|Getting older is like going to war. Every day is a battle. Things just don't work as well as they used to. And either you're doing something to win that battle, or you're losing it. This is especially true for the intestinal tract. Now a brand new study shows us just what happens in our gastrointestinal tracts as we get older. And with this information comes some excellent ways to fight the battle and keep your digestion healthy for the rest of your life.
The study comes out of the Gastrointestinal Center at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. The authors detailed recent discoveries about how aging affects intestinal and digestive function. They were specifically interested in how the changes might cause the malnutrition and decreased appetites that are so common with older folks. Here's a short list of what they found.
First, they looked at swallowing. The ability to swallow becomes impaired as we age. This is due to a decrease in the way that the nervous system controls swallowing. However, in almost all cases, this does not turn out to be a significant problem. We typically have more problems with the stomach.
In the stomach, the primary problem is one that my colleague Jonathan Wright, MD has championed for 30 years – hypochlorhydria. Hypochorhydria is the ten-dollar word for low stomach acid production. While most people think they have too much stomach acid, most of them don't have enough. In fact, somewhere between 23-35% of everyone over 65 years of age have hypochlorhydria as a result of just getting older. Many more have it as a result of taking drugs designed to reduce stomach acid production.
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Stomach acid is critical for the digestive system. So part of the cost of hypochlorhydria is malabsorption or an inability to properly digest and absorb vitamins and minerals. This leads to osteoporosis, weakness, fatigue, cramps, anemia, and other nutritional disorders. But stomach acid does more than just this.
It also protects us from the various fungi and bacteria that are on the foods we eat. The acid is so strong that it kills the bugs on contact. So what happens when you don't have it? It's called intestinal bacterial overgrowth. A common one is from the bacteria clostridium difficile. Yeast or Candida is another common intestinal infection resulting from hypochlorhydria. The result is often a loss of the friendly bacteria, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, and a susceptibility to pneumonia.
Amazingly, the authors of this study point out that the ability of the small intestines to absorb what we eat is not affected at all by aging. Once the digestive process happens, our older bodies are able to absorb our foods every bit as well as they did when we were young. So when you add it all up, the biggest problem with poor nutritional absorption in the older age group is from hypochlorhydria. So how do you know if you have hypochlorhydria? I'll show you in next week's health alert.
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