You may not think you have much in common with a fruit fly. But when it comes to figuring out how we age and how healthy we stay into our later years, research conducted with these little bugs might shed a lot of light on some important processes.
Conducting research with fruit flies has a few advantages. First, fruit flies don't live very long — about eight weeks, on average — making research that covers their entire lifespan fairly efficient. But like humans, fruit flies do demonstrate a good bit of variation in their lifespans. Some die young, while others make it into their 80s and 90s (in fruit-fly years). Second, researchers have already mapped out all of the fruit fly's genes, and they know how to turn them on and off as needed.
Because of these factors, researchers at UCLA decided to investigate how changes in the intestinal microbe relate to fruit-fly death. And their findings are important, because, as lead researcher and UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology David Walker explains, "Age-onset decline is very tightly linked to changes within the community of gut microbes. With age, the number of bacterial cells increase substantially, and the composition of bacterial groups changes."
You may have heard of leaky guy syndrome, a condition in which the lining of the intestinal tract becomes more permeable, affecting the balance of bacteria in the gut and throughout the body. Well, a previous study had found that fruit flies experience leaky gut too. And once they do, they usually die five or six days later. This current study, the results of which were published in Cell Reports, decided to investigate these findings further.
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For this project, the researchers looked at over 10,000 female fruit flies, identifying the bacterial changes that occurred in their intestines before the leaking started. Once they identified the changes, they started giving some of the flies antibiotics. This cut down the number of bacteria in their intestines, helped improved their intestinal function, and allowed them to live significantly longer — an average of 20 more days after the leaky gut began, compared to the expected five or six. In fact, Walker said, "When we prevented the changes in the intestinal microbiota that were linked to the flies' imminent death by feeding them antibiotics, we dramatically extended their lives and improved their health."
Now, I'm certainly not going to tell you to go take antibiotics to help improve your gut health. In fact, in humans, overusing antibiotics can actually make our health worse because they wipe out the good bacteria we need. But this study does show just how important keeping the balance right is for our health, particularly as we get older. The problem right now is that scientists don't know exactly what the perfect balance is.
What we do know is that some bacteria are much better for our health than others. And that having the right kinds of bacteria in the right levels helps us avoid having a chronic immune response. These can create stress throughout the body and is related to a number of age-related diseases in humans and to imminent death in fruit flies. To help maintain proper bacteria levels, you can try a probiotic, such as Advanced Probiotic Formula
and eating high-fiber and fermented foods.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD