It’s normal to lose some muscle mass as we age. It’s called sarcopenia, and this condition can start as early as your 30s.
If you’re physically inactive you can lose as much as three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade after the age of 30.1 And even if you’re active, you’ll still have some muscle loss that occurs with age.
With that said, staying active and adding regular doses of muscle-strengthening exercise can help stem the tide.
But did you know that nourishing your gut microbes could be equally as important? Emerging research suggests just that.
Let’s take a look…
First, a little refresher on what makes up a healthy gut. There are trillions of bacteria that dwell in the gut and they’re closely connected to the metabolism.
These microscopic inhabitants have starring roles in digestion and nutrient absorption. They also help maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining and defend against invading organisms and “bad” microbes.
The gut microbiota of each person are unique. They can greatly contribute to how a person fights disease, digests food, and even to one’s mood, memory and psychological processes.2
And now, researchers have found another function to add to this growing list of gut health connections.3
“Emerging research in mice and preliminary human studies suggest there may also be a connection between our gut microbiome and our muscles,” says Michael Lustgarten, PhD, a scientist in the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
The Inflammation Theory
Experts believe that one trigger of sarcopenia is general inflammation in the body that increases as we age.4
Undesirable age-related changes to the gut microbiome may lead to increased inflammation, researchers say.
In turn, this may contribute to muscle loss and change in composition (fat building up in muscle tissue) that results in loss of strength and function.
In a study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, researchers explored the connection between gut health and muscle health.5
The research team transplanted gut microbes from standard lab mice into mice that did not have gut microbes, called germ-free mice. They found that muscle growth and function in the germ-free mice was partially restored following the microbe transplant.
Prof. Sven Pettersson, who led the study, explains the significance, saying, “These results further strengthen the growing evidence of gut microbes acting as crucial gatekeepers to human health and provide new insight into muscle mass maintenance with respect to aging.”
He notes that such studies may provide potential targets of intervention to improve skeletal muscle strength in the elderly.
Studies show that strength training with weights, machines or your own body weight at least twice a week can help preserve aging muscle.6 It’s important to stay active – walking, working, playing – anything to keep those muscles moving.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of evidence that you can improve your gut microbiome with diet.
Five Ways to Improve Gut Bacteria
1. Eat a diverse diet
Basically, a diverse selection of digestive microbes is best. That’s because the more species of bacteria you have, the more health benefits they may be able to provide. Load up on whole, nourishing foods.
2. Enjoy more vegetables, beans and fruit
Your gut loves foods that are high in fiber. Why? Fiber can be digested by certain gut bacteria, and this stimulates the growth of more good bacteria. Eat more raspberries, artichokes, green peas and broccoli. And don’t forget to add plenty of beans and whole grains to your meals.
3. Add fermented foods
Fermented foods — such as plain, natural yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha – can help microbiota by boosting their function and reducing overgrowth of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
4. Skip fake sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners can negatively impact blood sugar levels due to their effects on gut microbiota. One study in rats showed that aspartame, an artificial sweetener, reduced weight gain, but it also increased blood sugar and impaired insulin response.
5. Take a probiotic supplement
Even the best probiotic supplement can’t erase a horrible diet. However, it may help restore healthy microbiota function.
The best way to maintain a happy gut is by eating a range of fresh, whole foods. Focus on plant sources like fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and whole grains.
- Nanyang Technological University. (2019, September 10). Link between gut microbes and muscle
growth suggests future approach to tackle muscle loss.