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As you get older, have you started experiencing things like acid reflux or heartburn, peptic ulcers, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or stomach cramps? 

If so, know that this is normal (whew!). And luckily, there are some things you can do to support your body during this beautiful time and promote healthy, good digestion! 

Digestion Changes with Age

Our body’s natural processes evolve within the cycle of life. This doesn’t mean that we can’t still be healthy and active well into our later years of life, but it does help to know how and why these changes occur to support our body properly.

Our digestion changes with age because it is a time of slowing down. There’s a natural decline in metabolism and the body’s powerhouse — cell growth. This includes thecells in the stomach and colon that reduce digestive function.1 With less cellular and metabolic growth, the lining of the stomach and colon can become weaker, leading to some unwanted digestive symptoms. 

One of the biggest complaints is an increase in acid reflux, heartburn and GERD symptoms in elderly populations. Our body needs an abundance of stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid, to break down our food, kill certain bacteria and viruses so they don’t get into the body, and aid in nutrient absorption and appetite.Studies show that stomach acid can decrease by up to 40%2 in elderly populations thanks to a reduction in parietal cell function (the cells responsible for our stomach acid!).

Perhaps you’ve also heard of collagen — the most abundant protein in the body. It’s responsible for healthy skin, hair, nails, joints and even our gut lining! Unfortunately, our bodies naturally make less collagen as we age and this can also stimulate digestive changes, primarily something called leaky gut that can cause inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas or stomach cramps.
You also want to factor in any medications you might be taking such as NSAIDS that could further irritate the stomach and colon as well as any declining levels in physical activity, which can also impact your digestion.

Older men and women enjoying dinner outside.  One older woman holding a cake in one hand and powdered sugar in the other.

5 Tips for Good Digestion

Now to the good stuff! Once we understand the aging processes of the body, we can easily support ourselves for optimum health. Here are five tips for maintaining good digestion as you age:

  1. Boost stomach acid. Specific natural supplements and herbs such as HCL (or hydrochloric acid),digestive enzymes like bromelain or DGL, short for deglycyrrhizinated licorice, can all help eliminate some of those symptoms. For example, HCL can help with heartburn and acid reflux by stimulating more acid production. If you have ulcers, you might want to look at DGL, which is more healing, protective and soothing for an irritated gut lining. If you struggle with constipation as a result of slowing metabolism, adding a fibrous bulking agent likepsyllium husk could also help keep things regular!
  2. Repopulate the microbiome. As you age, it’s all about supporting your gut bugs! You want a healthy, balanced microbiome that stimulates digestion and promotes strong immune function. Certain strains like bifidobacterium can help reduce symptoms of IBS and bowel irregularities. Talk with your healthcare practitioner about the best probiotics for your body. 
  3. Boost your collagen. Since we know our collagen production drops with age, you can supplement with it to support healthy skin, hair, nails, joints and gut function. Collagen can be either bovine or marine and come in powder or capsule form. You can also get collagen from foods like bone broth.
  4. Stay as active as you can. Being physically active can help boost metabolism and stimulate good digestion. It’s also great for mental health, too. Getting in about 30 minutes a day (or as many as you can) with walking, hiking, rowing, resistance exercises or even swimming if you’re worried about stress on the joints is good for the body and mind3!
  5. Soak up that vitamin D. There’s nothing better than some warm golden rays on your face. And vitamin D can actually be beneficial for boosting digestion and immune function. Regular morning sunshine can also help balance your sleep cycles for more restorative rest. 
Older man and woman with middle aged man and woman enjoying the sunshine

Don’t let the idea of getting older get in the way of having good digestion! With these five tips you can stay on track with your health — and stay regular! To learn more check out our digestive health supplements. Always consult your healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplements to your routine, especially if you are pregnant, nursing or taking medication.

This blog was written by Nicole Cieslak, please click here to learn more about the author.

References:

  1. Durnin, L., Lees, A., Manzoor, S., Sasse, K. C., Sanders, K. M., & Mutafova-Yambolieva, V. N. (2017). Loss of nitric oxide-mediated inhibition of purine neurotransmitter release in the colon in the absence of interstitial cells of Cajal. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology, 313(5), G419–G433.https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpgi.00045.2017
  2. Feldman, M., Cryer, B., McArthur, K. E., Huet, B. A., & Lee, E. (1996). Effects of aging and gastritis on gastric acid and pepsin secretion in humans: a prospective study. Gastroenterology, 110(4), 1043–1052.https://doi.org/10.1053/gast.1996.v110.pm8612992
  3. McPhee, J. S., French, D. P., Jackson, D., Nazroo, J., Pendleton, N., & Degens, H. (2016). Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty. Biogerontology, 17(3), 567–580.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-016-9641-0



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