Probiotics is well-established for its gut and immune benefits especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, a group of experts pointed out that certain probiotics strains have been shown to benefit areas not conventionally linked to probiotics, such as heart health.
This is especially since heart health is on top of mind when it comes to concerns around ageing.
The expert panel consisted of Brigitte Zeller, senior strategy consultant – APAC, Healthy Marketing Team, Professor Yuji Naito from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, and Dr. Chyn Boon Wong, lead research associate at Japan dairy company Morinaga Milk Industry.
They were speaking at “Probiotics for Healthy Ageing: Golden Opportunities for silver innovation”, an interactive broadcast which is available on demand here.
Especially among the South East Asian population, heart and cardiovascular health ranks high on consumers’ concern.
“If I go to Thailand and Indonesia, what people need and the number one issue is around heart health and everything around the lack of movement, bone health, joint, muscle etc, which means strength, and after that you will see [the need for products supporting] brain health,” said Zeller.
Elsewhere in North East Asia, brain health ranks higher among ageing concerns.
“Brain health is the number one concern in Japan and China. It's linked to memory and cognition. It's about the lack of sleep, which is also growing trend,” she added.
At the same time, there is a lack of health supplements or functional foods that address these concerns in the market, which she pointed out were “white spaces opportunities” for new product innovation.
In this case, Dr. Wong pointed out that there were certain probiotic strains that have been shown to benefit heart health.
Among which is the human residential bacteria strain Bifidobacterium longum BB536.
A 12-week clinical trial published in Nutrition Journal has shown that the intake of BB536 alongside other health ingredients have significantly reduced the risk markers of cardiovascular disease.
In addition, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels were all reduced.
“There is a significant improvement in cholesterol metabolism, which was observed in BB536 group. This actually indicates a strong inhibition of cholesterol synthesis without increased cholesterol absorption.
“The study suggests that BB536 could be the one that may effectively act to minimise cholesterol absorption,” Dr. Wong pointed out.
She added that there were increasing evidence suggesting that alterations in the gut microbiome could play a role in cardiovascular diseases.
“Gut microbiota can utilise trimethylamine, N-oxide, SCFA, and primary and secondary bile acid pathways. By affecting these elements, the gut microbiota can cause cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and coronary artery disease,” she said.
On top of heart health, studies have also showed that BB536 could enhance seniors’ body defence system against influenza infection as well as improving bowel movement in seniors experiencing chronic constipation, she said.
Good bacteria decreases with ageing
As one ages, the gut microbiome undergoes significant changes in composition and function.
In fact, microbiome disturbance, or microbiome dysbiosis, has been incorporated into the revised hallmark of ageing in last year’s Copenhagen ageing meeting, Professor Naito pointed out.
Professor Naito is also involved in the Kyotango longevity cohort study which started in 2017.
Kyotango is found to have the largest number of centenarians across the whole of Japan.
The number of centenarians per 100,000 population is 48 people across the whole of Japan, 73 in Kyoto city, and 133 in the Kyotango area.
Based on this, the researchers compared the gut microbiota between Kyotango and other parts of Japan.
A prominent finding is that proteobacteria, a recent risk factor in longevity from European studies, is very small in the Kyotango centenarian population.
Other findings showed correlation between gut microbiota and walking speed.
“Very interestingly, the abundance of bifidobacterium is positively correlated with walking speed in the Kyotango population…
“In the Kyotango area, fish and beans are often taken as sources of protein, this may affect the gut microbiota,” Professor Naito said.
“Just seven people have decreased walking speed and just 28 people have decreased grip strength among 321 people. Only 30 people, 9.3 per cent, were diagnosed as having clinical sarcopenia,” he said, adding that grip strength is an important indicator of ageing as grip strength decreases with age.
Patterns of gut microbiota alteration in ageing
On the other hand, Dr, Wong pointed out that three major groups of taxa showing consistent pattern of gut microbiota alteration have been observed in ageing.
The first group of taxa consists of beneficial bacteria such as Bidifidobacteria associated with healthy ageing but also decreases with age.
The second group consists of pathobionts which increases with age and are associated with unhealthy ageing
The third group consists of species such as akkermansia that were reported to increase with age but were observed to be depleted in unhealthy ageing.
“At old age, in particular, a decrease in Bifidobacterium and increase in Escherichia coli were observed.
“[However], microbiome ageing may not match chronological ageing. We found that cholic acid and taurocholic acid were enriched in seniors with adult type gut microbiota.
“In contrast, choline, trimethylamine (TMA), N8-acetylspermidine, propionic acid, 2-hydroxy-4-methylvaleric acid, and 5-methylcytosine were enriched in seniors with elderly type gut microbiota,” she said.