As you age, your digestive system can slow down and become less efficient, leading to constipation, heartburn, and other digestive problems. It is estimated that approximately 40% of adults over 45 suffer from at least one age-related digestive disorder.
Your digestive system works by moving food along the digestive tract through a series of muscle contractions. With age, this process can slow down. Moreover, a decrease in the number of nerve cells of the myenteric plexus can cause degeneration of the villi, impacting nutrient absorption in the intestines.
How does aging affect the digestive system?
Factors that make older individuals more susceptible to health conditions include the following:
- Slower digestion: As food moves more slowly in the digestive tract, water absorption increases and can cause constipation.
- Physical inactivity: Most people become less active as they get older. Health conditions and other factors can also contribute to decreased activity levels.
- Decreased fluid intake: In some cases, older people may not drink enough fluids or be taking diuretics and other medications that can cause excessive fluid loss.
- Diverticular diseases: Almost 50% of people over 60 suffer from diverticulosis (small pouches in the colon) that can become inflamed, causing diverticulitis.
- Hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis: Chronic conditions become more common as people age. Medications used to manage these diseases can negatively affect the digestive system.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Regular use of NSAIDs to control pain and chronic conditions can increase the risk of stomach bleeding and ulcers.
- Overuse of medications: Certain medications can directly affect the digestive tract, such as calcium channel blockers (used for high blood pressure) and narcotic pain relievers (used for knee or hip replacement surgery).
What digestive issues are associated with aging?
Your digestive system consists of:
- Salivary glands
- Small Intestine
- Large Intestine
- Organs such as the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas
As you age, the muscles in your digestive system tend to become stiffer, weaker, and less efficient, which can result in digestive problems such as:
How to protect your digestive system as you age
You can protect your digestive system from age-related issues through changes in your diet, lifestyle, and medications:
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids to prevent constipation
- Take prebiotics and probiotics
- Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet
- Increase your fiber intake with green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and beans
- Limit high-fat, processed foods
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week
- Avoid overeating and a sedentary lifestyle
- Control diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure
- Avoid overusing over-the-counter pain relievers
- Get regular health screenings
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Conaway B. Aging and Digestive Health. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/digestive-health-aging
GI Society. Aging Digestive Tract. https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/aging-digestive-tract/
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