18.FEB.2021 5 MIN READ | 5 MIN READ

Foodies, take note: Age and your digestive health may change the way, and amount, you eat.

Food is a universal language that sparks romance, brings loved ones together and creates new friendships. From festive feasts to buffet celebrations and big steak dinners, to catching up with friends over a late night supper session at the coffeeshop, the prospect of indulging in your favourite food stirs excitement in the hearts (and bellies) of both the young and old.

However, as you approach a new year and ponder upon the past, one gradual change you may realise is that you may not be able to enjoy food as much as you previously could.

Gone were the days where you would pile up your plate at a buffet line, indulge in laksa, hot pot, and multiple servings of other local favourites, enjoy roti prata at 2 in the morning. Instead, doing so now may lead to some form of physical discomfort.

What has caused this change?

What has changed?
As you get older, you may develop problems related to your digestion and this could greatly impact your eating habits.

Changes in your digestive system will occur as you age. The weakening of the muscular contractions along your digestive tract is a common occurrence that slows down the process of digestion, causing food to move slower along your digestive tract. This could lead to a series of digestive issues that many tend to experience with age.

Digestive issues associated with ageing

From constipation to indigestion, here are some common digestive health disorders that are commonly associated with ageing:

Indigestion

Have you ever felt like you ate too much that your entire meal feels ‘stuck’ inside? That could be indigestion.

Indigestion may be a symptom of an underlying condition such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and gall bladder disease. It causes discomfort such as burning in the stomach, bloating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Indigestion is often thought to be caused by swallowing large chunks of food that could make it difficult for the enzymes in your intestines to breakdown. As we age, there is reduced acid production from the stomach. It also takes longer for the stomach to empty out its contents and there can be reduced blood supply to the stomach and intestines. All these can contribute to the feeling of indigestion. Medication, anxiety, stress as well as depression could also be possible triggers.

If you’re experiencing frequent indigestion, it’s important to seek medical help to identify the cause as it could be a sign of a more serious health issue.

GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), better known as acid reflux, is a common upper gastrointestinal tract (GI) disorder among older adults.

GERD is a medical condition involving the oesophagus and your stomach. It occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the oesophagus and hence, causing heartburn and other symptoms such as nausea and trouble breathing.

The symptoms of GERD could sometimes be mistaken as symptoms of a heart attack, which is also at an increased risk as you age. Hence, it is important to see an expert who will be able to diagnose the cause of heartburn and to rule out the possibility of a life-threatening condition such as heart disease.

Constipation

Constipation
Constipation is a change in bowel movement that causes difficulty in passing stools. There are several factors that could cause constipation as you age, including a weakened digestive tract, inactivity, a side effect of medications and possibly a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

In the long-run, constipation not only causes pain and a loss of appetite but also straining during bowel movements, which could lead to haemorrhoids.

Constipation can be prevented with a healthy diet, an increase in water intake, physical activity and if your medication might be causing it, be sure to highlight this to your doctor.

Diverticular disease

Also known as diverticulosis, this medical condition occurs when small pouches develop along the intestinal wall. For some, this medical condition doesn’t have symptoms showing up. There are also some symptoms associated with it, including gas, bloating, cramps and constipation.

About half of individuals above the age of 60 are diagnosed with diverticular disease. Depending on the severity of the condition, medical treatment may be required especially if the condition progresses and causes an inflammation.

Peptic ulcers

Peptic ulcers are ulcers that develop in the lining of the stomach and duodenum (which is the first part of the small intestine). They are usually formed as a result of inflammation in your gut caused by the bacteria H. Pylori. Besides that, certain medications and smoking could also be the cause of this medical condition.

The most common symptom of this painful condition is described as burning abdominal pain. Other signs to look out for include bloody or dark stools, chest pain and changes in appetite.

Peptic ulcers should not be taken lightly as they could cause internal bleeding and scarring of stomach tissue. If you experience any of the mentioned symptoms, a gastroenterologist will be able to help you with a diagnosis.

An endoscopy or x-ray may be suggested to assist in making an accurate diagnosis.


Did you know?

The infection of H. Pylori is thought to be spread by a person’s mouth to another as well as transferred from feaces to mouth.


Take charge

Take charge
The best person to identify if there is a change in your digestive health is you. Listen to your body and spot any unusual changes that could indicate that you may require medical attention.

As your body ages, it’s important to continue taking charge of your health and adapt to its needs. Your digestive system may change as you age but it does not have to mean compromising your quality of life.

If you are experiencing discomfort associated with your digestive system, a gastroenterologist, who is a medical expert is this field, will be able to help you take charge of your health once again.

Your digestive system is often described as the engine to your body and just like a car, it may require more attention as the years pass but with the right action taken, it is possible to indulge in your favourite comfort food throughout your golden years.

 

Article reviewed by Dr Kenneth Koo, gastroenterologist at Gleneagles Hospital

References

Ageing and Digestive Health (n.d.). In WebMD. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/digestive-health-aging#1

Indigestion (n.d.). In WebMD. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/indigestion-overview#2

GERD (n.d.). In WebMD. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/reflux-disease-gerd-1#3

Aging and Digestive Health: 6 Factors to Watch For (n.d.). In Michigan Health. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/digestive-health/aging-and-digestive-health-6-factors-to-watch-for

Peptic Ulcer (n.d.). In Healthline. Retrieved January 15, 2021 from https://www.healthline.com/health/peptic-ulcer#outlook

18.FEB.2021
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Koo Yih Meng Kenneth
Gastroenterologist
Gleneagles Hospital