Getting older is inevitable, there’s not much we can do about that (although scientists are trying hard, I’m sure!). However, while your gut health may change, it doesn’t have to go down the toilet just because you’re getting ‘old’.
Remember what I’m always saying, common doesn’t equal normal! There’s lots to be done with food, how you eat it, nutrients and herbs to help keep your gut health schmicko. Let’s dive in…
Hypochlorhydria + low enzymes
Now hypochlorhydria is a fancy way of saying low stomach acid. With age often comes reduced amounts of stomach, pancreatic and other digestive secretions.
Last blog I talked about why you don’t tolerate meat anymore. And this was the poster-child for hypochlorhydria and low pancreatic enzymes. Go check it out if you haven’t already, there’s lots of info and tips for you there.
Here’s a little something to blow your mind today. You may end up with reflux (indigestion, heartburn, dyspepsia) because of LOW stomach acid. Yep, I meant low! When there’s low acids and enzymes, food doesn’t get broken down as quickly as it should. While it’s hanging around or moving through the digestive system in larger chunks that is desirable, there’s opportunity for it to be fermented. Fermentation equals gas, which pushes some of your stomach acid up through the trapdoor in to your oesophagus. Hey presto, burning and burping.
Gut function = gut health
The way your long tube of intestines works isn’t spared by ageing. There’s lots of muscles around the tube, they contract and relax to help move food down from your stomach to the anus for elimination. This action is called peristalsis. Studies in primates show that the integrity and the peristaltic action of the gut decline with age, regardless of diet. It’s likely similar for us humans too.
Look out, your crew of critters is imbalanced
Dysbiosis is the term used to describe an imbalance in your microbiome. Your microbiome is the collective term for the bacteria, yeasts and funghi that live inside your large intestine. There’s more of them than there are your own cells, so you want to look after them and keep them happy! Avoid a mutiny – feed them what they love (more on that here and below).
Gut dysbiosis and lowered diversity are linked with many chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and symptoms like reduced cognition, brain fog, poor memory and fatigue.
Reduced digestive secretions (enzymes and acids) in the stomach and small intestine can contribute to dysbiosis. Without the right amount of acids and enzymes the pH in the small intestine is altered, and can create the right conditions for the baddies to take hold ad over grow. When your meal isn’t broken down, it sits longer in the small and large intestines, fermenting and again altering the pH and microbe balance.
Now it’s not all one-way here. It’s not just reduced digestion contributing to dysbiosis. Dysbiotic microbiome can set the stage for weakened digestion and reduced nutrient absorption. That might feel overwhelming, but there’s some simple things to do to help improve digestion and protect the balance of your microbiome.
Diversity is always good
Now it isn’t just an imbalance of the worng microbes that can spell disaster for your gut health. Did you know that the diversity – the number of different species (types) of microbes – is also important for gut health. Research shows that diversity decreases over time because of changes in hormones like oestrogen and loss of muscle strength and function. (There’s muscles all along the intestinal tube that contract and relax to help move food along from the stomach to the anus for elimination.)
Lower diversity of microbes impacts the lining of your intestines. Because the good microbes play an essential role in maintaining the integrity (how well it’s made) of the intestinal wall by producing anti-inflammatory compounds like short chain fatty acids. The short chain fatty acids reduce inflammation in the gut, but also the pH, creating the perfect conditions for the good microbes to flourish while also crowding out the baddies. A nice strong intestinal wall helps keep pathogens, allergens and undigested food from crossing through in to the bloodstream. It’s like a fortress wall.
Medications and gut health
Painkillers, anti-depressants, statins, and drugs used to manage diabetes (metformin) may impact the abundance of different gut microbes. Please don’t stop taking medications without discussing with the prescribing doctor. If you would like to take a different approach to these issues and talk about natural alternatives to these drugs, then please get in touch. Metabolic Balance is particularly fabulous for helping to reduce inflammation and restore the gut and body to balance.
Don’t forget the adult party drug – alcohol
Controversial, I know, but alcohol is irritating and inflammatory to your gut health. It changes your microbiome too. Your body knows alcohol isn’t a grat thing to keep around in the body, so it prioritises its elimination. This means your liver drops its other jobs – like making and storing nutrients, glucose, and hormones – in favour of eliminating alcohol. So let’s keep it to the current Government guidelines for alcohol. Saving up all your drinks and binging on the weekend seems like a great idea (see, I know what you’re thinking!), but actually does more damage to your body, gut and liver than drinking those drinks over a few nights of the week.
Oh and there’s stress too (of course)
I’ve talked about stress and its impact on gut health and digestive function. A lot! Now it’s not a unique occurence to midlife, that’s for sure. Sadly, even kids are over-busy and stressed out. As you age, and with the other factors I’ve talked about in this blog, you’re more susceptible to the impact of stress on digestion and gut health. If you’d like to know more, skip back to my last blog, for a short description of stress and what it does to your gut health.
Chew your food
I know, you got told this so often when you were a kid. What was it, 20, 30 or more times per mouthful? Well, I won’t prescribe a specific number of chews, but I would encourage you to put your cutlery down in between mouthfuls so you aren’t sub-consciously feeling rushed to eat. Check out my blog on mindful eating for more on how to optimise your eating space to look after your gut health and digestion.
I’d like to acknowledge here that things like sensitive teeth, loose teeth, dentures, crown or caps can make chewing a little tricky. If this is the case, then please see a dentist and get the situation rectified. But also think about eating slow-cooked meats in the way of soups, stews, and casseroles.
Cooking in bone broth or drinking it with your meal can enhance the available nutrients (like protein) to your body. the protein in bone broth is easily absorbed as it’s already broken down in to amino acids. Your body doesn’t have to do much of anything to be able to utilise the protein in making cells and tissues. You don’t have to make your own broth, I love the Best of the Bone broth pastes, you can see them here and buy them in my online store.
Mix it up a little
Humans are creatures of habit, and your body loves that to some degree. Now while eating meals at a similar time each day is great, getting set in food habits or patterns is not supporting your gut health. For example, eating low fibre, high refined carbohydrate foods like white bread, pasta, baked goods and soft drinks each day. Eating mostly beige, white and brown foods doesn’t provide the diversity of plant chemicals that your microbes love.
What your Microbes love
Your little critters like a variety of brightly coloured vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. Research shows that people whose diet is mostly made up of fibre-rich foods (like those found in the traditional Mediterranean diet) have greater microbiome diversity and generally better gut and overall health. Making sure you eat 5-6 cups of colourful vegetables (not including starches) each day is a great foundation for gut health. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat starchy vegetables like potatoes, but don’t count them in your 6 cups. Do you think you could do this?
Any easy way to make it happen is to spread your veg across the day. Having some with breakfast, lunch and dinner makes it less overwhelming.
Before you go
So here we are at the end of this week’s blog! Are you thinking maybe one or more of these things is an issue for you? If you are, then please reach out and let’s have a chat about how Naturopathy and I can support you and your digestive system. Digestive problems are really common as people age, but they don’t have to be normal!
Your gut and digestive health has a big impact on your hormones, especially in your 40s when the road to menopause begins for many women. Enhancing your intestinal and digestive health may help reduce your symptoms and improve your experience of perimenopause. Less chaos and more calm!
I love helping women in their 40s navigate chaotic mood-swings and changing hormones, so they can feel calm, balanced and in control – to make it through perimenopause without ruining their lives!
Sound like you? Please book a free 15-minute discovery call to see how I may help you reclaim your health and feel more like you did before kids.