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Are Fecal Transplants the Fountain of Youth for Living Healthier, Longer, and Smarter?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Fecal transplants may reverse brain aging.

Here’s the latest on anti-aging research that suggests a fountain of youth treatment for older patients might be achieved by altering the gut’s microbiome.

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Fecal Swapping in the Past

“Fecal Swapping” has taken a new route in the news lately as scientists report that it could be the answer toward reversing some of the pitfalls of aging.

Basically, fecal swapping is the transplantation of fecal waste from the digestive tract of a relatively healthy person into the digestive tract of an unhealthy person. Presumably how this works is that fecal swapping places good bacteria into an unhealthy digestive tract that is filled with bad disease-causing bacteria. The good bacteria will then inhabit and remain in the digestive tract and outcompete or negate the negative health effects caused by the bad bacteria.

In the past, fecal swapping has been investigated as a way to reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and as a way to treat obesity.

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A less-invasive and more appealing approach, however, has been the promoting of developing a healthier gut biome by balancing the types of bacteria you have in your digestive tract, by simply eating cultured food products such as special yogurts, or swallowing a probiotic pill.

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In fact, researchers recently reported that collecting a sample of your gut bacteria can be as simple as swallowing a special pill that traps gut bacteria, which can be retrieved and analyzed in a lab.

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Fecal Swapping Today

However, recent research has discovered that changing the gut biome in an individual might have other benefits such as combatting cognitive decline in the elderly.

According to a news release from University of East Anglia, when fecal matter from older mice was transferred to younger mice, the younger mice aged mentally.

“Ageing is an inevitable process that starts immediately after birth and ultimately leads to physical health problems as well as a decline in psychological well-being and cognitive function…research has shown that the aging process may be linked with age-related changes in our gut microbiota,” says Dr. David Vauzour, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.

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The news release tells us that there is evidence of a “two-way communication between the gut and the brain—known as the "gut-brain axis"—that may play a role in shaping not only behavior, but our cognitive function as well, dependent on what kind of gut microbiome we carry.

“We wanted to see whether transferring gut microbes from older to younger mice could affect parts of the central nervous system associated with ageing,” says Dr. Vauzour.

What the researchers found after transferring fecal matter from older mice into the digestive tract of younger mice was that the younger mice showed no significant changes in behavior markers such as anxiety and explorative behavior, or in their locomotor activity. But what it did show was impairment in their spatial learning and memory, evidenced while performing in maze tests.

At the molecular level, the younger mice were found to have alterations in gene expression in the hippocampus part of their brains that affected the proteins associated with synaptic plasticity and neuro transmission responsible for learning and memory functioning.

“Our research shows that a fecal transplantation from an old donor to a young recipient causes an age-associated shift in the composition of gut microbiota…the procedure had an impact on the expression of proteins involved in key functions of the hippocampus—an important part of the brain that has a vital role in a variety of functions including memory, learning but also in spatial navigation and emotional behavior and mood,” says Dr.Vauzour.

Here is a YouTube Video About the Study

“In short, the young mice began to behave like older mice, in terms of their cognitive function,” stated Professor Claudio Nicoletti—a co-author of the study’s findings published in the journal Microbiome—who added that there is a possibility that transferring fecal matter from younger mice to older mice might have an opposite effect on the older mice.

“While it remains to be seen whether transplantation from very young donors can restore cognitive function in aged recipients, the findings demonstrate that age-related shifts in the gut microbiome can alter components of the central nervous system,” said Professor Nicoletti.

The study concluded that in light of their findings that there is a “…direct impact of age-associated shifts of the intestinal microbiota composition on CNS-specific pathways that led to a significant decline of key functions, such as spatial learning and memory,” and that this provides solid support that restoring a young-like microbiota in the digestive tract of the elderly might improve cognitive function and thus the quality of life of many elderly patients.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Anthony Scanlon from Pixabay

References:

Could A Poo Transplant One Day Be The Secret Of Eternal Youth?” University of East Anglia Communications news release 2 Oct. 2020.

Faecal microbiota transplant from aged donor mice affects spatial learning and memory via modulating hippocampal synaptic plasticity- and neurotransmission-related proteins in young recipients” Alfonsina D’Amato et al, Microbiome Open access article, Oct. 1, 2020.

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