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Ageing and Digestive Health

Digestive problems can occur at any stage of life, but certain digestive health problems are more likely to arise as your body ages.

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As we age, our body undergoes many physiological changes and your gut is one of them. These are some of the common digestive problems that may arise with age. 

Constipation

Constipation is a common problem in people in their 60s and older. Symptoms of this condition often include difficult, painful or infrequent bowel movements with dry, hard stool. Age-related factors that lead to constipation include: 

Inactivity

Aerobic activity increases blood flow to the body’s organs. It increases blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract which results in stronger intestinal contractions and more digestive enzymes being released. This allows food to move easily through the colon and out of the body. As we age, we tend to become less active and this could be one of the reasons constipation sets in. 

Tip:  To help relief constipation, take a 20    minute brisk walk each day!

Changes in the digestive system 

 

In a healthy digestive system, food is pushed through the body through a series of muscle contractions. These contractions push food through the digestive tract and allows the body to absorb the nutrients that it needs from the food. As one ages, this process may slow down and cause food to move more slowly through the colon. When this happens, more water is absorbed from the food and this can cause constipation.

Not drinking enough fluids 

 

Staying hydrated is important in preventing constipation, especially if you are also taking medication for certain conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart failure. Certain medications may work to rid the body of excess fluid by making you urinate more. If you don’t drink enough fluids, the combination of fluid loss and decreased intake of fluid will dehydrate the body, leading to constipation.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common upper gastrointestinal disorder that can occur in people of all ages, although it is common in older adults. GERD occurs when the muscular valve at the bottom of the oesophagus ( lower oesophageal sphincter is weakened and allows stomach contents such as food, acid and stomach enzymes to flow back into the oesophagus. When stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, it causes a burning sensation, usually felt in the chest area.

Symptoms of GERD 

•  Heartburn

•  Nausea

•  Non-exertion chest pain when lying down or waking up

•  A bitter taste in the mouth

•  Food regurgitation in the mouth

•  Pain when swallowing

•  Food getting stuck while swallowing

 

While ageing can play a part in causing GERD, other risk factors also include smoking, being overweight and suffering from peptic ulcers. To cut down your risk of GERD, you may also want to avoid certain foods such as carbonated beverages, alcoholic drinks and spicy, greasy or fatty foods. Also avoid eating large meals and lying down within 2 hours of eating.


Diverticular Disease 


Diverticular disease is another common gastrointestinal condition in older people. Diverticula are small pouches of the colon lining bulge out along weak spots in the intestinal wall. Although many patients will not experience any symptoms, some may suffer from pain or change in bowel habits. Diverticula are believed to be caused by high pressure in the colon. If they become inflamed, it can also cause abdominal pain, cramps, fever and nausea. 

Swallowing difficulties 

Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, is a common condition among ageing adults and this can be due to problems with the oesophagus or throat muscles. The oesophagus is the tube that allows food to move from the mouth to the stomach, and as one ages, the muscles of the oesophagus and the throat may become weaker and cause difficulty swallowing: when the lower oesophageal muscle does not relax properly to let food enter the stomach, food may be brought back up into the throat. Certain disorders such as muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease can also weaken the throat muscles and make it difficult to move food from your mouth into your throat and oesophagus when you swallow.


Protect your Gut! 

You can’t stop your body from ageing but if you take extra care of your digestive health now, it will go a long way in ensuring a strong digestive system in the years to come.

 

1. Keep Moving

 

Exercise improves blood flow throughout your body, including your digestive system, allowing your body to absorb nutrients more effectively and helping to ward off constipation, bloating and cramps. 
 

2. Eat more fiber

 

High-fiber foods not only help to prevent constipation but also can ease the symptoms of diverticular disease. Besides fruit and vegetables, whole grains and beans are also great sources of dietary fiber.
 

3. Drink up!

 

We can’t stress enough the importance of staying hydrated to your digestive system. Always make sure you drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially if your body has lost extra fluids through exercise or any medication that you are taking.
 

4. Manage your weight

 

Being overweight can lead to all kinds of health problems, including those of your digestive system. Maintaining a healthy weight will help to ease the pressure on the system and help to reduce the discomfort of GERD and heartburn.
 

5. See your doctor regularly

 

Go for regular health screenings so that your doctor will be able to detect any symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders early.

 

Source: Prime Magazine Dec - Jan 2017 Issue. Reproduced with permission.
 

 

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