July 1, 2012

Even if you are a clean-living Oregonian, you are full of bacteria. The intestines of both young and old people are populated with a variety of bacteria and fungi which aid in the digestion of food and have an impact on health. A new study focusing on older people, including those in long-term care, shows that the bacteria in their intestines may be different. This difference may have an impact on the incidence of hospital-acquired infections.

Bacteria in older people often are less stable than those in younger patients examined, as well as less diverse. Researchers attributed this, in part, to changes that accompany aging, including food taking a longer period of time to travel though the digestive tract and a significant decrease in the production of saliva.

The study focused on individuals ranging in age from 64 to 102; the average age was 78. To try to avoid skewing the sample, individuals recently dosed with antibiotics, which kill many bacteria, were excluded from the sample.

Where people resided in the study had an impact on the diversity of bacteria in their system, with people in long-term care situations having less diverse varsities of bacteria. Diet also can have a dramatic impact on the type of bacteria present in the intestinal tract, with a diverse and healthy diet carrying with it the benefits of diversity in bacteria. Low-fat, high-fiber diets were preferable to low-fiber diets that were either high or low in fat. For some reason, those living in long-term care facilities often seemed to have contraindicated low-fiber diets.

Often patients in rehabilitation or long-term care facilities suffer from inflammation of their guts. The researchers suggest that carefully monitored nutrition plans would help these patients avoid those inflammations and curtail the incidence of infections like the often lethal Clostridium difficile.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Bacteria in guts of elderly differ from those of the young,” Rosie Mestel, July 13, 2012


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