Aging is an inevitable, apparent part of life. But in addition to the physical transformations noticed from the naked eye, the interior also experiences changes and overtime, body functions change and slow down, including the digestive tract. Muscles in the tract may become stiffer and weaker, making it harder to digest foods, while the actual tissue lining may become damaged and inefficient. Medications may also cause such structural and physiological changes, especially if or as seniors start becoming prescribed to more. Ultimately, changes of the tract and gut may cause heartburn and indigestion, constipation and diarrhea, gas and bloat, and even fatigue and headache. With careful consideration and a better understanding of a healthy lifestyle, you can maintain a healthy gut as you age. 

How to Nurture a Senior Healthy Gut

Keep Hydrated

Seniors are already at risk of dehydration related to a reduced thirst mechanism or the memory to keep hydrated. Water plays a large role in digestion, further combatting against constipation in conjunction with adequate fiber. Unless noted by a healthcare provider, individuals should consume at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

Limit Fats

Although unsaturated fats display anti-inflammatory properties, a high intake of fat, especially saturated and trans fats, should be limited. Compared to carbohydrate and protein, fat takes longer to digest and may cause seniors to have discomfort if it is consumed in large volumes.

Increase Fiber

Fiber is continuously touted to promote bowel regularity, as it offers bulk and lessens the risk of constipation. Various forms of fiber may be beneficial to gut health related to their role as a prebiotic, which is described below.

Consume Pre- and Probiotics

Consuming pre- and probiotics can help nourish healthy gut microbiota, or the helpful bacteria living in the gut. Simply put, prebiotics are foods that are not easily digested by the body and comes in the forms of fibers and starches that can be fermented by the gut. Probiotics are live cultures that food off prebiotics and are known for their presence in yogurt and detailed here.

Consider Digestive Enzymes

Simply put, digestive enzymes are the catalysts that assist in proper digestion. For instance, lactase is the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products, and may be helpful for those with lactose intolerance. Seniors may have compromised production of various digestive enzymes and may profit from such supplements. Check with your primary care provider to help identify and establish if digestive enzymes are right for you.

Moderate Food Intake

Especially if experiencing poor digestion and heartburn, moderating what is consumed can help identify such triggers or discomforts. For instance, fatty foods can cause slow digestion and discomfort while spicy items may cause heartburn.

Stay Active

Aside from nutritional recommendations, staying active is one of the best habits for healthy digestion. Regular aerobic exercise can keep you regular and prevent against heart disease by improving circulation. Aerobic exercises include walking, hiking, biking, and swimming.

Check Medications

In addition to moderating food intake, it is important to moderate and check medications for potential side effects, as they may actually cause gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances. If unsure regarding potential medication interactions, consult with your primary care provider.

Maintain Weight and Health

Ultimately, the importance of managing weight and health lies in the reduced risk of chronic diseases, including hypertension and diabetes. Keeping such conditions off your time clock can ultimately lessen the need of medications, and the fewer the medications prescribed, the lower the opportunity for GI side effects to occur.

Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Oral hygiene plays a large role on gut health, as good practices can lessen the likelihood of dentures and toothaches that may impede on good nutritional intake. Brushing and flossing daily, along with scheduling regular dental appointments, can help promote a healthy mouth and digestive processes by maintaining adequate chewing practices encouraged for proper digestion.

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