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A Healthy Gut for Healthy Cognitive Aging

Updated 2 July 2024
Thrivous Admin


Gut microbiota, the community of microorganisms living in our intestines, play a vital role in our overall health. Recent research has focused on understanding the relationship between gut microbiota and cognitive functioning, especially in the aging population. One such study is "The Interplay between Gut Microbiota and Cognitive Functioning in the Healthy Aging Population: A Systematic Review." It explores how changes in gut microbiota composition correlate with cognitive functions in healthy older adults.

The gut-brain axis is a communication network that links the gut and brain, influencing many bodily functions, including cognition. As we age, the composition of our gut microbiota changes, typically showing a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in pro-inflammatory microbes. This shift is believed to affect our cognitive status, although most research has so far focused on individuals with cognitive impairments.

This systematic review aims to bridge the research gap by investigating how gut microbiota composition relates to cognitive functioning in cognitively healthy older adults. The findings could provide insights into potential biomarkers for earlier detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

Study Design

The study conducted a comprehensive literature search across several databases, including PubMed and Scopus. Researchers looked specifically for studies that explored the relationship between gut microbiota composition and cognitive functioning in healthy older adults. They set strict inclusion criteria, focusing on peer-reviewed studies involving cognitively and medically healthy participants aged 45 and older.

From an initial pool of 1752 articles, six eligible studies were identified and included in the systematic review. These studies were categorized based on their focus, either on the taxonomic composition of gut microbiota or on the alpha diversity, which measures the variety of organisms within a sample. Different methods were used for cognitive assessment, including neuropsychological tests and electroencephalography (EEG).

To ensure the reliability of their findings, the researchers performed a risk of bias assessment for each included study. This assessment used the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) checklist, a well-recognized tool for evaluating the quality of cross-sectional studies. Studies that met the quality standards were included in the review.

Study Results

The review found varying results regarding the abundance of specific bacterial taxa and their cognitive associations. For example, a higher presence of Verrucomicrobia was linked to better verbal memory and cognitive flexibility. Conversely, an increase in the Firmicutes phylum was associated with better immediate and delayed recall. These findings illustrate the complex and nuanced relationships between specific microbial taxa and cognitive functions.

In terms of alpha diversity, two studies indicated that a higher gut microbiome diversity was linked to better performance in tasks like paired-associate learning and spatial working memory. However, one study found no significant associations between alpha diversity and cognitive functions, highlighting the need for more research to draw definitive conclusions.

Several electrophysiological measures also demonstrated significant associations with microbiome diversity. For instance, individuals with higher alpha diversity showed better attentional function, as measured by specific EEG components. These findings suggest that gut microbiome diversity may play a role in maintaining cognitive health in older adults.


The findings from this review suggest that maintaining a diverse gut microbiota could be beneficial for cognitive health as we age. Healthy individuals might consider dietary and lifestyle changes that promote gut microbial diversity, such as consuming a diet rich in fiber and fermented foods. Regular physical activity and stress management can also positively influence gut health.

Although the study primarily focuses on healthy aging populations, the potential use of gut microbiota composition as early biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's is promising. Early detection can lead to timely interventions, possibly delaying or preventing the onset of cognitive impairments.

Further research is needed to explore the precise mechanisms linking gut microbiota and cognitive functions. Longitudinal studies could help establish causation and identify specific bacterial taxa that serve as reliable biomarkers for cognitive health. Until then, adopting a healthy lifestyle that supports gut health is a practical recommendation for anyone looking to maintain their cognitive functions as they age.

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