Middle age and the gut microbiome

In this blog post, we’ll look at changes to the gut microbiome during middle age – our 40s and 50s. This can be a time of immense upheaval and change health-wise, especially for women, most of whom transition through menopause at this time. 

The gut microbiome in middle age

A quick search of research papers about the gut microbiome in middle age shows that more studies are needed to understand the changes that occur during these years fully. However, it has been shown that once the microbiome is established in childhood, it remains mostly stable until a decline in variety and diversity is seen in old age.

One paper looking at participants over five years showed that approximately 60% of their microbiomes remained stable throughout the study. The bacteria that were the most stable, were also the most abundant.

Having said this, the remaining 40% changed throughout the five years, possibly as a result of:

  • bacterial infections
  • antibiotics
  • lifestyle changes – stress, sleep, exercise, alcohol
  • dietary changes
  • surgery

The gut microbiome in middle age is, as with younger adults, dominated by two phyla – Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Studies have shown that although most bacterial species remain stable, the diet can shape the microbiome as a whole, with higher Bacteroidetes levels being linked to the typical Western diet that may be higher in fat and protein. The bacterial species Prevotella is linked to a more plant-based diet, rich in fibre.

Two ongoing studies, the British Gut Project (now named Zoe) and the American Gut Project, are currently looking to identify how different diets – vegan, keto, paleo, standard American diet etc. – influence the gut microbiome composition in adults. The results may influence advice, and interventions to support gut health in the future.

Stress and the microbiome

Increased stress can very often be linked to middle age. Your children may now be teenagers, and finding their own way in life – often by challenging your role. At the same time, you may now be caring for elderly parents, which comes with its own issues. Add to this health concerns, financial worries and possible job dissatisfaction, and it’s not hard to see how stress levels may be at an all time high.

Unfortunately, stress and gut problems go hand in hand. It is a known cause for IBS, and can directly impact the gut microbiome. Finding ways to carve out time for relaxation each day may be critical in optimising your gut health. Read our previous blog post on stress and the gut here.

Menopause and gut health

In perimenopause and menopause, ensuring good gut health can be key to managing many of the symptoms frequently experienced. A few of the ways that the gut can influence women during this time include:

  • the two-way communication between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, can cause anxiety and depression and impact sleep.
  • constipation may be a contributing factor in menopausal symptoms. When clearance from the gut slows down, any excess oestrogen can stay in the body for longer than ideal, and may then be reabsorbed. This can lead to even higher circulating levels.
  • it is thought that 70% of our immune system is found in our gut. Our immune system is closely linked to levels of inflammation throughout the body, and higher inflammation can lead to more intense symptoms during menopause.
  • many menopausal women find they gain weight around the abdomen. Research has linked the diversity and composition of our gut bacteria to weight and shown how friendly bacteria (probiotic) supplements may help with weight loss at this time.

Optimise your gut microbiome in middle age

Many of the above changes are directly linked to having a healthy balance of friendly bacteria. Understanding the relationship between friendly bacteria and your health and symptoms could benefit your overall well-being during this time in your life. Ways to support gut health include:

  • enjoying a variety of plant foods each day – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and whole grains
  • eating prebiotic vegetables regularly – garlic, leeks, asparagus, underripe bananas, onions, Jerusalem artichokes
  • minimising processed foods and takeaways
  • reducing alcohol, sugar and caffeine
  • identifying and reducing any food sensitivities or intolerances
  • drinking adequate water throughout the day
  • introducing fermented foods to the diet – kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, live yoghurt etc.
  • taking a good quality probiotic

The good news is that your gut microbiome is stable throughout your 40s and 50s. By making small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can optimise your levels of friendly bacteria to keep you feeling fit and healthy for longer!

Find out more

Friendly bacteria and how they help the menopause – A. Vogel
Diet may counteract menopause metabolism change – Zoe (formerly known as the British Gut Project)

Want to know more?
ProVen Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth ProVen research.

ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107

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