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Seniors’ Digestion

Our Digestive Tract is Changing

“The digestive tract is part of the digestive system also called alimentary tract and gastrointestinal tract and is comprised of the organs that food and liquids travel through when they are swallowed, digested, absorbed, and leave the body. These organs include the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.”

“With age, many bodily functions slow down, including our digestive tract―it just might not work as efficiently or as quickly as it used to. The muscles in the digestive tract become stiffer, weaker, and less efficient. Your tissues are also more likely to become damaged because new cells aren’t forming as quickly as they once did.

“As a result, digestive tract problems that can occur as people age include:

· Heartburn

· Peptic ulcers

· Diarrhea

· Constipation (all the literature says this is a common problem)

· Hemorrhoids

· Gas

· Stomach pain

· Irritable bowel syndrome

· Diverticulitis

· Fecal incontinence

· Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)”

The two most common appear to be Diverticulitis (I’ve had this twice) and Constipation.

“The main reason that aging affects the digestive tract is that aging usually brings on other health conditions―and medications to deal with those conditions.

Dr. Marrero, a gastroenterologist, says, seniors … “get gastroparesis, a disorder in which food takes a long time to clear the stomach, resulting in… bloating and nausea. He added, “Bowel blockages in older people are also very common…caused by a condition called ‘Intestinal Ischemia’ during which blood flow to the intestines decreases….”, by Diana Rodriguez, Nov 8, 2012

Can We Mitigate Slower Digestion?

An August 12, 2020 Cleveland Clinic article titled, “5 Steps to Help Prevent Digestive Problems as you Age,” offers helpful advice to counter the effects of aging on our digestive tract.

“Medicine, inactivity, and even gravity all can take their toll and contribute to digestive troubles as we age. The main culprits are:

· Multiple medications

· Inactivity and dehydration

· Hiatal hernia

· A weakened sphincter muscle

· Sedentary lifestyle (this must be a common problem among the elderly since it’s always mentioned.)

· Chronic constipation.

“Our eating habits also change as we age. We may no longer have the interest or energy to prepare a well-balance, high fiber meal, or to cut up fresh fruits and vegetables…. Food may no longer be as pleasurable and tasty as it once was.

“When we are infants, we have the most taste buds we will ever have, and they gradually reduce in number as we get older.” The Cleveland Clinic adds, “As we age, the number of taste buds that we have decreases. This usually begins to occur in our 40s if we're female or in our 50s if we're male. At the same time, our remaining taste buds also begin to shrink, or atrophy, and do not function as well.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests five steps we can take to improve our digestion:

· “Maintain a healthy diet such as veggies, fruit, whole grain. Reduce salt intake. Drink water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages. Eat beans, fish, lean meat.

· Avoid foods that trigger heartburn or reflux.

· Consider a probiotic…which contains helpful, good bacteria such as certain yogurts, fresh sauerkraut, kombucha and tempeh (Tempeh or tempe is a traditional Javanese food made from fermented soybeans. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. It is sold at Walmart and grocery stores.)

· Stay active. The CDC recommends getting two days of muscle-strengthening exercise a week. Get out and get moving, your stomach will thank you.”

“…Nearly 40% of older adults have one or more age-related digestive symptom each year. One of the most common things we see as people are getting into their 60s and 70s, [is] a change in bowel habits, predominately more constipation.”, “Aging and Digestive Health,” by Brenda Conaway, May 8, 2012

Foods that are easy to digest include toast, white rice, bananas, applesauce, eggs, chicken, salmon, and oatmeal., “11 Food That Are Easy to Digest,” by MaryAnn De Pietro, Nov 19, 2019.

“Foods Seniors Should Avoid,” by Pete Lane, June 19, 2017

· Soft cheese

· Undercooked eggs

· Raw fish and shellfish

· Grapefruit can interact with medications

· Undercooked meats

· Raw sprouts

· Processed foods

· Cold meats”

Is it True that Seniors are Gassier than their Younger Selves?

“It’s normal for otherwise healthy adults to pass gas between 10 to 20 times each day. In fact, many people who think they have more gas than others, actually fall within this normal range.”

“Some experts believe that as you get older, you pass more gas because your metabolism slows down. The food sits longer in your digestive system, creating more gas. Also, your stomach makes less of the acid needed to digest food well.

“What’s more, your digestive system is made up of muscles. These muscles lose strength as you age, further slowing down your digestive system and possibly leading to more gas.

“Other reasons you might pass more gas as you age could be:

· Lack of digestive enzymes. As you get older, your body makes less lactase, the enzyme needed to digest dairy products. So, over time, you may have more gas when you eat cheese, milk, and other dairy products.

· Medications. Some prescriptions cause constipation or bloating, which can also lead to more flatulence.

Tips that may Help Reduce Excessive Gas

· Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water helps you avoid constipation, which may help your symptoms.

· Exercise. Stay active for at least 30 minutes at least three or four times a week to keep things moving in your digestive track.

· Avoid dairy. Try removing dairy products from your diet to see if you may have become lactose intolerant.

· Avoid veggies that cause gas. These include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

· Avoid soda. Carbonated drinks can cause gas.

· Avoid beans and lentils. They can cause more gas during digestion.

· Don't chew gum. It can cause you to swallow air, leading to more gas.

Does your Caloric intake Decrease as you Age?

“As you age, you need fewer calories. Why? Once you reach adulthood, your muscle mass gradually decreases while the proportion of fat increases. Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, you'll need fewer calories to maintain your usual weight. If you keep eating the same amount as you get older, those extra calories will turn into extra pounds.

“Seniors tend to eat fewer calories anyway, so they need to make sure they get enough nutrients and vitamins in their foods. When you're looking at people who are 80 or 90 years old…the real problem is keeping weight on.”

What are Nutrients?

“Nutrients are compounds in foods essential to life and health, providing us with energy, the building blocks for repair and growth, and substances necessary to regulate chemical processes. There are six major nutrients: Carbohydrates (CHO), Lipids (fats), Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, Water.”

Like every other aspect of our aging bodies, our digestion system functions differently than it used to and needs greater attention and care. Our future health and wellbeing require that we eat and drink what we should and, of course, get up and move as often as possible. Sounds simple but it’s a challenge for us all.


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