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Gut Health: Impacts on Aging and Beyond

Gut Health: Impacts on Aging and Beyond
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The role our gut microbes play in health, chronic disease, and longevity—and how government policies threaten natural ways of healing our gut. Action Alert!

Research on the gut microbiome—a diverse array of trillions of microorganisms that reside in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract—is revealing how pivotal this microbial ecosystem is to preventing premature aging. Imbalances in this ecosystem, called gut dysbiosis, are linked with an array of chronic diseases, and healing our gut can keep us healthy and sustain virility. But longstanding threats from FDA policies put our ability to protect gut health in serious jeopardy. 

Ninety-nine percent of the genetic information we contain is microbial. These microbes perform pivotal functions in the body. Age, our environment, genetics, stress levels, disease, and, most important of all, diet, contribute to changes in the relative abundance and diversity of bacterial species of the GI tract. 

Emerging research indicates that the health and diversity of our gut microbiome has a profound impact on how we age. Multiple studies have shown, for example, that fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) from healthy donors improves longevity. A lack of diversity in gut flora has been linked to increased frailty, inflammation, and susceptibility to intestinal disorders.

This adds to growing evidence that shows how essential the gut microbiome is to overall health and disease risk. 

Gut microbiome health is linked with neurodegenerative disorders (ALS, Alzheimer’sParkinson’s), anxietysleep disordersautismimmune function, and cancer. A burgeoning field of research provides fascinating insights into how specific bacterial populations in the GI tract are implicated in disease. For example, cranberry extract has been shown to prevent weight gain and help with metabolic syndrome; these effects were associated with an increase in abundance of Akkermansia in the gut. Hypertensive populations have been found to have overgrowths of Prevotella and Klebsiella. 

Probiotic foods and some supplements contain living strains of bacteria that add to the “good” bacteria in our gut. Contrary to popular belief, strains contained in probiotics do not take up residence in the gut, but perform a number of beneficial functions as they move through our GI tract, like suppressing the growth of pathogens, fortifying the intestinal barrier, and helping with immune modulation. Probiotics may also transfer genetic traits linked with better survival to other beneficial microbiota in the GI tract through a process known as horizontal gene transfer. FMT does alter the gut micobiome. This is a therapy with much promise that Big Pharma, with the FDA’s help, is trying to turn into its next goldmine (more on this below).

Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria, with different prebiotic compounds feeding different strains of bacteria. Examples of prebiotics include acadia gum, psyllium, inulin, and galacto-oligosaccharides. Changing the microbiome with prebiotics can take time, especially after antibiotic use: antibiotic use in infancy can alter the gut and negatively impact immunity for years. In adults, gut microbiota diversity following antibiotic use was regained after 1.5 months, but some species did not return in detectable numbers for six months. 

Integrative doctors and nutrition experts can help you use food and supplements to address gut dysbiosis. Doctors compare gut health to tending a garden—we want to encourage the right plants to thrive and prevent weeds from taking over. This includes avoiding exposure to environmental toxins, which have been shown to reduce gut microbiota diversity. Glyphosate seems to be particularly harmful.

The importance of the gut microbiome to human health cannot be understated. Yet the FDA is threatening our ability to use natural products to support gut health. We’ve alerted you to the many dangers of the “new dietary ingredient” (NDI, or “new supplement”) guidance. Probiotics are particularly threatened through the FDA’s expansive interpretation of what it means for a supplement to be “chemically altered.” Changing any aspect of the fermentation process to produce strains commonly used in foods more safely and with fewer allergens triggers the burdensome NDI requirements, which are akin to the prohibitively expensive drug pre-approval process. 

FMT is another procedure that holds great promise in helping regenerate gut health, but again, the FDA is treating FMT—that is, human feces—like a drug. This means that clinical trials would be required for FMT to be used for almost every health application, which will, in practice, mean that patients cannot use FMT to support health.

Finally, we’re prevented from learning about the stunning benefits of foods and supplements for gut health, whether prebiotics or probiotics, since only FDA-approved drugs can make claims relating to disease mitigation, prevention, and/or treatment. 

Applying drug standards to probiotics and FMT is entirely inappropriate. Probiotics, like other supplements, are natural and thus not strongly patentable, unlike new-to-nature drugs. This means that the astronomical costs of pre-approval cannot be recouped by companies selling probiotics. With FMT, the FDA could have chosen to apply a different framework, but didn’t; donated fecal samples for transplantation could be treated similarly to donated blood where the safety of samples are ensured without applying drug standards (see here for more background).

Human health is intricately intertwined with the health of trillions of microorganisms that reside in our bodies. We cannot let the FDA restrict our ability to tend our own bodily gardens!

Action Alert! Tell the FDA, with a copy to Congress, to stop barring Americans from keeping a healthy gut by 1) fixing the NDI guidance’s absurd definition of “chemically altered,” 2) reversing their decision to treat FMT like a drug, and 3) allowing the free flow of information about dietary supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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