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digestion and the aging process

The Aging Process and the Digestive System

Change is the only thing constant in the world, everybody ages, and that is a fact. No matter what kind of life you live, or how healthy you think you are right now, all of us eventually age, and what we do at this moment could determine how we live the rest of our lives. However, the aging process can be different for all of us. How we take the aging process largely depends on us.

The changes that come with the aging process affect a person’s body differently. Age is not the only factor which determines how well our body organs work; a large part of it is how we care for our bodies. How our body systems work as we age also depends on how well we understand the effects of aging on our body, and how we cope with these changes.

The Process of Digestion

Digestion is the mechanical and chemical process of breaking down food into smaller components that can be absorbed by the body.  This task is performed by the digestive system.  The digestive system is composed of the organs such as the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and the anus.  It also includes the liver and the pancreas.

The breakdown of food starts at the mouth with chewing.  Food is then swallowed and settles in the stomach for a while before final absorption in the intestines. The process of digestion is very important because without it, your body cannot get the nourishment it needs from what we drink and the foods we eat.

What happens to the digestive system as we age?

The digestive system is not spared from the aging process.  It eventually loses its efficiency as we get older.  When this happens, the body can experience both major and minor health problems.

The loss of teeth is very common to elderly people.  It can be the result of neglect more than anything else. However, the incidence of teeth loss and oral diseases increases with age.  Although much of  the water we use today are treated with fluoride, tooth degeneration or loss of teeth will still be experienced as the body looses the ability to utilize calcium for the bones or teeth. A poor appetite is a result of tooth loss as people find it much more difficult to chew and enjoy their food. If this is not addressed, a person might experience weight loss and poor nutrition.

The esophagus wears down with time, making the swallowing process difficult for older people. This could be the result of muscular or neurological disorders. The sphincter muscles in the stomach also weaken and can result in acid reflux and heartburn.

The stomach also decreases the production of hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes which are very important in the digestion process. This could lead to poor absorption of Vitamin B12, a deficiency which could result in anemia and nerve damage. This could also lead to increased levels of bacteria in the stomach, making the person susceptible to infections. The movement of waste becomes more difficult as we age. It can be the result of poor muscular functioning in the digestive tract. Digestive muscle also loses some of its flexibility with age, which leads to diarrhea, constipation and hemorrhoids. Incidents of colon cancer and polyps also increase when the intestine slows down. This is why doctors recommend people over 50 to a have a regular colonoscopy to detect polyps early in order to prevent colon cancer.

Aging, Nutrition and the digestive system

Nutrition is definitely affected by the aging process. Having a healthy diet and regular exercise can help cope with the changes brought about by time. Diets could easily be supplemented by taking vitamins and minerals to replace those which are lost through age. But time is not only the major culprit why people experience poor health with aging. It is also important to remember that unhealthy lifestyles caused by poor-eating habits and lack of exercise affect our digestive system regardless of age.

by Ronald Uy, RN

© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health

Sources:

Your Digestive System – How Aging Affects Your Digestion Process and What To Do About It. Retrieved November 1, 2009 from Longevity and anti-aging secrets.com: http://www.longevity-and-antiaging-secrets.com

The Surprising Reason You May Be Aging Prematurely: Improper Protein Digestion. Retrieved November 2, 2009 from Body Ecology: http://www.bodyecology.com

Anti-Aging & Digestion – Maintaining Optimal Health Through Enzymes. Retrieved November 2, 2009 from Shapefit.com: http://www.shapefit.com

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