Aging is determined by complex interactions among genetic and environmental factors. Increasing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome lies at the core of many age-associated changes, including immune system dysregulation and susceptibility to diseases. The gut microbiota undergoes extensive changes across the lifespan, and age-related processes may influence the gut microbiota and its related metabolic alterations. The aim of this systematic review was to summarize the current literature on aging-associated alterations in diversity, composition, and functional features of the gut microbiota. We identified 27 empirical human studies of normal and successful aging suitable for inclusion. Alpha diversity of microbial taxa, functional pathways, and metabolites was higher in older adults, particularly among the oldest-old adults, compared to younger individuals. Beta diversity distances significantly differed across various developmental stages and were different even between oldest-old and younger-old adults. Differences in taxonomic composition and functional potential varied across studies, but Akkermansia was most consistently reported to be relatively more abundant with aging, whereas Faecalibacterium, Bacteroidaceae, and Lachnospiraceae were relatively reduced. Older adults have reduced pathways related to carbohydrate metabolism and amino acid synthesis; however, oldest-old adults exhibited functional differences that distinguished their microbiota from that of young-old adults, such as greater potential for short-chain fatty acid production and increased butyrate derivatives. Although a definitive interpretation is limited by the cross-sectional design of published reports, we integrated findings of microbial composition and downstream functional pathways and metabolites, offering possible explanations regarding age-related processes.
Keywords: centenarians; cognition; functional potential; healthy aging; immunosenescence; inflammation; metabolites; microbes.