Fifteen healthy old people mean age 84 years (range 80-91 years), were examined to assess the effect of advanced age on the microecology of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Twelve of 15 (80%) were hypochlorhydric with pH 6.6 (0.3) (mean (SEM) and a mean bacterial count of 10(8) colony forming units (CFU) per ml (range 10(5)-10(10)) in fasting gastric aspirate. Normochlorhydric subjects had low counts (< or = 10(1) CFU/ml). The microbial flora was dominated by viridans streptococci, coagulase negative staphylococci, and Haemophilus sp. Only one subject harboured significant concentrations of Gram negative bacilli with Escherichia coli (10(4-5) CFU/ml) and Klebsiella (10(4-5)). Strict anaerobes were not found. The total concentration of short chain fatty acids in gastric aspirate was 10.6 (2.9) mmol/l (mean (SEM). Absence of significant, intraluminal fermentation of xylose to CO2 was shown by the 14C-d Xylose breath test, and ambulatory manometry showed preserved fasting motility pattern of the small intestine. Serum immunoglobulins were normal. Advanced age is accompanied by fasting hypochlorhydria and colonisation with mainly Gram positive flora in the upper gut. Other factors than old age and fasting hypochlorhydria are required for colonisation with Gram negative bacilli.
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