The Weekly Thread: a keystone probiotic species linked to longevity, could regular blood donation extend your life, and if you bet on yourself, double down.

A little known bacterial species that inhabits the gut, and lives in the mucus layer that covers the intestinal wall, is quickly gaining momentum as a potential key cog in improving healthspan and overall longevity.

It is called Akkermansia (ak-er-man-see-uh).

This bacteria is found in high amounts in the guts of the centenarian population of Sardinia which is considered one of the “blue zones”, or areas of the world where people or specific cultures have dramatically longer overall longevity and healthspan (living free of disease) than other parts of the world. 

So, what in the world is this gut microbe, and why does its prevalence in the gut appear to be equated with a longer, healthier life, free of disease?

The role of Akkermansia.

Akkermansia is technically a genus of bacteria, so when I refer to Akkermansia in this segment, I am actually referring to the only species in its genus found in the human gut Akkermansia muciniphila.

Akkermansia specializes in degrading the mucus in the intestinal wall in which it lives, and uses it as its energy source. This function of degrading the mucus of the intestinal wall helps with mucus turnover, which happens to be critical for gut health. 

It plays a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier (which helps prevent “leaky gut”), helps modulate immune responses, influences metabolic pathways, and appears to promote healthy aging, thus, making it a very promising probiotic as we continue to research and learn more about how we can improve and extend our longevity. 

Akkermansia is also considered a keystone species. A keystone species is an organism that plays a crucial role in its ecosystem, in this case, the gut microbiota. Furthermore, a keystone species is especially important for the stability of its ecosystem, and a lack of a keystone species can cause a dramatic shift in the health of the environment it inhabits. This is the case for Akkermansia in the gut. 

Akkermansia Produces Postbiotics

As Akkermansia consumes the mucin in the mucus layer, it releases byproducts known as postbiotics such as short chain fatty acids, sugars, amino acids, sulfate, and other molecules that can be used as energy sources for other gut microbes. 

As a result, higher levels of Akkermansia helps stimulate a balanced and healthy microbial environment in the gut, which is most likely why it's known as a keystone species. 

Akkermansia & Mucus Turnover

The mucus layer plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of your intestinal barrier by protecting it from harmful microbes and pathogens. However, to keep its defenses up, your mucus layer must be continually turned over and refreshed. Because Akkermansia consumes mucins found inside the mucus layer as its energy source, it causes the mucus layer to degrade, which then forces it to turn over and refresh, thus helping to maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier. 

Akkermansia & Metabolic Dysfunction

Metabolic dysfunction in the body has been shown to lower your metabolism, increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. Akkermansia and its positive effects on overall metabolic function have been pretty well studied. 

As mentioned above, short chain fatty acids are a byproduct of Akkermansia feeding on mucins, and these short chain fatty acids play an important role in metabolism by serving as energy sources for other microbes and helping to regulate gene expression. These short chain fatty acids can also be transported to other parts of the body where they can be used as energy metabolism substrates in other tissue. 

In short, Akkermansia produces short chain fatty acids that assist in energy metabolism in the body, and anytime the body is more effective at energy metabolism, the better it is at burning calories and regulating blood sugar. 

Eating to Increase Akkermansia Populations

Polyphenols are antioxidants found in foods that act as prebiotics for many probiotics, including Akkermansia.

Therefore, eating polyphenol rich foods will help to increase the number of Akkermansia in the gut and intestines. 

Olive oil is an oil that is very rich in polyphenols, and has many other therapeutic properties that have been shown to increase longevity and decrease risk of age related diseases. 

Don’t sleep on dark chocolate either. A high quality organic dark chocolate is loaded with polyphenols, and in all honesty, is right up there with olive oil as one of the best anti-aging foods on the planet. 

Green tea and coffee are both rich in polyphenols. The rub is with coffee that much of the beneficial antioxidants are found in the oils, which do oxidize once the beans are ground, so anytime you can grind your beans fresh, as we do when we brew a cup of coffee at NONA, you will be drinking much more bioactive polyphenols. 

Dark red fruits and berries are also rich in polyphenols such as pomegranate, goji berries, strawberries and raspberries. 

Dark berries also contain high amounts of polyphenols, such as blackberries, wild blueberries, and açaí, which contain 3x the antioxidants of blueberries.

Finally, don’t forget about red wine. Red wine is rich in polyphenols, and is one of the reasons red wine is widely considered one of the most effective anti-aging foods, and even cancer preventive foods on the planet. If you haven’t, be sure to check out my blog on choosing an ‘old world style’ wine for the healthiest glass of wine.

We all know that the reason we donate blood is to help save lives. 

The idea is that we give up a little bit of our time, deal with some minor inconveniences like being stuck with a needle, and the trade off is your donation will help save a life. 

Pretty solid trade off right?

However, did you know that donating blood could actually help you live longer!?

Which means the trade off is really a bit of your time and some minor inconveniences like being stuck with a needle or two, to help save multiple lives over the course of your life AND you also live longer. 

I bet that trade off just went from solid to great. 

Blood donation is something I’ve done sporadically in the past, however, a regular donation schedule, say once per quarter (every 3 months) is now a commitment I’m making to improve my longevity, and reduce the physical markers of aging on the body. 

A study I came across titled, “Blood donation improves skin aging through the reduction of iron deposits and increase of TGF-B1 in elderly skin” I think actually tells a deeper story of how blood donation can slow down the aging process and improve your overall longevity. 

The authors of the paper state:

“Here, we showed that blood donation increased dermal thickness and collagen content and decreased the number of senescent cells in old mice.  Transcriptomicand metabolomic studies revealed blood donation significantly altered aging-related pathways in the skin of old mice. Molecular genes analysis indicated blood donation decreased the expression of genes associated with inflammation such as Fols1, Cox-2, and IL-1β, and increased the expression of collagen-associated genes including TGF-β1, TGF-β2, and Col3a1. The improvement of skin aging by blood donation was associated with the reduction of iron deposits and the increase of TGF-β1 in elderly skin. Our results suggested that appropriate blood donation could promote collagen re-synthesis and improve skin aging.”

Let’s peel back the layers on some of the individual statements in this broader statement, and see why these findings may correlate to the entire body, and just our skin. 

Reduction of Senescent Cells

First, they found that blood donation “decreased the number of senescent cells”. I won’t go too deep into senescent cells as that’s an entire future segment, however, senescent cells are often referred to as “zombie cells”. These “zombie cells” are former cells that served a purpose in the body, but now are purposeless, and the longer they hang around inside the body, the more likely they are to cause metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s or Dementia, auto-immune conditions, and cancer. 

The incidence of senescent cells increases dramatically as we age, and are a major cause of aging on the body, and why risk of almost all disease increases with age. In short, the less senescent cells you have in your body, the lower your risk of pretty much all age-related diseases. 

Keep in mind, they were only studying the effects of blood donation on aging on the skin, however, it’s pretty reasonable to assume these findings could translate to the rest of the body. Therefore, if blood donation was found to reduce the number of senescent cells in the skin, and we have senescent cells everywhere in the body, it’s probably fair to assume this byproduct of blood donation, less senescent cells, occurs throughout the body.

Positive Gene Expression

Next, the authors of the study go on to state: 

Transcriptomic and metabolomic studies revealed blood donation significantly altered aging-related pathways in the skin of old mice.” 

That statement is pretty straightforward, and I don’t know about you, but that sounds great to me, and again, pretty it’s reasonable to assume this effect takes place throughout the body to some extent. 

“Molecular genes analysis indicated blood donation decreased the expression of genes associated with inflammation such as Fols1, Cox-2, and IL-1β….”

Again, this sounds great! It’s well known that an increase in systemic inflammation, and the presence of its biomarkers which they list, is a strong indicator of increased risk of many diseases. 

Over Time, Iron Buildup Causes Cellular Oxidation

“The improvement of skin aging by blood donation was associated with the reduction of iron deposits and the increase of TGF-β1 in elderly skin.”

This is a key association I’ve made for a while with respect to the anti-aging benefits of blood donation, and now, there’s some actual clinical research also showing this association. 

Iron is a critical red blood cell-boosting nutrient. Those low in iron, or those with an inability to synthesize iron well, become anemic, and have excessive fatigue, lethargy, and generally don’t feel like themselves. All from a single nutrient deficiency. Needless to say, iron is pretty darn important. 

However, iron also doesn’t metabolize into any byproduct in the body that is excreted out, which means iron just builds and builds in the body, and the only way to rid your body of iron is by literally bleeding it out. 

Now, think of things that rust in nature. 

This occurs when iron-containing metal is exposed to wet conditions, which causes oxidation of the metal. This shows up in the form of rust. 

If you think about what your blood is comprised of, well, a large part of it is water. Approximately 55% water to be exact. 

It also contains iron of course. 

Over time, the same oxidative process that causes iron-containing metal to rust in nature, happens inside your body as well, as the iron and water in your bloodstream cause oxidation to occur, except now, it’s at the cellular level, which isn’t good. 

Think about taking a bite out of an apple, and how the apple soon turns brown. 

That browning of the inner apple is oxidation. 

That same thing happens to your cells over time if iron stays in your body for too long. 

Imagine all 40 trillion of your cells having an increased rate of oxidation due to iron buildup in your body, and how that could definitely increase the rate at which all 40 trillion of those cells age. 

By donating blood, you decrease your iron deposits, force your body to produce new, healthier, more vital blood, and thus, reduce the oxidative stress to your cells from iron buildup over time. 

Again, this exact association was shown in the above study with respect to its effect on aging on the skin. 

The cited study is noteworthy for me, because 1) you can draw deeper conclusions on the positive, anti-aging effects of donating blood on the entire body, and 2) it is the beginning of providing some science to the correlations that have been being drawn previously about the benefits to your own health and longevity on blood donation. 

For some time now, there have been pretty definitive correlations showing that donating blood improves your mental and emotional well being (committing acts of service), and also reduces risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are a younger woman with a normal menstrual cycle, the above doesn’t yet quite fully apply to you. It’s the actual act of a dedicated letting of blood that results in many of these benefits, at least especially with respect to the negative side of iron buildup. If you are bleeding on a regular, monthly basis, you are yielding the benefits of not having iron buildup in your bloodstream. 

If you are reading this, and go through normal menstrual cycles, it’s still probably beneficial to go through a more dedicated blood letting, like a blood donation, but it’s not yet quite as necessary, and probably wouldn’t need to be quite as regular, from an anti-aging perspective. And of course, there is the most important, altruistic reason for donating blood, which is to help save a life. 

Men, we tend to eat more red meat, and do not bleed monthly, so regular blood donation should be a consideration as part of an anti-aging and longevity focused life and routine. The same goes for women who are post menstruation. 

If you’re going to bet on yourself…double down.

There is no better bet in life to make than on yourself. 

It may require courage

putting fear aside

and some steely reserve. 

But at the end of the day, you control your fate.

If you’re going to put your fate into your own hands, regardless of the task at hand, or decision needing to be made

If you decide to bet on yourself, go all in, and double down.

There is no better bet in the world that you can make. 

You are POWERFUL. Act accordingly.