Life Extension Magazine®

Microbiome bacteria that impact lifespan and healthspan

The Longevity Paradox:

Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age, explains how he boosted patients’ lifespan and healthspan by combining conventional medicine with nutritional therapy.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: Lauri Mathena.

Steven Gundry, M.D.
Steven Gundry, M.D.

There’s a traditional saying that goes, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

People are living longer due to medical procedures, drugs, and other treatments, but they’re often too sick to really enjoy the wisdom that comes with age.

“We’re living longer, but we’re not living better,” said world-renowned heart surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry. “This is another paradox of aging.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In his latest book, The Longevity Paradox, Gundry outlines his plan for extending both lifespan and healthspan, and it all centers around one thing: bacteria.

Your gut microbiome contains bacteria (“gut buddies,” as Gundry calls them) that impact everything from your weight and the appearance of your skin, to autoimmune disease, heart disease, and cancer.

“As a heart surgeon, I have done my part to extend the lives of tens of thousands of individuals. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve helped so many people live longer lives,” said Gundry. “But I quit my job as professor and head of cardiothoracic surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine when I learned that much of what I’d been taught about health and longevity—information that many leading doctors still believe is true—was simply wrong.”

Now, Gundry treats his patients with a combination of conventional medicine and nutritional therapy that focuses on strengthening the gut microbiome. He’s developed a unique program designed specifically with the gut in mind that he’s used successfully with thousands of his patients.

“Over and over I’ve seen incredible results,” Gundry said. “When my patients treat their gut buddies right, they are able to dramatically increase their lifespans.”

More importantly, they’re healthier, too. Gundry has seen his patients “age in reverse,” as they’ve improved their heart health, slowed or reversed the progression of cancer and dementia, and even resolved autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus.

Now, in The Longevity Paradox, Gundry maps out the same plan he’s successfully used with his patients. This Longevity Paradox Program includes a detailed list of foods to eat and ones to avoid, meal plans, and recipes, while also teaching you how to implement strategies like “brain washes.”

In this interview with Life Extension®, Gundry explains how bacteria can have such a big impact on your health and shares key tips from his Longevity Paradox Program.

By utilizing these practical tools, you’ll be arming yourself with the same anti-aging weapons Gundry has shared with so many of his patients with one simple goal in mind: To die young at a ripe old age.

LE: How do bacteria impact both our lifespan and our healthspan?

older latin couple preparing fresh vegetables

Dr. Gundry: As shocking as it may seem, most of what has happened to us, and what will continue to happen to us in the future, is determined by the state of the bacteria in our gut, mouth, and skin. When we learn how to be a good host to our microbes, we can gain a lot of control over how well we will age and how long we will live. Your fate does not lie in your genes at all—it lies in your microbiome, and many of your daily decisions about food and personal care products influence how happy or unhappy they will be in their home.

Your good microbes (or “gut buddies,” as I like to call them) are there to help you. Those gut bugs don’t just impact a few health outcomes; they directly influence the health and longevity of every part of your body, from your skin to your hormones to your cellular energy levels. And they play a huge role in determining how well and how long you’ll live.

A recent study from the China Institute collected and analyzed gut bacteria from more than 1,000 healthy Chinese participants ranging in age from three years to over 100. They found that a healthy gut is a key indicator of individuals who live past age 100.

LE: What role does the gut microbiome play in the body?

Dr. Gundry: The inhabitants of your gut microbiome are quite busy day and night. They are involved with regulating major aspects of your immune system, your nervous system, and your hormonal (endocrine) system around the clock. But perhaps their most important role is in supporting your digestive system. Your gut buddies digest the foods you eat and manufacture and deliver vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, hormones, and proteins to where they are needed in your body.

For years we had no idea how important the gut microbiome was for digestion, let alone the manufacture of vitamins and hormones. Now we know that if the bacteria in your gut can’t process the food you eat, you don’t benefit from the nutrition or the information in that food, no matter how good for you it may be.

LE: How do bacteria specifically impact, say, your brain?

Dr. Gundry: From those seemingly innocuous “senior moments” to more serious neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, all cognitive decline stems from the same root cause: neuroinflammation. And where does inflammation start? In the gut.

Research on mice clearly shows that certain changes to the gut microbiome lead to neuroinflammation and therefore, cognitive decline. Even in humans, we can see how specific bacterial populations contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. When my colleagues looked at the gut biomes of patients who were cognitively impaired and compared them to the bacteria in patients without such impairments, they found that the cognitively impaired group had an abundance of proinflammatory bad bugs and a reduction in anti-inflammatory gut buddies.

LE: What steps need to be taken to ensure healthy gut bacteria?

Dr. Gundry: When it comes to your gut bacteria, you have two priorities. First, you need to make the good ones so happy that they’ll want to stick around and keep their home lovely and well cared for and make the bad ones so unhappy that they’ll flee the premises for good. This will give you the ideal population and diversity of gut buddies that you need for a long lifespan and healthspan.

Second, it’s just as essential to have a strong gut lining, which I and other researchers refer to as the border or mucosal barrier, to keep those gut buddies where they should be (in your intestinal tract) so they can protect you from foreign invaders and avoid being mistaken for invaders themselves.

LE: What are some of the biggest threats to a healthy microbiome?

Dr. Gundry: The compounds that create the most problems for your gut buddies are called lectins. They are a type of “sticky protein” that plants produce as a defense against being eaten.

Over the last 50 years or so, things have gotten much, much worse for your gut buddies as humans have largely abandoned traditional methods of eating and preparing lectin-rich foods, such as soaking and fermenting, opting instead for quick, cheap options. Our diets have changed more rapidly over the last half century than ever before in history. We now eat far more [lectin-rich foods such as] wheat, corn, and other grains, as well as soybeans—often in the form of processed foods—than unprocessed foods such as leafy greens and other vegetables.

During this same time period our food system has been compromised by an onslaught of herbicides, biocides, drugs, fertilizers, and food additives. And chemicals from personal care products, factory-produced furniture, and household cleaners have invaded our homes.

There is simply no way for your gut buddies to catch up and adapt to all of these changes so quickly. And that chemical overload, along with drastic changes to our diet, is sending our gut buddies away in droves and making it possible for the bad guys take over.

LE: You mentioned having a strong gut lining. Why is this so important?

Dr. Gundry: Having the right gut buddies in your gut microbiome is only half of the equation. The second half is making sure they stay on their side of the intestinal border. When pieces of their cell walls called lipopolysaccharides (LPSs) cross the border from your gut to your organs, tissues, lymph, or blood, it doesn’t matter if they’re gut buddies or bad bugs. Any bacteria, LPSs, or other invaders lurking where they don’t belong trigger an immune response that generates widespread inflammation and lays the groundwork for accelerated aging and illness. This is the definition of “leaky gut.” A strong, impermeable barrier is the key to avoiding many of the diseases we associate with “normal” aging.

LE: Do lectins impact the gut lining as well?

Dr. Gundry: Lectins pry apart the tight bonds between the mucosal cells that line your intestinal wall. Once across the border, these foreign proteins are recognized as foreign by sophisticated bar-code scanners called toll-like receptors (TLRs) located on your immune cells, especially your T cells. Off go the air-raid sirens, an all-points bulletin is called out, and the race is on for the cops to apprehend these interlopers! Now, imagine this happening every minute of every day, and presto—chronic inflammation!

When lectins poke holes in the fence, they’re not the only ones that can make it through—they also clear the way for other invaders, including the bad bugs in your gut.

LE: Lectins clearly are a major threat to gut health, but it seems difficult to avoid them completely. Is there a way to protect yourself?

Dr. Gundry: Despite our best efforts, we all sometimes find ourselves in situations in which we must—or we accidentally—eat foods that contain major amounts of lectins. The good news is that there are a number of helpful lectin-absorbing compounds on the market.

You could take glucosamine and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in tablet form, which bind lectins. Also consider taking D-mannose in a dose of 500 mg twice a day, particularly if you are prone to urinary tract infections.

LE: You designed your Longevity Paradox Program to restore a healthy gut microbiome and help maintain the integrity of the gut wall. What are some of the key elements of this program?

older man lifting a dumbell under the guidance of a personal trainer

Dr. Gundry: Some elements of the Longevity Paradox Program may be familiar, such as eating lots of certain vegetables and getting the right amounts of exercise and sleep, while others, such as tricking your body into thinking it’s winter year-round to stimulate your stem cells and spacing out your meals to “wash” your brain at night, are brand new.

Exposure to cold temperatures stimulates your gut buddies to produce more of two beneficial neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin, both of which help extend lifespan. To take advantage of these benefits, I recommend taking a daily “Scottish shower.” This may not sound like fun, but it will certainly wake you up in the morning and force your body to stay energized and activated throughout the day. To do so, start your shower with warm water as usual and then gradually cool the water down. By the last couple of minutes of your shower, you should be running nothing but cold water. I promise you’ll get used to this fairly quickly.

LE: What about the brain wash?

Dr. Gundry: Deep sleep is when your glymphatic system “washes” your brain, scrubbing it of junk and debris so it doesn’t build up an accumulation of the amyloid plaques that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. I have incorporated a “brain wash” day into the Longevity Paradox Program. Once a week (or more), when it is convenient for you, you will skip dinner to make sure your blood can flow freely to your brain as soon as you fall asleep.

LE: What results have you seen with the Longevity Paradox Program?

image of the Longevity Paradox book cover
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Dr. Gundry: These strategies have helped my patients lower their blood pressure and cholesterol markers, significantly reduce symptoms of arthritis and other joint issues, resolve MS, lupus, and other autoimmune conditions, improve heart health, and slow or reverse the progression of cancer and dementia—not to mention lose weight and look decades younger!

If you follow my plan, within just a few weeks you’ll have more gut buddies and far fewer squatters, and you’ll start to see and feel a difference in your energy levels, in your lack of symptoms of many of the most common diseases of aging, on your skin, and on the scale.

As Hippocrates famously and wisely said, “All disease begins in the gut.” The good news is that all disease can be stopped there as well.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

From the book The Longevity Paradox. Copyright ©2019 by Steven R. Gundry. Published on April 19, 2019 by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

To order a copy of The Longevity Paradox, call 1-800-544-4440