching metabolic, immunological, nutritional, and psychological benefits.(1)(2) However, an unbalanced microbiome — known as intestinal dysbiosis — can wreak havoc on our health.(3)
In order to thrive physically and mentally and to prevent dysbiosis, we need beneficial gut bacteria known as probiotics. When choosing a probiotic supplement, however, one size does not fit all. The most beneficial types and their amounts change during the different stages of life.
Among hundreds of different kinds of microbes naturally present in the gut, research shows that various strains of two types of probiotics known as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are the most beneficial to health.(4)
Throughout the human life cycle, the bacteria that make up the gut microbiome normally maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with their host, providing far-reaching metabolic, immunological, nutritional, and psychological benefits. When the gut microbiome becomes unbalanced, however, it can wreak havoc on our health.
The microbiome in infancy. By the time a newborn baby takes its first breath, microbes of all kinds have already begun to establish themselves inside the gut. These microbes can vary dramatically, especially in the first year. This developing microbiome forms a natural defense barrier against harmful environmental microbes that can cause illness during an infant’s first few, most vulnerable months and years. How successfully the microbiome establishes itself in the early stages of life affects long-term wellbeing.(5) A daily probiotic can help to positively support the gut microbiome, and prevent unfriendly bacteria from overpopulating and taking over.(6)(7)
Factors that play a significant role in a baby’s exposure to different microbes, and therefore its gut composition and their functions include the following:(6)
- early exposures to microbes: a natural birth vs. a c-section, breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding, use of antibiotics, and hospital environments
- state of baby’s and mom’s health
- geographical location (what kinds of bacteria live in their surroundings)
- diet relative to the region (what kinds of foods they eat)
The microbiome in childhood. The specific strains that do the best job in our gut change as a baby grows into a child. For example, there are strains of probiotics found in the gut of an infant or toddler which are no longer found in the gut past the age of five.(8) In addition, as the infant grows in size, so does the optimum amount of probiotics that provide the greatest benefits. More of them are required (bigger body, bigger gut). Hence the probiotic formula that best benefits a child will be different from the one that’s best for baby.
Research shows that the specific strains of probiotics and their amounts that do the best job in our gut are different from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood, and advanced age.
The microbiome in adulthood. As a child transitions into adolescence and then young adulthood, the microbiome tends to stabilize itself but, because of their increased size, adults require far more probiotics than children to get the same level of protection against unfriendly microbes. In fact they need about three times as many.
The microbiome in advanced adulthood. Research shows that the lower gut microbiome in the elderly is quite different than that of younger adults. Specifically, there’s a decrease of beneficial Bifidobacteria, an increase of unfriendly microbes, and overall lower diversity of strains, all of which are linked to more health issues.(6) These often lead to the use of antibiotics, which can exacerbate these issues because antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, further exposing the elderly to possible pathogens. This vicious cycle is a plight for the 50+ crowd, which can be remedied or prevented with probiotic supplements richer in Bifidobacteria. In the colon, these turn fiber into short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which feed the cells that line the colon, strengthening the immune system and decreasing risk of inflammation, colon cancer and infection in the elderly.(6)
In addition to eating a nutritious, plant-based diet rich in prebiotic fibers which stimulate the growth of probiotics, taking human-adapted probiotic supplements is a simple and effective way to restore and maintain a balanced and beneficial gut microbiome.
In addition to eating a nutritious, plant-based diet rich in prebiotic fibers which stimulate the growth of probiotics, taking a human-adapted probiotic supplement (dairy- and plant-based probiotics are less effective) is an effective way to restore and maintain a balanced and beneficial gut microbiome.(7) These two simple steps can help protect against microbiome-related problems that affect the gut and liver, increase inflammation, and can help relieve or prevent obesity, diabetes, stress, mood disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease, and both infectious and non-infectious colon-related conditions.(6)
When we tailor probiotic supplements to the actual needs of the various stages of life, we do a better job at helping to build and strengthen the gut, and digestive and immune systems, starting from infancy. Just as the many other decisions we make today will impact our days to come, the steps we take today toward building a healthier gut sets the stage for our future health, better preparing us for some of the common challenges we will face as we get older. Yes, there really are pros to acting your age!
Udo Erasmus is an author and health educator. His pioneering work in the field of health started in the ’80s. Learn more about his work: Udo’s Choice®
- Gerritsen J, Smidt H, Rijkers GT, de Vos WM. Intestinal microbiota in human health and disease: the impact of probiotics. Genes Nutr. 2011 Aug; 6(3): 209–240. Published online 2011 May 27. doi: 10.1007/s12263-011-0229-7.
- Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 2;16(4):7493-519. doi: 10.3390/ijms16047493.
- Belizário JE, Napolitano M. Human microbiomes and their roles in dysbiosis, common diseases, and novel therapeutic approaches. Front Microbiol. 2015 Oct 6;6:1050. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01050. eCollection 2015.
- Hevia A, Delgado S, Sánchez B, Margolles A. Molecular Players Involved in the Interaction Between Beneficial Bacteria and the Immune System. Front Microbiol. 2015 Nov 18;6:1285. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01285. eCollection 2015.
- Salminen SJ, Gueimonde M, Isolauri E. Probiotics that modify disease risk. J Nutr. 2005 May;135(5):1294-8.
- Kumar M, Babaei P, Ji B, Nielsen J. Human gut microbiota and healthy aging: Recent developments and future prospective. Nutr Healthy Aging. 2016 Oct 27;4(1):3-16. doi: 10.3233/NHA-150002.
- Valle Gottlieb MG, Closs VE, Junges VM, Schwanke CH. Impact Of Human Aging And Modern Lifestyle On Microbiota. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Jan 13:0. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1269054. [Epub ahead of print]
- Underwood MA, German JB, Lebrilla CB, Mills DA. Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis: champion colonizer of the infant gut. Pediatr Res. 2015 Jan;77(1-2):229-35. doi: 10.1038/pr.2014.156. Epub 2014 Oct 10.