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 adviseable for them to do so! This is due to the fact that older people have naturally lower levels of these friendly bacteria.

Read more about probiotics  here.

Levels of good bacteria in the intestine, particularly those from the Bifidobacteria genus, 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.

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. It is always worth remembering some basic principles when taking 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