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  • Writer's pictureDr. Dooreck with Zoeya Gordon

GI Health and Aging: How Aging Affects Your Digestive System and What You Can Do About It

Updated: Feb 9


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Age-Related Changes to the Digestive System


As we age, our bodies undergo gradual changes, including changes to our digestive system, which can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) problems that become more common. It is crucial to understand these changes so that we can take steps to maintain good GI health.


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The following are some of the most common age-related changes to the digestive system:


1. Slower Digestion


As we age, the digestive process slows down. This means food takes longer to pass through the digestive system, leading to constipation and other digestive issues.


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2. Reduced Enzyme Production


Enzymes help to break down food so that it can be easily digested. However, as we age, the body produces fewer enzymes, making it more difficult to digest certain foods.


3. Decreased Absorption of Nutrients


With age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients from our food. This can lead to malnutrition, even if a person consumes a healthy diet.


Enzymes help to break down food so that it can be easily digested. However, as we get older, the body produces fewer of these enzymes, which can make it more difficult to digest certain foods.

4. Changes in Stomach Acid Production


As we age, the stomach produces less acid, making it harder to digest certain foods. This can lead to a buildup of bacteria in the gut, leading to GI issues.


5. Decreased Muscle Function in the GI Tract


The muscles in the GI tract play an essential role in moving food through the digestive system. However, these muscles can weaken as we age, leading to a higher risk of constipation and other digestive problems.


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Steps to Maintain Good GI Health


While there are some things we cannot change about our digestive system as we age, there are many steps we can take to maintain good GI health. The following are some tips for maintaining a healthy digestive system as we age:


1. Eat a Healthy Diet


A diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help keep the digestive system running smoothly. Avoiding processed foods and eating a variety of whole foods can help to maintain good GI health.


2. Stay Hydrated


Drinking plenty of water can help to keep the digestive system moving and prevent constipation.


3. Exercise Regularly


Regular exercise can help strengthen the GI tract muscles, which can help prevent constipation and other digestive problems.


4. Manage Stress


Stress can significantly impact the digestive system. Managing stress through techniques such as meditation or yoga can help to reduce the risk of GI problems.


5. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine Intake


Both alcohol and caffeine can irritate the gut, leading to GI issues. Limiting intake of these substances can help to maintain good GI health.


6. Consider Probiotics


Probiotics can help to promote good gut flora and improve digestion. Speak to a healthcare professional about whether probiotics are right for you.


As we become older, changes to the digestive system become more common. However, we can enjoy optimal digestion and overall wellness by maintaining good GI health. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management are all essential steps in maintaining a healthy digestive system as we age.


Below is an informational video from the Gastrointestinal Society on aging and the digestive tract.




Fun Facts


1. Did you know that the digestive system can move food through the digestive tract in about 7-10 hours for a healthy adult? However, aging can slow this process down and lead to constipation.


2. Saliva production decreases as we age, making it more difficult to chew and swallow food.


3. our taste buds can change as we age, decreasing our sense of taste. As a result, the food may not taste as good as it used to, which could lead to some dietary changes.


4. Regular exercise can help regulate bowel movements by increasing gut motility and reducing the risk of constipation or other gastrointestinal problems.


5. Some foods can irritate the digestive system, leading to bloating, gas, and discomfort in some people. Spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, and artificial sweeteners can all be culprits; therefore, avoiding these foods could be beneficial if you're struggling with GI problems.


Statistics


According to Michigan Medicine, as people age, their digestive system undergoes several changes, which can lead to noticeable differences in their digestive health. Constipation, for example, is a common problem, as the digestive process slows down, increasing water absorption and impaction of feces. Additionally, medication is a common hindrance to the digestive system, especially when it comes to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as they can increase the risk of stomach bleeding and ulcers. Colon cancer, diverticular disease, GERD, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are all potential issues that can arise as individuals get older. However, one can take various preventative measures, such as staying hydrated and engaging in regular physical activity, to aid in digestive health.


Summary


Maintaining good GI health can help ensure a better quality of life as we age and reduce the risk of developing GI disorders. As such, it is essential to understand the changes our bodies undergo and take appropriate steps to maintain good GI health for a healthier and happier lifestyle. We can maintain good GI health by adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, and avoiding irritants.

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I eat a high-fiber, mostly plant-based 🌱 diet, no red meat, drink 4 liters of water a day, exercise, and am focused on keeping nutrition simple. I am sharing what works for me and what I routinely recommend to my patients.


"Balance. Portion control. Keep nutrition simple. Eat Smart. Eat Healthy. 🌱 🌾 🌿"

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