Susceptible to illness from eating in a nursing home

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Eating in old people's homes favors inflammatory diseases

The intestinal flora of nursing home residents is often weakened to such an extent by the nutrition offered in nursing homes that this results in increased health risks, according to a recent study. According to the Irish researchers from University College Cork, the bacteria in the intestinal flora are linked to health in old age and can be influenced by a varied, healthy diet.

"Changes in the structure of the intestinal flora are associated with several chronic diseases, such as obesity and inflammatory diseases," write the Irish researchers led by Dr. Paul O'Toole from the Institute of Microbiology at University College Cork in the specialist magazine "Nature". As part of their study, the scientists compared the intestinal bacteria of 178 adult volunteers with their place of residence in the community, their stays in day clinics, rehabilitation facilities and long-term home care. They found that "the individual microflora in people who were on long-term care was significantly less varied" than in the other test subjects.

A varied diet promotes the diversity of the intestinal bacteria. The researchers suspect that unfavorable one-sided nutrition in nursing homes and old people's homes leads to potentially harmful changes in the intestinal flora. In the course of their study, Paul O'Toole and colleagues found that older people with a varied diet have a higher variety of bacteria in their intestines, which may make them more resistant to diseases. According to the researchers, the older subjects with high bacterial diversity in their intestines are less likely to be overweight and inflamed than their peers, who have a less diverse intestinal flora due to their one-sided diet.

Unilateral diet of nursing home residents As part of their study, the Irish researchers examined 178 subjects between the ages of 64 and 102 (average age 78 years) and asked about their eating habits. The bacteria in the intestinal flora were determined using stool samples from the study participants. The subjects were categorized according to their place of residence, whereby a distinction was made between residents of old people's homes, rehabilitation facilities, day clinics and the subjects living at home. When asked about the dietary habits, it was found that the study participants living at home had a more varied diet than the residents of the medical facilities. Bread, fruit and vegetables with a higher fiber content were on their menu more often, while in the old people's homes a rather high-fat and sugar-rich diet with a relatively large amount of meat was served.

Up to 5,000 different types of bacteria identified The higher fiber content obviously has an extremely beneficial effect on the intestinal flora of the study participants living at home. In general, fiber is said to have a positive effect on digestion, but the differences found in the bacterial diversity of the intestinal flora were astonishing in the Irish study. The researchers led by Paul O'Toole had examined the stool samples of the test persons for the remains of the genetic material of individual bacteria and thus partially identified up to 5,000 different types of bacteria. They found that the study participants living at home had a far larger number of different bacteria in their intestines than the other study groups. It has long been known that the diet in some medical facilities is not optimal, that it has such a serious impact on the intestinal flora, the researchers had not expected.

Diversity of the intestinal flora is related to inflammatory diseases In addition, there is a clear correlation between the bacterial diversity of the intestinal flora and the susceptibility to inflammatory diseases. O´Toole reports that the inflammation levels in the blood, which were also recorded in the study, were significantly increased among the elderly. The general frailty increased with decreasing bacterial diversity in the intestine. Presumably, with a diverse intestinal flora, food is better broken down into its components, which makes it easier for the individual nutrients to be absorbed. Dr. Ian Jeffery of the Institute of Microbiology at University College Cork explained that a diverse intestinal flora means "that there are many different types of bacteria that are likely to perform a corresponding number of functions", which means that food can be broken down more efficiently. Professor Fergus Shanahan added that this also counteracts the frailty of older people. Because these are often frail because their muscles and muscle tension decrease, which can be prevented by improved protein and calcium intake from food.

Improving aging health through nutrition to build up the intestinal flora Overall, "our results suggest that we can improve the health of older people if we change their diet and thus change their intestinal flora," reported study leader Dr. Paul O'Toole at the European Science Conference in Dublin. In naturopathy, this principle is not only known in older people, but measures to build up the intestinal flora may also be recommended for young patients. These are intended to strengthen the immune system and on the one hand help those affected to get back on their feet and on the other hand have a preventive effect. The Irish researchers indirectly confirmed this approach with their study, but O'Toole and colleagues in their article "Intestinal flora composition correlates with nutrition and health in older people", that their conclusions have so far only been based on indications. In order to be able to make precise statements, the exact effect of the individual types of bacteria would have to be determined, which, based on the current state of research, seems almost impossible. (fp)

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