As You Age - Diet and Digestion

Publication Date: 
Mon, 07/25/2016
By: Alere Staff

 

Talking about your digestive issues is never a fun thing to do, but it is important to know that, as you age, your digestive system changes. As we get older, muscles within your GI tract can become stiff, weak and less efficient, causing problems that can go beyond a stomach ache.1 While there are a variety of ways you can experience stomach issues, there are also ways you can manage both them and your INR.

 

The Aging Digestive System 

Age alone does not mean that you will experience digestive issues, but as we get older, our bodies do become more susceptible to them.2 Digestive system issues can range from the not-so-serious to the serious and include symptoms like:1

  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Stomach Pain
  • Diverticulitis
  • Acid Reflux
  • Peptic Ulcers 

While these symptoms are common, they should not always be thought of as just a part of the natural aging process. There are a number of reasons why an older individual can experience these symptoms and they may have little to do with your age. 

For starters, as we age our metabolism does slow down.2 A slower metabolism does not just mean that it becomes harder to lose weight but also that our body digests slower, prompting the possibility of issues like constipation. If you combine a slower metabolism and long periods of inactivity, issues with the GI tract can become even more problematic.2 Being overweight can also increase your chances of experiencing heartburn or acid reflux as the extra inches on your abdominal wall can push on your stomach.2 

A slower metabolism may be due to aging, but there are conditions that appear unrelated that can aggravate your GI tract. Disorders that involve your thyroid or diabetes can also have an impact on both your digestion and your metabolism. Diabetes, in particular, can cause gastroparesis, a condition where food takes a longer time to clear from the stomach.1,2 Also, blockages in your arteries can affect your blood flow to your intestines, causing issues like intestinal ischemia where blood flow decreases in a way similar to that of a heart attack.1 Medications for pain, heart disease and arthritis, common issues we face as we grow older, are also well-known for causing stomach upset, constipation and, in more serious cases, bleeding. 

Helping Your Digestion 

While we can’t stop aging from occurring, there are things you can do to prevent serious digestive discomfort. Some of these steps include:1,2

  • Staying hydrated.
  • Making sure to follow a low-fat, high-fiber diet. A diet like the Mediterranean Diet is recommended and, as a bonus, is even considered heart-healthy.
  • Practicing regular exercise and movement to keep your GI tract moving too.
  • Practicing moderation in foods like coffee, wine and chocolate. Your digestive system can become sensitive to these foods and you may not be able to indulge in them like you did before.
  • Paying attention to your medications and how they may affect your GI tract. 

One of the final and best ways to keep your GI tract healthy is to be aware of the warning signs of more serious digestive issues. Symptoms like ongoing abdominal pain, diarrhea, sudden weight loss and unexplained bleeding can be signs of a bigger issue.2 As a patient on warfarin you may also need to be aware of the different over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can take for more minor stomach upsets like heartburn and how these medications may affect your INR. Talking about your digestion may be uncomfortable, but your physician can not only help you choose OTC medications that are safe to take with warfarin but also help you catch serious digestive issues early. 

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References:

  1. Rodriguez, D. How Aging Affects Your Digestive Health. Everyday Health. November 8, 2012. Retrieved from the website: http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/dealing-with-a-sensitive-gut.aspx.
  2. Sutter Health. Aging and Digestion: Getting Older Impacts Your Digestive System. MyLifeStages. 2016. Retrieved from the website: https://www.mylifestages.org/health/digestive_health/aging_and_digestion.page.