The so-called “young blood movement” goes back far beyond the current Silicon Valley quest of the rich to live forever, or at least for a while more than average, by injecting the blood of young people. Part alchemistic, part racist, part New Age, part conspiracy theory – harvesting and injecting young blood is seen by many to be a fountain of youth erupting from a needle in a vein. While the practice may have a modicum of validity -- it works in elderly mice – a new study finds that a fountain springing from a different body part, made of a different fluid and injected in a different area may be the true medical fountain of youth. Unfortunately, the fluid does not have the romantic cachet of blood … it’s feces.
“This ground-breaking study provides tantalizing evidence for the direct involvement of gut microbes in ageing and the functional decline of brain function and vision and offers a potential solution in the form of gut microbe replacement therapy.”
Gut microbes … that sounds a little better than feces, doesn’t it? Professor Simon Carding from University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School announced this groundbreaking (not to mention wind breaking) study in a UEA press release. Fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) or stool transplants have been known to be more effective that antibacterial drugs in treating gastrointestinal diseases such as Clostridioides difficile infection. But (butt?) … feces as a treatment for aging?
“Most diseases are associated with changes in the types and behavior of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes in an individual’s gut. Some of these changes in microbiota composition happen as we age, adversely affecting metabolism and immunity, and this has been associated with age-related disorders including inflammatory bowel diseases, along with cardiovascular, autoimmune, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders.”
It makes sense when you think about it – many of the symptoms of aging are bodily function in nature (there’s no need to describe them here – ask your grandpa). To prove this, Caring and his research team transferred gut microbes from the feces of old mice into the intestines of young ones. Sure enough, the young mice showed a decline in their guts, which surprisingly led to declines in their eyes and brains. The study shows that the old microbiota degraded the lining of the guts of the young mice, allowing more bacteria to penetrate the walls, enter the bloodstream and trigger the immune system to cause inflammation in the brain and eyes. That led to the obvious question and follow-up experiment – what happens when the feces of young mice are injected into old ones?
“In old mice, these detrimental changes in the gut, eye and brain could be reversed by transplanting the gut microbiota from young mice.”
Does this mean ‘young blood’ proponents like Peter Thiel should drop their syringes and start investing in high school waste management systems? Or should they start breeding mice? The study suggests that age-related breakdown of intestinal walls can be caused by diet, which means foods that strengthen the lining of the gut – those probiotics that seem to be popping up in so many lists of ingredients – can reduce the inflammations in the brain and eyes that cause symptoms of aging. Of course, getting a young fecal injection is much faster and Silicon Valley billionaires seeking a quick return to youth to take advantage of today’s bitcoin markets would probably get over their revulsion at the thought, get the injections, fund more research and invest in fecal transplant companies. If that’s their decision, the researchers ask that they not use their study to justify it.
“Our results provide more evidence of the important links between microbes in the gut and healthy ageing of tissues and organs around the body. We hope that our findings will contribute ultimately to understanding how we can manipulate our diet and our gut bacteria to maximize good health in later life.”
Manipulating the diet – the least sexy Fountain of Youth around – may just be the only one that works.
It smells better too.