Probiotics For Senior Health Support

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

The world’s populations are ageing day by day, and to sustain our seniors, probiotics might be the answer. By Dr Howard Cash, Senior R&D Scientist; Dr David Keller, VP of Scientific Operations; and April Ryzner, Senior Food Technologist, Ganeden Incorporated

Seniors are now one of the fastest growing segments of the population globally, thanks to stabilising birth rates and more effective treatment of diseases. However, along with more seniors comes the probability that the health system will become overwhelmed by a large population with numerous chronic diseases, and the need for more preventative healthcare approaches.

Interventions that can maintain or even increase the general level of health in this group will not only benefit each person, but may also have positive social and economic effects.


Deteriorating Health With Age


Some conditions that lead to a decline in health among normal healthy seniors include a gradual decrease in the effectiveness of the immune system, an increase in digestive problems, and a progressive loss of muscle (and other lean body mass) known as sarcopenia. These are somewhat interconnected problems and interventions that improve one area may aid another as well.


Lowered Levels Of Good Bacteria

A good example of this is immune health and digestion. Over 70 percent of your immune system is in the tissue around the outside of the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, specialised immune cells are always monitoring the health of the gut, and help to maintain the proper levels of the bacteria (microbiome) that are normal and essential residents.

These immune cells are also first line defenders against pathogenic and potentially pathogenic microbes that could initiate disease. One ingredient known to help support these areas are probiotics—an important factor for senior health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines probiotics as “Live microorganisms when consumed in adequate amounts confer a benefit on the host”. Probiotics are good bacteria, and certain strains have been shown to support digestive and immune health. Some probiotic bacteria work to maintain the “good” bacteria in the gut, and help the body’s immune cells to react more appropriately to a challenge.

As we age, there are natural changes in the makeup of the gut microbiome that can lead to various symptoms. When looking for a probiotic, it is important to look for strains that have been studied to show health benefits.

One probiotic, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 has been extensively studied and has been shown to help modulate the immune system, while encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii—which at low levels of has been associated with a number of digestive disorders. Additionally, general intestinal issues of bloating and gas are also helped by probiotics.


Weaker Defence

Another common immune related process seen in the senior population is a less vigorous defence against pathogenic bacteria and viruses, as well as a less robust immune response to vaccinations against disease. Upper respiratory infections in seniors are typically problematic because they are so easily caught, ciliary clearance generally decreases with age, and the infections may be ignored because of the familiarity with ‘colds’.

A number of research investigations have shown trends towards enhanced antibody response to vaccinations in populations receiving the abovementioned strain of probiotic bacteria daily. This research also demonstrated a greater immune response to an external challenge, versus the control.


Sarcopenia—Less Physical Stability

The portion of the ageing population experiencing sarcopenia faces the inability to maintain muscle mass and muscle tone, and this condition may contribute to instability and falls that can result in broken bones (often legs, arms and hips), with the threat of infections if surgery is advised. This population is also prone to prolonged social isolation after such injuries leading to increased confusion if one is already fighting various stages of dementia.

Additionally, exercise, which is so important for maintenance of muscle, may be compromised. Even in healthy seniors without fall risks, the soreness experienced after exercise may decrease the number times a week and the intensity of exercise performed. Digestive issues may contribute to this condition by limiting the amount of protein eaten, but there is also the fact that many seniors do not make muscle tissue as efficiently as they did when they were younger.

Normal degradation rates of muscle protein coupled with lowered replacement rate of muscle tissue naturally leads to gradual loss of muscle mass. The standards for recommended daily intake of protein are set at the minimum required to prevent muscle loss in an average but younger population, and are not necessarily geared toward seniors. Interventions that increase the utilisation of protein in the senior cohort are needed.


Probiotics—A Way To Slow Ageing?


Recent research in sports nutrition has found there is one amino acid in protein that seems to be responsible for initiating muscle tissue production. One of the three branched chain amino acids, leucine, seems to be that metabolic initiator for muscle production. A good supply of the most abundant amino acid in muscle, glutamine, is also required, as are many other of the essential and so-called non-essential amino acids.

One probiotic, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086, when taken in conjunction with proteins such as casein or whey, was shown to increase the amount of free amino acids, with a corresponding increase in absorption into the blood of amino acids, including leucine and glutamine, in clinical studies. The upgrading of utilisation efficiency of plant proteins, such as soy and pea, is an additional plus and reason to this particular probiotic strain.

Additionally, the same probiotic has been successfully shown to decrease muscle soreness, in addition to other indicators of positive recovery after exercise. The combination of increased muscle retention, plus a reduction in soreness that might interfere with healthy physical activity is a win-win for seniors. Concerns over bowel discomfort from increased protein intake can be relieved by the activity of the probiotic preventing irritation from excess nitrogen by-products and preventing excess gas production by other bacteria in the gut.


Adding Probiotics To Diet

When considering adding a probiotic to a product or diet, there are a number of important points to consider.



The most important is strain specificity. Every strain of bacteria is unique and the effects are unique as well. Just because strains have the same genus and species, does not mean that they will provide the same benefits.

The probiotic strain designation must be clearly stated and there must be safety and efficacy data documentation for that specific strain. It is imperative to use a well-documented probiotic strain that is supported by strain specific data, and is proven to provide multiple health benefits.



In addition to that fundamental data, the strain must be stable. To be effective, a probiotic needs to survive manufacturing, shelf-life, and gastric transit; in order to reach the intestines to have a beneficial effect. For optimal survival, it may be necessary to utilise a spore-forming probiotic.

Spore-forming probiotics contain a protective coating that protects the bacteria’s DNA and allows it to survive harsh manufacturing processes, remain stable at shelf temperature and survive at high percentage through the stomach acidity. Vegetative cells on the other hand, are much more susceptible to manufacturing and shelf-life challenges and only survive at very low percentages through gastric transit.



Once the strain has been chosen, it is important to determine the final form the product will be delivered in. Today, many consumers, especially seniors, are looking to get their probiotics as part of their daily diet, instead of taking yet another pill.

Historically, consumers have consumed yogurts and fermented products hoping that the probiotics in the products will meet their daily needs, but many of these products do not have adequate levels of probiotics to provide a health benefit. Additionally, because many people cannot or do not want to consume yogurt or fermented food, there is a need for probiotics in broader food categories.

Probiotic fortification of shelf stable foods products is very difficult, if not impossible with traditional probiotic genera like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. However, spore-forming probiotics like Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 can be added to all types of products such as baked goods, hot and cold beverages, snacks, and frozen foods. This option allows consumers to get their daily servings of probiotics in a food or beverage that they enjoy and are already consuming, without the need to take another pill or adjust their daily routine.

In conclusion, with an ageing population, there needs to be a focus on prevention of healthcare issues, and not just on treatment. Probiotic strains that have been studied for safety and efficacy, and are able to survive to provide a benefit for the host, can be an integral part of the senior diet.