Microbiota project seeks answers to better elderly nutrition

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Ireland's Eldermet project is working toward a better understanding of how nutritional inputs modulate the microbiota in the elderly
Ireland's Eldermet project is working toward a better understanding of how nutritional inputs modulate the microbiota in the elderly

Related tags Nutrition

An Irish government-backed project with multiple partners is investigating links between the gut microbiota and elderly nutrition.

Led by professor Paul O’Toole from the Department of Microbiology at University College Cork, the multi-disciplinary team of researchers seeks to, develop recommendations for specific dietary ingredients, foodstuffs, functional foods and/or dietary supplements, that will improve the health of elderly consumers.”

They are achieving this by assessing the faecal microbiota of Irish citizens aged 65 or over.

The project is being informed by research such as that from 2010 and 2011 (O’Toole and Claesson) that use pyrosequencing characterisation of the faecal microbiota in 161 Eldermet subjects and nine younger control subjects that, “found a distinct difference in core microbiota composition to that of younger adults.”

“The faecal microbiota of elderly subjects was characterized by unusual phylum proportions and extreme variability. In addition, temporal stability of the microbiota at three months was illustrated in 85% of subjects.”

Low nutrient density foods

Food intake data compiled by the project found diets among the elderly were far from ideal, according to the Eldermet website.

“From those residing in both community and institutional settings (rehabilitation wards/out-patients clinics), a high consumption of low nutrient density foods was prominent, with poor compliance to recommended intakes of other food groups including dairy, breads and cereals which may have negative health implications,”​ it said.

“Fruit and vegetable consumption by those in institutionalised care were low compared to current dietary recommendations.  As a consequence, a large proportion of older Irish adults may be at risk of inadequate intakes of important vitamins and minerals in particular those of relevance for health promotion and brain-ageing, where gender differences in folate status have been associated with cognition.”

Scarce intestinal information

Some of Eldermet's partners

Eldermet said one of its aims was to fill the void that existed about nutritional inputs and the microbiota and put forward the role of pre- and probiotics.

“At present, there is no information, based on the compelling role of the intestinal bacteria, upon which to develop foods for the promotion or maintenance of health in the elderly,”​ the project said.

“Food products/ingredients/functional foods (prebiotics or probiotics) or supplements based on Eldermet research findings could be used in the management of common health problems where links with the composition of the intestinal microbiota have been associated such as allergies, cancer, digestive disorders, obesity and its related conditions.”

“In addition, the recent discovery by Eldermet scientists through unbiased correlation analysis of new microbiota associations with multiple clinical parameters will form the basis for the provision of strategies that modulate the microbiota to promote and maintain health in the elderly.”

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