Bowels not working how they use to? Exploring the Causes of Age-related Constipation

Bowels not working how they use to? Exploring the Causes of Age-related Constipation

What causes simple age-related constipation?

Defecation is the final stage of the digestive process, and while one might think that digestion begins in the mouth, there is an important (but often forgotten) step—the senses. The ability to taste and smell is an important part of appetite...so to speak, getting the "juice flowing". [1][2]Many of us have experienced the mouthwatering aroma of a Sunday roast or the mouthwatering tartness of fresh summer berries. Just thinking about delicious food is enough to release those salivary enzymes.

These senses become dulled in our later years, whether due to age, disease, or certain medications. [3] In addition to this, the environment in which the food is consumed, and even the food itself, may lose its appeal. This is especially important for those in aged care facilities or cooking for one person. [4]The researchers propose that changes in sensory function may influence food choices in older adults and, in turn, nutrition-related health outcomes, including constipation. [4]

In addition to the senses, age-related functional decline affects general gut motility (eg, swallowing, gastric emptying), digestive secretions (eg, gastric acid, digestive enzymes, bile), and mucosal barrier function.[5] And, like most health imbalances, dietary and lifestyle factors can have an impact on gut health, including:

Medications

Dehydration

Nutritional deficit

Reduced physical activity[6]

All of these can affect the overall health and function of the gut, making us more prone to constipation.

Gut flora and constipation

In addition to the aging process itself, the composition of the adult gut microbiome may be influenced by many of the factors described above.[8] A stable, balanced, naturally occurring gut microbiome benefits the health of people of all ages, and research shows that this concept also applies to people with constipation.[8]

 

A holistic and preventative approach

There are many available constipation treatments you can discuss with your health professional, but as the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. So, with that in mind, we've developed some simple, comprehensive strategies you can implement at home to help improve gut function and microbial health, and reduce symptoms of constipation later in life.

Increase your daily fibre

An old man, but a good man. Fiber is a tried and true remedy for constipation. In addition to increasing stool bulk, dietary fiber, especially galactooligosaccharides, has been shown to increase the growth of local beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. A good start is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.[7]

Drink more water 

Don't be a cactus! Dehydration is associated with constipation in older adults. Gradually increasing water intake may help improve colonic transit time, especially when consuming more daily fiber.[8],[9]

Enjoy a meal with friends and family

Get your guts excited about food again and enjoy a special meal with your loved ones when you get the chance.

*Make sure you include extra veggies.

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If seeking specific advice on supporting your gut health, talk to your health professional. 

[1] Sergi G, Bano G, Pizzato S, Veronese N, Manzato E. Taste loss in the elderly: Possible implications for dietary habits. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3684-9.

[2] Kitamura, A., Torii, K., Uneyama, H. and Niijima, A., 2010. Role played by afferent signals from olfactory, gustatory and gastrointestinal sensors in regulation of autonomic nerve activity. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin33(11), pp.1778-1782.

[3] Whitelock E, Ensaff H. On Your Own: Older Adults' Food Choice and Dietary Habits. Nutrients. 2018 Mar 27;10(4):413. doi: 10.3390/nu10040413. PMID: 29584644; PMCID: PMC5946198.

[4] Sergi G, Bano G, Pizzato S, Veronese N, Manzato E. Taste loss in the elderly: Possible implications for dietary habits. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3684-9.

[5] Grassi M, Petraccia L, Mennuni G, Fontana M, Scarno A, Sabetta S, Fraioli A. Changes, functional disorders, and diseases in the gastrointestinal tract of elderly. Nutricion hospitalaria. 2011;26(4):659-68.

[6]Martínez-Martínez MI, Calabuig-Tolsá R, Cauli O. The effect of probiotics as a treatment for constipation in elderly people: a systematic review. Archives of gerontology and geriatrics. 2017 Jul 1;71:142-9.

[7] Shah A, Morrison M, Holtmann G. A novel treatment for patients with constipation: Dawn of a new age for translational microbiome research?. Indian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2018 Sep;37(5):388-91.

[8] De Giorgio R, Ruggeri E, Stanghellini V, Eusebi LH, Bazzoli F, Chiarioni G. Chronic constipation in the elderly: a primer for the gastroenterologist. BMC gastroenterology. 2015 Dec;15(1):1-3.

[9] Bouras EP, Tangalos EG. Chronic constipation in the elderly. Gastroenterology Clinics. 2009 Sep 1;38(3):463-80.


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