Along with the exhilaration of freedom from responsibilities after retirement, and eagerly looking forward to doing all that you didn’t have time for earlier, getting older brings with it many health issues too, unfortunately. Not the least of which is digestive health. It is said that majority of diseases are connected to the stomach – the accumulated result of our lifestyle choices over the years. Maintaining digestive health is of crucial importance for overall wellness. Though such problems can occur at any age, a large percentage of seniors have one or more age-related digestive tract disease.
The Digestive system in the human body comprises of organs responsible for breaking down food into its components for the body to use. As we continue to grow older, the Gastrointestinal Tract undergoes anatomical changes, and the possibility of diseases connected to it rises. Let us explore the various diseases and how they are caused.
Diet – an unhealthy, high in fats and carbs, unbalanced diet, low in fibre, fresh vegetables and fruit content, can cause crucial vitamin deficiencies, leading to digestive problems.
Sedentary lifestyle – insufficient physical activity, combined with a slower metabolism leads to weight gain and obesity, which in turn may cause many diseases, like diabetes, leading to GI problems like gastroesophageal reflex disease-GERD.
Medication – NSAID-non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can cause damage to the upper digestive tract in older adults with risk of gastric ulcers and stomach bleeding increasing. Osteoarthritic and diabetic drugs can cause dyspepsia, nausea, diarrhoea, bloating and change in bowel habits. Tricyclic anti-depressants and narcotic drugs. Even some common medicines can cause constipation.
Other Diseases - Parkinson’s disease, Hypothyroidism, Stroke, intestinal obstructions from Surgery, Diabetes can cause constipation.
Oral health – ill-fitting dentures, improper brushing of teeth, insufficient chewing of food.
Dehydration – insufficient water and liquid intake can cause stomach problems.
Alcohol and Stress – can have direct and indirect adverse effect on G I problems.
TYPES and SYMPTOMS
Constipation – rectal pressure, straining, abdominal pain, bloating – can lead to poor appetite, back pain, piles, general malaise.
Diarrhoea – food infection, medication side-effects, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance, celiac disease.
Functional Dyspepsia – chronic disorder of the upper digestive tract. Abdominal pain, nausea, indigestion, belching, bloating.
GERD – gastroesophageal reflex disease-upper digestive tract disorder. Heartburn, acid reflux, regurgitation, sore throat, chronic coughing, bad breath. Due to caffeine, alcohol, large meals before bedtime, lack of exercise.
Dysphagia – difficulty in swallowing - the esophagus is the tube connecting our mouth to the stomach. Poor oral health, ill-fitting dentures, not chewing food properly.
Diverticular disease – small, sac-like pouches in the colon, bulge out along weak spots in the intestinal wall. Two kinds – Diverticulosis-not inflamed but diverticula present. Diverticulitis-inflamed or infected. Fever, intense pain in lower left abdomen, bleeding, bloating, diarrhoea.
Faecal Incontinence – age-related changes in the physical structure and function of the Pelvic floor. Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, constipation.
Bowel habits – vary from person to person. Should be regular, comfortable, should not have to strain.
Lifestyle and Dietary modifications – being active- walking, gardening, yoga, dancing, playing games. Other workouts of choice. Weight and stress management. Meditation.
An appropriate diet can prevent and control G I Tract symptoms associated with aging. Plenty of fibre-rich foods, whole grains, raw vegetables, variety of fruits. Probiotics like fresh curds. Variety of proteins like soyabeans, brown bread, masoor dal, fish etc. Nuts and seeds. Eat smaller meals and do not lie down immediately after eating. Reduce salt intake. Avoid refined flour products – junk food, rice, potatoes, chillies, high fat content, caffeine, alcohol. Take vitamins D, B-12, iron, zinc supplements. Drink milk and have milk products if you are not lactose intolerant, otherwise take calcium supplements.
Drink plenty of water - lemon, barley and juices. Stay well-hydrated.
Though risk of developing digestive diseases and disorders definitely increase as you grow older, a well-balanced, mindfully prepared diet, being active, exercising, staying positive and calm – and consulting the doctor whenever faced with any discomfort or doubts shall keep problems at bay.
IMPORTANT – please check with your doctor regarding any medication for other diseases or health-related disorders, for side-effects that could impact your digestive health.
AYURVEDA REMEDIES FOR DIGESTIVE DISORDERS
Constipation – Herbs
Isabgole – cures constipation and also reduces cholesterol and regulates bowels. At night.
Hartaki – take one every day.
Nisoth – the leaves and roots are used as a laxative.
Avoid processed foods, refined flour, highly oily food, red meat, caffeine, dairy products.
ACIDITY – Herbs
Yastimadhu – an antacid that reduces acidity and hyperacidity. Prevents ulcer formation and relieves chest congestion.
Lavang – chew one to cure acidity, bad breath, toothache.
Amla – use one in food.
Avoid oily and spicy and sour foods. Have fibre-rich food items.
FLATULENCE – Herbs
Adrak – have adrak tea in morning and evening too. Cures flatulence and congestion.
Hing – add as tempering to dal or vegetables. Reduces flatulence.
Avoid fatty foods, pulses, beans. Have curd, lassi – aids digestion and improves the condition of stomach and colon.
STOMACH ULCER – Herbs
Alsarex, Ayucid, Ayupatrika Churna. A combination of herbs that will cure it.
Avoid keeping your stomach empty and consume cold milk to soothe. Avoid spicy, oily, pungent food.
GASTRITIS – Herbs
Rice, Coconut, Marigold, Potatoes. Duodenal ulcer in the small intestine called duodenum or Esophageal ulcer in the esophagus are gastric ulcers which cause burning stomach pain, nausea and weight loss.
Avoid spicy food that cause it. Have liquids like water, juices. After several days, have fruits and vegetable broth or soups.
GAS and INDIGESTION – Herbs
Ajwain, Adrak, Amla, Laung, Kali mirch.
First drink only water and juices to flush out toxins. Then only fruits to ease the stomach. Then have a diet of whole grains, fresh vegetables and nuts.
DIARRHOEA – Herbs
Kutajghan bati, Kutajarishta, Issabale. Herbal formulas.
Have fresh vegetable soups to replenish liquid loss.
TRIPHALA CHURNA – at bedtime with warm water. This is a great formula for even healthy people to take daily.
IMPORTANT - Please do consult a Vaidachaarya for further guidance.
Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to keeping your digestive system functioning smoothly. By and large, all that is good and beneficial for elders generally is also applicable for digestive health and holistic well-being.
Do get regular check-ups and inform your doctor about any symptoms or doubts.
Stay healthy and happy.
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