They certainly seem to, and the big issue is how diverse those bugs are.
Research suggests that an assortment of the good ones goes hand-in-hand with better health.
Less diversity is linked with conditions ranging from high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes to chronic kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
TwinsUK is a registry of over 15,000 identical and non-identical adult twins from across the UK who participate in research to increase our understanding of a range of diseases.
A study of 617 middle-aged women from this database showed that those with less diversity of microbes in their gut also had stiffer arteries.
It’s not clear yet whether less diversity of bugs causes stiff arteries; we just know there’s a link.
That link might be inflammation.
It’s thought that healthy gut bacteria could play a hand in limiting inflammation by producing substances that contribute to a stronger intestinal wall.
When the gut wall is weak it’s easily damaged, leaving us at risk of a condition called ‘leaky gut’ in which molecules from the gut escape into the blood stream and trigger inflammation.
Diet is obviously a prime factor in determining our spectrum of gut microbes, and for the best outcome we need good quality, unprocessed food — prebiotic and probiotic.
Prebiotic food contains the kind of fibre that healthy gut bugs love to feed on. Good examples are vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, oats and legumes. Probiotic or fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and yoghurt.
Equally important is the need to manage our intake of inflammatory substances such as sugar, alcohol and processed food.
Other factors that influence our gut bug population include antibiotics, poor sleep, physical and psychological stress and exposure to pollutants, which all have a negative effect, while physical activity promotes a more diverse gut.
There are plenty of pieces of this puzzle still to be worked out before we know exactly how what we eat affects the substances our gut bugs produce, and how these substances communicate with our organs and tissues.
But what’s undeniable is that a diverse gut population is one of the keys to healthy ageing.
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