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A recent study from the newly formed China-Canada Institute found that a healthy gut is a key health indicator of individuals who are living past 100. While maintaining a healthy gut probably won’t make you immortal, it has been suggested to extend one’s life expectancy.

The study collected and analyzed gut microbiota, a community of microorganisms, of more than 1,000 healthy Chinese participants. Participants varied in ages, from three years old to over 100 years old. All considered to be extremely healthy, with no previous health issues or family history of disease.

Surprisingly, gut microbiota of the healthy older group showed that they possessed a microbiota composition similar to individuals three decades younger, the study authors said. Major differences between the gut makeup were found before age 20, whereas there were little differences of gut microbiota from ages 30 to over 100.

Lastly, the microbiota of the male participants varied more than the females. Study co-author Gregor Reid said the study endeavored to understand the role of gut health in aging.

“The aim is to bring novel microbiome diagnostic systems to populations, then use food and probiotics to try and improve biomarkers of health,” he told Psychology Today. “It begs the question — if you can stay active and eat well, will you age better, or is healthy aging predicated by the bacteria in your gut?”

Looking at the study’s findings as an entire picture, the authors said the findings suggest that the microbiota of the healthy aged participants differ from the microbiota of the younger participants.

“The main conclusion is that if you are ridiculously healthy and 90 years old, your gut microbiota is not that different from a healthy 30-year-old in the same population,” said Greg Gloor, the study’s principal investigator. “Whether this is cause or effect is unknown.”

Studies about the human gut and its environment are fairly new, unlike animal studies. The most notable contribution from the China-Canada Institute study is that it developed a standard for what healthy gut microbiome looks like within the human lifespan.

“We report the large-scale use of compositional data analysis to establish a baseline microbiota composition in an extremely healthy cohort of the Chinese population,” the authors said.

Since the study was a cross-sectional study, meaning it only looked at one moment in time instead of following participants for an extended amount of time, there’s no way to know exactly how a healthy gut is associated with a longer life. Even though there are links between the gut and age, there’s no established cause.

“In addition to the expected difference in the microbiota of children and adults, we found that the microbiota of the elderly in this population who are scores of years younger,” the authors said.

“We speculate that this similarity is a consequence of an active healthy lifestyle and diet, although cause and effect cannot be ascribed in this (or any other) cross-sectional design.”

The study authors said they were optimistic in the future research endeavors that will help to develop interventions for healthier gut microbiomes. Though there are medications and foods that address gut health today, any dramatic diet change or supplement addition should always be discussed with a doctor beforehand.

“The results suggest that if you live to be 100 and in perfect health in China, your microbiota will likely appear to be relatively similar to that from a person in their mid-30s,” the authors wrote. “Whether this is cause or effect is unknown, but it suggests that resetting an elderly microbiota to that of a 30-year-old might help promote health if the microbiota is outside the norm.”

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