In an effort to fight the effects of aging, people go to great lengths to take care of their skin, their brains and even their joints, but what about the digestive system?
It ages, too, you know.
Gina Sam, M.D. and director of Mount Sinai’s Gastrointestinal Motility Center in New York City, says, “The GI tract is always replenishing itself. But there are natural, age-related changes to the digestive system—which is everything from the mouth to the bowels—that will impact how smoothly and effectively it continues to work.” Sam adds that there are also higher odds of experiencing heartburn, constipation, slower digestion and a decreased ability to absorb beneficial nutrients from food as you enter your 50s and 60s.
So, let’s start with digestive enzymes and good bacteria—probiotics. As people age, both enzyme production and the beneficial bacteria in the gut can decrease, but you require a healthy amount of each in order to support healthy digestion and for the body to be able to use food.
Over time, digestion can suffer due to less efficiency. If it continues, then nutrient deficiencies or even malnutrition can occur, since digestion isn’t working to capacity. The absorption of some key nutrients, including calcium and vitamins A, B12, K and D are some which can be affected.
Enzymes play a large role in proper digestion, too. For instance, when you eat, enzymes start immediately via saliva, which contains two enzymes—lipase and amylase—to break down fats and carbs. As food moves along, it arrives at the duodenum where a hormone named secretin is produced, signaling the pancreas to add more digestive enzymes—including trypsin, chymotrypsin and pancreatin—as food continues its journey. Other areas in the digestive system add even more enzymes, such as lactase and cellulase.
This enzymatic process naturally slows as we age, which can render digestion less effective. So, what can be done? Raw veggies and fruits contain some natural-occurring enzymes helping with digestion, but that may not be enough. Supplementing with enzymes may be another answer.
Likewise, good bacteria live in the digestive system and aid digestion, but can diminish due to age, poor diet, pharmaceutical use and even travel. Some of those good bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, but you need others, too. In fact, each probiotic strain offers certain benefits.
A caution, however—probiotics must be alive to be effective. That may sound like an obvious statement, but unless otherwise stated, there can be die-off of probiotics during the manufacturing process, making them ineffective. So, be sure your probiotics are of ample amount and are alive if you use them. Also, some probiotics aren’t hardy enough to make it through stomach acids, so make sure your probiotic does.
Those are just a few areas in which you can help guard your digestive system as you age.