Alterations in the composition and function of the gut microbiome have been implicated in a range of conditions and diseases. Culture-dependent and culture-independent studies both showed that older people harbour a gut microbiome that differs in composition from that of younger adults. Detailed analyses have identified discrete microbiota subtypes that characterize intermediates between a high diversity microbiota found in healthy community-dwelling subjects and a low diversity microbiota typical for elderly living in long-term residential care. There are also alterations in the microbiome composition associated with biological age, independent of health status. Even after adjusting for confounding factors such as age and medication, trends in microbiota composition correlate with gradients in clinical metadata particularly frailty and inflammatory status. There are few known mechanisms by which these associations might be causative rather than consequential, and this is a subject of intensive research. The strongest candidate effectors are microbial metabolites that could impact host energy balance, act as signalling molecules to modulate host metabolism or inflammation, and potentially also impact on the gut–brain axis.
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