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Irish Researchers establish link between Diet, Gut Bacteria and Health Status in older Irish people

New research published today in the journal Nature shows that a relationship exists between diet, gut bacteria and the health of older Irish people. The findings provide exciting new opportunities for the food industry as there is now the scientific basis for developing foods to promote healthier ageing.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney has welcomed the outputs of this important research; "The Irish food industry will directly benefit from the scientific knowledge generated on foot of this research and be in a position to develop new food products to enhance the health of older citizens in the ever increasing ageing population.  These new products will also help to achieve the targets set for Ireland’s agri-food industry under Food Harvest 2020".

The discovery was made by a multidisciplinary team of scientists from University College Cork and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark.  Dr Paul O’Toole, UCC who led the study says, "It is well known that gut microbiota, or the community of bacteria in our gut, is required for immune development in infants and maintenance of health in adult life, and changes in the composition of our microbiota have been linked to inflammatory and metabolic disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and obesity".

"As we get older, we may experience deterioration in our dental health, salivary function and digestion, and this can also affect the good bacteria that live in our gut. Some of these changes are out of our control, but we can control our diet. However, until now, links between diet, gut microbiota composition and health in large human studies were unclear".

The team collected information on diet, physical activity, immune function, and cognitive function, and measured the faecal microbiota composition of 178 older persons living in different settings in the South of Ireland. 

The study funded by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Health Research Board found that the composition of the gut microbiota can positively and negatively impact the health of older people in our population.

Dr O'Toole explains; "The healthiest people live in a community setting, eat differently and have a distinct microbiota compared to those in long-term residential care. It can be inferred from findings related to increased inflammation and increased frailty, that there is a diet-microbiota link to these indicators of accelerated ageing"

Professor Paul Ross from Teagasc asserts that "particular food ingredients that promote certain components of the gut microbiota may be useful for maintaining health in older individuals.  In addition, profiling of the gut microbiota coupled with metabolomics offers the potential for biomarker-based identification of individuals at risk of less healthy ageing".

For more information contact:

Dr. Paul O’Toole
University College Cork


can be contacted at:

Prof. Fergus Shanahan -  086 280 4881
Prof. Paul Ross   -   087 9905337


Notes to editors

This study builds on previous research funded by the Irish Government and involved a multi-Institutional collaboration consisting of University College Cork, Teagasc Moorepark Food Research Centre, Cork University Hospital, St. Finbarr's Hospital Cork, Mercy University Hospital Cork, Victoria University Hospital Cork, University College Dublin and Cardiff University, UK.

The research is published in the journal Nature: Marcus J. Claesson, Ian B. Jeffery, Susana Conde, Susan E. Power, Eibhlis M. O’Connor, Siobhán Cusack, Hugh M.B. Harris, Mairead Coakley, Bhuvaneswari Lakshminarayanan, Orla O’Sullivan, Gerald F. Fitzgerald, Jennifer Deane, Michael O’Connor, Norma Harnedy, Kieran O’Connor, Denis O’Mahony, Douwe van Sinderen, Martina Wallace, Lorraine Brennan, Catherine Stanton, Julian R. Marches, Anthony P. Fitzgerald, Fergus Shanahan, Colin Hill, R. Paul Ross, and Paul W. O’Toole.

Gut microbiota composition correlates with diet and health in the elderly.

It was funded by a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Health Research Board under the Food for Health Research Initiative (FHRI) award to the ELDERMET project, as well as by a Science Foundation Ireland award to the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre.

Date Released: 13 July 2012