Can older people take probiotics?

Kerry Beeson BSc (Nut. Med.) Nutritional Therapist

Not only is it safe for older people to take probiotics, but I would go as far as to say that it is advisable for them to do so! You can find out more in this article or jump to the sections that are most of interest to you:

Probiotic benefits for older people

Older people have naturally lower levels of good bacteria in the intestine, particularly those from the Bifidobacteria genus,  which have been found to plummet by as much as 1,000-fold in individuals from 55 to 60 years old onwards1. This imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is thought to significantly contribute to older people's greater sensitivity to infections of the stomach and intestines.

Read more about probiotics here.

At an older age, we can be more susceptible to health conditions including IBD, IBS, bloating, diarrhoea and indigestion; all of which originate in the gut. Additionally, the natural deterioration of the immune system due to ageing, can cause negative changes in the gut microbiota of elderly people2.

Supporting the body's balance of good bacteria can help maintain healthy digestion, a strong immune system, and overall vitality for all age groups - but perhaps especially in the elderly. 

Which are the best probiotic strains for older people?

A gold standard study was conducted in 68 adults aged 58-67 years old to assess the immune boosting effects of the Bacillus coagulans Unique IS-2 strain. It was found that the individuals that were taking a milk drink that contained Bacillus coagulans Unique IS-2  experienced an over 200% improvement in Natural Killer(NK) cell activity. This is promising for immune response.3

Bacillus coagulans Unique IS-2 is part of a group of bacteria known as soil-based organisms which are commonly used in food, beverage and gummy supplement production due to the robust nature of this bacteria.

It is important to ensure that we are getting a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals daily as they contribute to our body functioning properly. Some important ones, especially, when we age are:

Calcium4 – helps with bone health which is important as we know bone density starts to decrease at around 50 years of age.

Zinc5 – maintains immune function and helps with wound healing.

Vitamins D36 – helps with immune function, and absorption of calcium in our diets. We synthesise Vitamin D from sunlight, in the UK, PHE and NICE advise that 10 micrograms of vitamin D are needed daily for healthy bones and muscles and recommend that this is supplemented during the months of October to April.

Probiotic supplements for older people

As we get older we can find it more difficult to swallow capsules for a variety of reasons, including having a dry mouth, which can influence our decision making when it comes to taking supplements. There are many different of formats of probiotics available:

  • Capsules – these are small and easy to swallow but with the added advantage of being able to be opened and the contents sprinkled on to cool, non-acidic foods such as yoghurts.
  • Powders – these come in easy to use sachets and are dissolved in cool water or taken directly in the mouth.
  • Gummies – these are the easiest format to take. Just take one from the packet and chew it at the same time as your breakfast. The hardest part about them is just taking one as they are so delicious! Or maybe that’s just me!

How to take probiotics?

  • When taking a course of antibiotics, always wait for 2-3 hours before taking your probiotics (unless they are specifically designed to be taken alongside antibiotics).
  • The best time of day to take most probiotics is in the morning with your breakfast, as stomach acid is naturally lower in the morning.
  • Look for high-quality probiotics which are specifically researched to support your own individual health needs and conditions. Not all probiotics strains do the same!


happy elderly couple
For more related articles, see here: Large study supports Bifidobacteria for elderly

Healthcare practitioners can read: Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07® strain supports immune function in elderly.

Note: Probiotics are not recommended for those with serious medical conditions eg. those who are severely immunosuppressed, have pancreatitis, are in the ICU, have melaena, have a central venous catheter, infants with short bowel syndrome, or to patients with open wounds following major surgery; unless under a doctor's care. Furthermore, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before taking certain probiotic supplements.

References

  1. Ouwehand AC. et al. (2009) Influence of a combination of L. acidophilus NCFM® and lactitol on healthy elderly: intestinal and immune parameters. J Nutr. Feb; 101(3):367-75.
  2. Kumar, M. et al., (2016) 'Human gut microbiota and healthy aging: Recent developments and future prospective'. Nutr Healthy Ageing; 4(1): 3-16
  3. Upadhyaya, S. and Banerjee, G. (2011) ‘ENHANCEMENT OF NATURAL KILLER CELL ACTIVITY IN IMMUNO-COMPROMISED ELDERLY SUBJECTS BY BACILLUS COAGULANS’, International Journal of Probiotics and Prebiotics, 6.
  4. Cashman K. D. (2002). Calcium intake, calcium bioavailability and bone health. The British journal of nutrition87 Suppl 2, S169–S177. https://doi.org/10.1079/BJNBJN/2002534
  5. Maares, M., & Haase, H. (2016). Zinc and immunity: An essential interrelation. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics611, 58–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abb.2016.03.022
  6. Vanherwegen, A. S., Gysemans, C., & Mathieu, C. (2017). Regulation of Immune Function by Vitamin D and Its Use in Diseases of Immunity. Endocrinology and metabolism clinics of North America46(4), 1061–1094. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecl.2017.07.010