This month’s blog question from a Sun Studio Semperviva yogi is about how ageing affects the digestive tract. There are a number of anatomical and physiological changes in the digestive tract of an older adult. Today I will discuss a few of these changes and offer tips to help combat the effects of the ageing digestive tract.
The Esophagus, the Stomach and the Small Intestine
Ageing: With age, the strength of the lower esophageal sphincter (or LES, the valve that connects the bottom of your esophagus to your stomach) decreases, as does the amount of stomach acid produced. This is an excellent recipe for acid reflux and explains why close to 30% of adults over the age of 50 experience acid reflux. There is a common misconception that acid reflux is caused by too much stomach acid when in reality it is more common for the cause to be low stomach acid. This is because during digestion, the rising stomach acid signals the LES to close. If stomach acid is too low, then the LES doesn’t close properly and allows stomach contents and acid to splash up and irritate the esophagus causing heart burn. Mature adults also tend to be taking multiple medications, many of which can weaken the LES. These include nitrates, calcium channel blockers, benzodiazepines, anticholinergic agents, and antidepressants.
As we age, lactase levels in the small intestine decrease, leading to dairy intolerance. There may also be an overgrowth of bacteria that can cause gas, bloating and bowel habit changes. The small intestine also becomes less able to absorb nutrients such as B12, Iron, Calcium and Vitamin D.
Tip #1: Apple cider vinegar is a great digestive aid: 1 tbsp in a cup of warm water 15 minutes before meals. The bitter taste and acidity stimulate the release of saliva, stomach acid and enzymes to help optimize digestion and increase absorption of minerals in your food.
Tip #2: Avoid foods that weaken the esophageal sphincter like peppermint, coffee, chocolate, onions and alcohol.
Tip #3: Consider taking a probiotic or eating fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut.
The Liver and Gallbladder
Ageing: The liver has many functions but for today’s blog let’s focus on its function of making bile, a substance that helps digest fat. Bile is stored in the gallbladder so that there is enough available to digest especially fatty meals. As we age, bile production decreases, which increases the chance of gallstone formation.
Tip #1: Eat healthy fats like fish, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds but avoid saturated fats like red meat fast food. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to prevent gallstones.
Tip #2: Improve bile production by eating artichokes, sauerkraut and use plenty of turmeric spice in your cooking.
Ageing doesn’t have to be a reason for ill health or disease. If you have any tips for healthy digestion as we age I’d love to see them posted here!