The elderly population should be taking probiotics to help prevent bone fractures, according to a new study. Research carried out by the University of Gothenburg found that supplementing diet with good bacteria can be particularly beneficial to the skeletons of older people.
As we get older, we lose bone mass, but the scientists found that women in their seventies that took probiotics halved their bone loss compared to those given a placebo. The findings further reinforce earlier studies that showed a healthy gut microbiome is vital for bone metabolism.
Osteoporosis – a painful weakening of the bones, which increases the risk of fractures – is suffered by millions of people and is particularly prevalent in the elderly. Of the estimated three million individuals in the UK who have the condition, the majority are women over the age of 80.
Professor Mattias Lorentzon, co-author of the study, said: “Today there are effective medications administered to treat osteoporosis. But because bone fragility is rarely detected before the first fracture, there is a pressing need for preventive treatments.
“The fact that we have been able to show that treatment with probiotics can affect bone loss represents a paradigm shift. Treatment with probiotics can be an effective and safe way to prevent the onset of osteoporosis in many older people in the future.”
In the study, 90 women were either given a probiotic powder or a placebo to take daily for 12 months. Lactobacillus reuteri 6475 bacteria in the powder is similar to the strains that can be found in many widely available probiotic supplements.
Scientists measured the level of bone loss in the women at the beginning and end of the period of the experiment. They did so using CT scans of the lower legs and found that those who had been given the powder had lost half as much bone as those who had been taking the placebo.
Relatives may want to encourage their elderly parents and grandparents to take probiotics before any issues start to arise. As well as the positive steps towards prevention highlighted in this study, previous research has shown that probiotics help to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, alongside the much-publicised help with gastrointestinal disorders.
Probiotics are often referred to as ‘good bacteria’, but in science are defined as 'live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host'. The digestive system is home to trillions of microbes – both good and bad – but probiotics help to ensure there are more of the former.
The balance between the two can easily be disrupted by heavy drinking and smoking or a lack of vegetables in the diet. Ageing is also known to have an impact on the gut biome, so offering it a helping hand can be beneficial in lots of ways.
While products, such as Yakult and probiotic capsules, are a convenient way to get a daily dose of the bacteria, they occur naturally in a number of foods. These include fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and types of live yoghurt.