The human microbiome is a key factor in healthy function of the body and changes throughout our lives. It may sound like a natural leap in logic then that the state of the microbes in and on our body can help researchers predict chronological age.
In particular, a recent study published in the journal mSystems found that skin microbes, more than those present in the gut and mouth, could serve as predictors of chronological age. They were accurate to within 3.8 years, compared to 4.5 years for oral microbes and 11.5 years for those in the gut.
While everyone’s skin ages differently, researchers discovered that predictable age-related changes such as loss of natural skin oils and increased dryness that everyone experiences can serve as useful predictors of age.
Microbes and the Aging Process
The importance of the study is highlighted by the potential correlation between microbes and age playing a part in advancing researchers knowledge of the role that microbes play in the development of age-related diseases. This could help in the development of therapeutic interventions for the microbiome.
It could also lead to the development of a non-invasive, microbiome diagnostic tests that could help doctors determine a person’s risk of developing certain diseases.
Your diet can cause changes in your microbiome and thus change the organisms living on your skin. What researchers need to do now is determine what the microbes on your skin indicate in terms of age-related illness. If a person has the microbiome similar to someone of a drastically different age, then understanding the differences in their microbiome could indicate developing conditions on the horizon.
The great thing about using the microbiome as a way to measure not only age, but a person’s overall health in the context of their age, is that it can then be manipulated and tracked to see the effect on a person’s age comes as a result of changing the microbiome.
To determine the profile of microbes in age, the researchers worked with IBM to develop a predictive tool that uses machine learning to examine the data and compute a person’s age.
What Kind of Microbes Indicate Age on Skin?
There are a variety of factors that influence the type of microbes that live on the skin, including sun exposure, temperature, moisture, oxygen levels and skin pH.
Skin microbes gather around hair follicles. The following are examples of skin microbes.
Microorganisms are categorized according to their relationship to their human carriers. Examples are:
- Commensals — organisms that benefit from us, but we don’t benefit from them
- Symbionts — microorganisms and humans share a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Pathogens — the microorganism benefits but causes disease to humans.
The majority of microorganisms on our skin are commensals and typically do not cause illness.