As a health-conscious 60-plus woman, you’re probably aware of importance a fiber-rich diet. So, you load up on the whole grains, veggies, avocados, berries, nuts and legumes. But did you know that your body can’t digest any of it any of it by itself – and never could?
And if that’s so, what’s all the fiber fuss about?
When you arrived in the world, billions of bacteria from your mother’s birth canal came along for the ride. Mother Nature designed them jumpstart your immune and digestive cells. Eventually, they evolved to become your gut flora, or microbiome.
This community of germs, yeasts and other microbes consumes and ferments the fiber that would otherwise permanently clog you up. It pays for the privilege by extracting the vitamins, amino acids and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) you need to survive.
One by-product of this win-win relationship is an SCFA called butyrate. And, now, researchers from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have taken the latest look at how butyrate may help reduce some of the affects of aging.
First, let’s look at how butyrate impacts two of our most important systems – the brain and the digestive system. Then, we can discuss what we might be able to do to boost our butyrate.
The Nanyang research team focused their efforts on an SCFA called butyrate. They transplanted butyrate-producing gut microbes from 2-year-old mice into microbe-free mice just 6 weeks old. Only eight weeks later, the young mice exhibited wider, longer intestinal walls.
As you age, your small intestines gradually stop producing the thick layer of mucus that keeps your gut microbes where they belong. Less mucus means damaged or dead intestinal cells, followed by inflammation or infection.
More intestinal issue means more mucus… and more mucus means better digestive health.
But the butyrate benefited the baby mice in an even more important way… by impacting the brain!
According to the research team’s leader Professor Sven Pettersson, the study “… found that microbes collected from an old mouse have the capacity to support neural growth in a younger mouse. This is a surprising and very interesting observation.”
For anyone over 60, what he adds takes it from interesting to exciting:
“These results will lead us to explore whether butyrate might support repair and rebuilding in situations like stroke, spinal damage and to attenuate accelerated ageing and cognitive decline.”
And the Nanyang findings added weight to those of a2018 dietary fiber study in which Illinois researchers reported that old mice on a high-fiber diet had elevated butyrate levels and reduced brain inflammation.
One chemical commonly found in inflamed brain tissue is interleukin-1. It may be related to Alzheimer’s disease.
Even after 60, you can take steps to keep your microbiome at its butyrate-manufacturing best. Try to avoid extended hospital stays, unless absolutely necessary. They could expose your gut to invasions of unfriendly bacteria.
The antibiotics used to treat those infections also take a toll. So, practice good hygiene (handwashing, using mouthwash, etc) to reduce the risk of getting infections that might require antibiotics.
Reduce your intake of artificial sweeteners, fried foods and red meat. And, if you’re already enjoying a plant-based diet, keep it up.
If you’re not, slowly increase your vegetable, fruit and whole-grain intake. Your digestive tract may need time to adjust, but it will definitely thank you for the change!
What has been your experience with a high-fiber diet? Are there any recipes you’d like to share? Let’s have a conversation!
Disclaimer: None of the information in this article is intended to be medical advice. Please consult with a doctor before making any changes to your diet.