The Aging Digestive System: The Importance of Gut Health for Seniors

As we age, our bodies go through all kinds of changes – most of them unpleasant rather than enjoyable.

Taking care of ourselves becomes even more important, and we can no longer get away with some of the shenanigans we used to pull off: lack of sleep, bad dietary choices, and so on. And while our guts may not be the most exciting of topics, taking care of them should turn into more of a priority as we enter our golden years.

Let’s explore why gut health is so important for seniors, and how you can improve it.

Inflammation and getting older

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to something going wrong. It is a localised event triggered by the immune system that is trying to restore normal functions. It happens when you have a cold, when you are healing from a cut, even when you are recovering from a workout. It is essentially a good thing, although not always pleasant.

However, while this response is a necessary one, our way of life has us living at an ongoing low-grade level of inflammation, which is no longer merely local, and no longer beneficial. It is constant and it occurs all over the body and can lead to heart disease, diabetes, dementia, even cancer. Needless to say, chronic inflammation is associated with early death.

Inflammation also lies at the root of aging and can make life much more difficult to cope with.

What about gut health?

Where does the gut come in, we hear you saying.

Inflammation is very closely connected to the gut microbiome, as 70% of our immune system lives in our guts, in close proximity to said microbiome. They are constantly communicating, and when one of them is off, so is the other one.

In other words: the best way to make aging easier and curb inflammation in the body is to take care of our gut microbiome, especially as we get older, as that will help us stay healthier and more vigorous.

Leaving it unchecked can compromise our immune system’s normal functions and worsen inflammation.

Gut microbiome and how it ages

As we age, so does our gut microbiome. The most obvious change is that when we are younger, we have more healthy microbes, while the number of inflammatory microbes increases as we get older.

These older microbiomes are not as good at processing fibres and short-chain fatty acids (which are the main component of a healthy gut). The less we are able to produce these fatty acids, the less healthy we are (and the older we are in turn, no matter what are actual age is).

While there is no real way to prevent the gut microbiome from getting older, there is a lot we can do to prolong the inevitable.

How to keep our guts healthy

Prioritising gut health as we age is not something that simply happens. We need to take concrete action and counteract some of the damage our modern lifestyle is exacting on our guts.

Because, when you think about it, we are eating all kinds of junk, we don’t really drink enough water, and stress levels, in general, are at an all-time high.

In order to combat aging and restore some diversity to our guts, we can do some of the following:

  • Eat better
    Focusing on consuming a healthy diet is the first natural step to take. We need to stop eating as much processed food rich in sugar and dense in calories, and focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber.
  • Add a probiotic or a prebiotic supplement to your diet
  • Stay active
    Physical exercise is another way to improve gut health (not to mention general health), and getting older is no excuse to stop taking care of our bodies.
  • Be careful with antibiotics
    They can wreak havoc on your gut, so make sure you are taking them only when absolutely necessary, and always ask about the potential damage to your digestive system. Make sure you take probiotics with them as well.
  • Accept the lifestyle changes
    Though it might sound a bit harsh, accepting the simple fact that you are getting older can also help your gut health. Instead of trying to prevent something that can’t be prevented, and behaving as you used to a couple of decades ago, embrace the fact that your body is now older, and needs to be taken care of differently

Final thoughts

As an unhealthy gut can not only speed up the aging process but can also fiddle with the efficiency of our immune systems, prioritizing it as we get older shouldn’t be optional.
Making the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes may not be easy. But when premature aging and illness are the prices for sticking to our unhealthy choices, giving up excessive sugar and fast food should go down better.

Images: Pixabay and Unsplash


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