Ageing is linked to a variety of changes in the body, including muscle loss, thinner skin, thinning hair, memory loss, fatigue, depression and less stomach acid. Some of these changes can make you prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect your senses and quality of life.
However, many of these changes can be reduced by adopting anti-ageing diet and lifestyle habits and taking targeted supplements to help ensure as many nutrients as possible are being absorbed and assimilated. In this way, it is possible to support general gut health throughout our later decades and help reduce the likelihood of inflammation and infections, two of the ageing culprits.
Another challenge of ageing is a reduced need for calories. Unfortunately, this creates a nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories.
Studies show that one of the primary reasons nutrition gets increasingly important as you age is that a good diet in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart diseases and certain cancers, not to mention dementia-related diseases.
Your body does not absorb nutrients as well as it once did
Another big reason nutrition gets more important as you grow older is that your ageing body does not absorb nutrients as well as it once did. This means you would need to eat a larger quantity of your regular diet to gain the same nutrition. But eating huge amounts of food puts undue stress on the digestive system, and leads to unwanted weight gain of course, so it is important to focus on nutrient-rich foods as you age.
Age-related changes to your digestive tract also affect nutrition in your senior years. Smooth muscles push food through your digestive tract, an action known as gastrointestinal (GI) motility. Your body absorbs various nutrients from the food as it moves. GI motility slows as you age so it takes longer for food to move through your digestive tract. This means food can sit around in your digestive tract even after you have absorbed all the nutrients from it; this lingering food prevents fresher, nutrient-rich food from entering your digestive tract and this sluggishness can also cause putrefaction, fermentation leading to uncomfortable gassy bloating.
Gut health during your older years
One of the reasons we have a bowel screening programme in the UK, free to everyone over age of 60, providing they are registered with a GP, is that the risk of getting bowel cancer increases as we age. We know that a low diversity of gut bacteria is implicated in bowel cancer. It is crucial, therefore, to do what we can to reduce our risk by taking daily probiotics. My ‘go-to’ supplement protocol for this is to take one of our Live Bacteria capsules before breakfast and one of our For Women capsules (regardless of your gender) before bed, with a small glass of water.
This way, you are getting the full complement of strains needed to help protect your bowels, in particular the lactobacillus reuteri strain in our For Women capsules that, in recent studies, has been shown to help reduce the risk of tumours in the bowel. Another way to prevent bowel cancer is to carry out your bowel cancer screening (FIT) test when it comes through the post and not put it in the bin!
Constipation is a common health problem among the elderly. It’s especially common in people over 65, and it’s two to three times more common in women. That’s because people at this age tend to move less and are more likely to take medications that have constipation as a side effect. Hormonal changes that women go through during the menopause can also affect transit time, as can surgery, in particular, hysterectomies.
Ensuring that you are eating enough fibre can help to relieve constipation, as can taking a daily probiotic. Additionally, a high-fibre diet may prevent diverticular disease, a condition in which small pouches form along the colon wall and become infected or inflamed. This condition is especially common among the elderly, although like many other Western diseases, it is now becoming more common amongst younger generations.
Diverticular disease is often viewed as a disease of the Western diet
It’s incredibly common, affecting up to 50% of people over age 50 in Western countries. Conversely, diverticular disease is almost absent in populations with higher fibre intakes. For example, in Japan and Africa, diverticular disease affects less than 0.2% of people. If you aren’t consuming enough fibre, I recommend supplementing with two of my Fibre tablets half an hour before meals, with a large glass of water, and taking daily probiotics.
Age is one of the most prevalent factors that contribute to a reduction in stomach acid secretions. Studies have shown that people over the age of 60 experience a significant reduction in stomach acid production. Low stomach acid can also be caused by the overuse of acid-suppressing medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), bacterial infection caused by Helicobacter pylori, chronic stress, drinking too much alcohol, and taking certain antibiotics.
Studies have estimated that 20% of elderly people have atrophic gastritis, a condition in which chronic inflammation has damaged the cells that produce stomach acid. Low stomach acid can affect the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron and magnesium.
If you want to stay healthy, well into your ‘autumn years’, then I recommend that alongside taking a daily Omega 3 capsule and your probiotics, you take one of our natural Digestive Enzymes tablet just before lunch and one just before dinner to maximise the digestion of your food and absorption of nutrients.
Read how Digestive Enzymes have been instrumental in improving Moira’s nutrient absorption:
Are you getting enough of these key nutrients?
It is very important for older people to eat a variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats. These healthy staples can help you fight nutrient deficiencies, without expanding your waistline.
Nutrients that become especially important as you age include protein, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin B12.
- Vitamin B12 is essential for making red blood cells and maintaining healthy brain function. Older people are more likely to have conditions that reduce stomach acid production, leading to less vitamin B12 absorption from foods. Atrophic gastritis is one condition that can cause this. Additionally, older people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet are less likely to eat rich sources of vitamin B12, since it’s more abundant in animal foods such as eggs, fish, meat, and dairy. For this reason, older people can benefit from taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Calcium plays many roles in the body. But it is most important for building and maintaining strong bones. Unfortunately, research shows that as we age, we consume less calcium in our diets. Calcium is so essential that if you don’t get enough, your body will leach it out of your bones. Coming up short on calcium has been shown to increase the risk of brittle bones and fractures. Aim to have three servings a day of milk and other dairy products. Other good dietary sources of calcium include fish, dark leafy greens such as kale and broccoli, as well as juices fortified with calcium.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, maintain bone density, and prevent osteoporosis. Some research suggests that vitamin D may also be linked to lower risk of developing certain chronic diseases, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. (However, many factors are involved in those conditions and vitamin D hasn’t been shown to prevent them.) In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling. Many of us fall short on vitamin D, which is mainly produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is found in salmon, tuna, and eggs, and in fortified foods such as cereals, milk, some yogurts, and juices. Many experts think older people need to take vitamin D supplements, since the skin becomes less efficient at producing the vitamin from sunlight as we age.
Other nutrients that may help you as you age:
- Potassium – a higher potassium intake is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and heart disease, all of which are more common among the elderly
- Omega-3 fatty acids – heart disease is the leading cause of death among the elderly. Studies have shown that Omega 3 can lower heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure.
- Magnesium – an important mineral in the body. Unfortunately, elderly people are at risk of deficiency because of poor intake, medication use and age-related changes in gut function.
- Iron – deficiency is common in elderly people. This may cause anaemia, a condition in which the blood does not supply enough oxygen to the body.
Most of these nutrients can be obtained from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and lean meats. However, people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet could benefit from taking an iron or Omega 3 supplement. I always recommend one of my Omega 3 capsules daily with food to anyone who isn’t consuming oily fish at least three times weekly. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are alternatives.
It’s important to stay hydrated at any age, since your body constantly loses water, mainly through sweat and urine. Additionally, ageing can make you prone to dehydration.
Your body detects thirst through receptors found in the brain and throughout the body. However, as you age, these receptors may become less sensitive to water changes, making it harder for them to detect thirst.
Additionally, your kidneys help your body conserve water, but they tend to lose function as you age.
That’s why it’s important to make a conscious effort to drink enough water daily. If you find drinking water a challenge, try having one to two glasses of water with each meal. Otherwise, try carrying a water bottle as you go about your day.
The NHS recommends that people over 65 should try to get 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of moderate intensity exercise every week. It’s best to do some exercise every day, spread across the day. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Exercise outdoors if you can and build up slowly.
You should also try to do activities to improve muscle strength at least twice a week. It’s common to lose muscle and strength as you age. In fact, the average adult loses 3-8% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. This loss of muscle mass and strength is known as sarcopenia. It’s a major cause of weakness, fractures, and poor health among the elderly.
Combining a protein-rich diet with resistance exercise seems to be the most effective way to fight sarcopenia.
Making a conscious effort to stay on top of your water and food intake, eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods and considering taking supplements where needed – all these actions can help you fight deficiencies and stay healthy as you get older.