Fecal transplants have made the possibly of aging gracefully a little bit messier

Researchers have found that transplanting fecal microbiota — the tiny creatures that live in our poop — from young to old can reverse aging in the guts, eyes, and brain of mice.

Chris Arnold 4 minute read May 5, 2022
partial view of woman holding paper made large intestine on grey background

Changes occur in the makeup of our gut microbiota as we age, which can impact metabolism and our immune system. GETTY

The goal of staying youthful can lead to many messy situations, from creams and rubs to mud baths and seaweed wraps. 

Scientists from the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia in England have found a new way to potentially keep us young — at least our brains, that is. The Quadram Institute is a centre for food and health research, which combines resources from UEA and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals. Researchers there have found that transplanting fecal microbiota — the tiny creatures that live in our poop — from young to old can reverse aging in the guts, eyes, and brain of mice. 

The findings were published in the journal Microbiome

“This ground-breaking study provides tantalizing evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in aging and the functional decline of brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy,” Simon Carding, author of the study, said in a statement

Changes occur in the makeup of our gut microbiota as we age, which can impact metabolism and our immune system. These symptoms are regularly associated with age-related issues including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular problems, autoimmune, metabolic, and neurodegenerative disorders. 

To better understand the impact of the microbiota, researchers transplanted microbes from old mice into young ones, and studied the eyes, guts, and brains of the young mice. 

Scientists put young poo into old mice

The researchers found the young mice with old microbes were losing gut integrity, allowing bacterial products to enter the circulation system, triggering the immune system and inflaming the brain and eyes.

But the researchers also put microbiota from young mice into old mice. 

The older mice became enriched in beneficial bacteria, the scientists say. To further understand what was happening, the team looked into specific elements and areas of health that were corresponded between mice and humans and found that particular fats and vitamins were found which could be linked to the changes in inflammation around the eyes and brain.

As exciting as the potential de-aging process may seem, the researchers caution against thinking the same results could be seen in the elderly population, at least until similar studies can be performed. 

“Our results provide more evidence of the important links between microbes in the gut and healthy aging of tissues and organs around the body,” Aimee Parker, lead author on the study, said. “We hope that our findings will contribute ultimately to understanding how we can manipulate our diet and our gut bacteria to maximize good health in later life.”

In Canada, approximately seven million people are considered elderly, according to Statistics Canada; that includes anyone who is 65 years old, or more. Of those 7 million, only about one-third are considered to have normal vision, compared to about 70 per cent of Canadian youth aged six to 19. 

Canada also has one of the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, with an estimated 300,000 people living with IBD. Seniors with Crohn’s or colitis are the fastest growing group with the condition.

Brain inflammation can be a cause of serious conditions including dementia, a 2020 study from the University of Cambridge says. An estimated 402,000 seniors in Canada also have dementia, according to the federal government; that’s roughly seven per cent of the elderly population, with about 76,000 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Canada each year. 

Chris Arnold is a Toronto-based writer.

Thank you for your support. If you liked this story, please send it to a friend. Every share counts.