Do gut bacteria hold the key to a longer life?

Research proves it might, but we’re still awaiting the big breakthrough.

We all love myths and fables, and are particularly fascinated by legends (like Bheesma in the Mahabharata or Tithonus in Greek mythology) who – as the riveting stories go – tower above everyone else with the ultimate power of them all – immortality.

But in a day and age when the number of ‘old age diseases’ (such as Alzheimer’s, for instance) is on the rise, how desirable would a boon of immortality be? What good, in other words, is a long life – if it is plagued with illness and disease?

With both life expectancy and the number of senior citizens at an all time high, the question is more relevant than ever. Not surprisingly, wellness in old age is attracting more and more attention from all quarters everyday. We have truly moved on from ‘how to live a long life’ to ‘how to live a long and healthy life’.

Researchers and physicians around the world are working hard at creating breakthroughs that will help us do both. And they are beginning to realize that ageing is influenced by several unique factors.

Let’s take the case of bacteria found in the human intestines, for instance. When fed with it, C. elegans ( a free-living nematode about 1 mm in length that lives in temperate soil environments) experiences  a substantial increase in lifespan. That’s not all. A diet of gut bacteria can also cause C. elegans to develop resistance to tumors and chemical processes that cause Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

There’s more to the powers of the bacteria found in our gut. By acting as a catalyst for Metformin (a form of medication used in the treatment of diabetes), gut bacteria is also known to delay aging in C. elegans. Finally, certain bacteria in our intestines have also proved effective in controlling age-induced muscle paralysis.

So the big question now is: Can populating our gut with this kind of bacteria help us ‘conquer’ the ills and ails of old age? That’s exactly what scientists want to find out next. Several strategies – including probiotics – are being tested for this purpose.

When that breakthrough happens, mankind will taking a giant leap. If not towards the ‘holy grail’ of immortality – but at least towards improving the quality of life in old age.

And helping us all look forward to the joys of a long life – minus drugs and surgeries.

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