How Healthy Aging Can Help Your Digestive System?
Optimum function of your healthy gut is the foundation to live a healthier life longer and go through healthy aging gracefully.
Stephanie, one of my patients, a healthy looking 47-year-old lady, came to my office seeking advice for healthy aging particularly related to her un-healthy gut and digestive system. She complained from her periodic abdominal discomfort due to stomach problem, especially after eating. Her digestive issue started three to four years ago. She wonders if this is aging or something else going on! She started feeling increased gas in her stomach and followed by bloating sometimes. Despite working out every day, the gas in her stomach and the bloating makes her look overweight. She is currently working part-time as a human resources manager for a huge corporation. Her husband of 25 years is quite supportive. However, with three high school age children (two are twin brothers) her home atmosphere is quite busy. She hardly has time to sit and eat, and most of the time she eats on the go. Stephanie admits to skipping meals on occasion. Now she feels bloated after meal all the time and her uncontrollable urge to belch after eating is quite embarrassing. She feels tightness in her abdomen even after a small meal. At the beginning this digestion problem was only 1-2 days per week, but now she must deal with the discomfort on a daily basis. Her tummy looks flat in the morning, but it becomes swollen over the day.
Gastrointestinal health and digestive issues are one of the most widely discussed topics of all time. It goes through everything from what you eat, how you eat, when to eat, Dos & Don’ts and digestive irregularities and diseases. All of these articles and discussions have one main goal: “To maintain a healthy gut throughout your life”. For you to achieve this goal you need a personalized well tailored health plan, to follow step by step, to address first of all your powerhouse, digestive system and later other system organs as needed.
Why do naturopathic doctors place such a high value on digestion?
Because good digestion is essential for good health!
As I mentioned before, optimum function of your gut is the foundation to live a healthier life and go through healthy aging as a rational result. Healthy digestive function has huge impact on every aspect of overall health. For instance, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract has a highly specialized nervous system network, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). ENS is a complex network of different types of neurons and nerve endings which functions as controlling and regulating digestive functions. This function in turn is being managed by a bidirectional inter-relation between central nervous system and gut environment, which explains the importance of microbiota-gut-brain axis. To make it a little more complex, there is a close interconnection between enteric nervous system and Vagus nerve. This is the crossroad between stress, Vagus nerve and your gut microbiota. It explains how stress and overthinking through your own nervous system, depress the function of your own Vagus nerve, your calmness network and affect your gut microbiota. No wonder why the impact of your mind in addition to your choice of food on your brain is that much remarkable.
Another interesting thing about digestive system is its dynamic microbiome, a collection of micro-organisms co-existing in whole digestive system and is critically important in optimal gut function, therefore, helping to provide overall health. The presence of healthy microbiome has a key role in relation with several health conditions such as allergy and asthma, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, autoimmune diseases, low immunity, metabolic disorders, obesity and diabetes type two. Noteworthy a research showed that aging can alter the gut’s microbiota leading to intestinal inflammation, which may eventually result in aging related ENS degeneration.
Moreover, the gut interface is assumed as external environment for body and the presence of an active immune system and potent defensive function is imperative to keep you immune from pathogenic factors that you receive though eating or are produced by your gut as the remnant of digested food and dead microbiota.
What to eat for a healthy gut to help with healthy aging?
Your digestive system plays a foundational role in supporting your overall health. As you reach to your midlife, you need to have a strategy to keep your digestive system in optimum health.
Aging is a process, and healthy aging is a working plan that you need to implement before you actually see and feel the changes. The goals of such a plan are to establish short-term health improvement and long-term wellbeing which leads to living longer, happier, and healthier. During the period of aging regardless of sex, due to gradual decline in hormonal level and rate of metabolism, you may experience variety of mild signs and symptoms such as digestive issues, gas & bloating, constipation, change in taste and appetite, Gallstone formation, weight gain or loss, temperature dysregulation, mood fluctuations, wake-sleep pattern disruptions, skin laxity and wrinkles, bone issues and the list goes on and on!
What are the effect of aging on digestion?
Thinning of lining of the gut and leaky gut syndrome
The lining that covers the surface of digestive tract becomes thinner and make weaker intercellular connection due to reduction in repairing, regenerating, and rejuvenating capacity of collagen. These small collagen filaments play many crucial roles in protecting your body. Among them, making strong intercellular junction is crucial for keeping integrity of your gut interface against external invaders, such as the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi protozoa) and toxic materials. This weak lining cannot keep its integrity as it should and develops gaps between cells. Then the opportunistic invaders can penetrate easily and not only activate your intestinal immune system but also eventually find their way to your internal body contributing to your multiple systemic symptoms. By now you may realize the meaning of the term leaky gut syndrome!
Change in the gut microflora.
Another outcome of the weakness of gut is unbalanced microbial flora of gut that we call it “dysbiosis”. The problem is either overgrowth of invasive bacteria or reduction in the population of beneficial normal bacteria of intestine. The consequent symptoms are the same, bloating, abdominal discomfort, gas production, diarrhea or even constipation. If this pathology happens in small intestine, it is called SIBO (small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth).
Food hypersensitivity, food allergy and aging
The increased permeability of your gut let the microbes and undigested food pass through the wall of intestine and provokes the local immune system in the intestinal wall. The result is inflammation which can end up to a food allergy. Next time if you eat the same food, you will experience a hypersensitivity reaction to the food that you didn’t have problem with previously.
Constipation is one of the most common complaints of aging population. It is a multifactorial problem that hormonal fluctuation and lower rate of metabolism are only part of the root causes. Pelvic floor relaxation, low hydration, low fiber diet, low vegetables and fresh fruit intake, lower duration of physical activity, lack of activity, weaker muscles, some medications and multidrug are other factors that contribute to progression of constipation.
Therefore, the signs and symptoms of aging is subtle and not as dramatic as you may notice. It is imperative to your health that you understand the process of gradual changes that happens to your body during this transitional phase and learn how to adapt an age oriented nutritional habit in order to nourish your body and keep your gut healthy despite all these inevitable changes.
There are two questions that my patients ask me frequently, where should I start to improve my health while I am growing older anyway? Why should I emphasize on digestion health in my healthy aging treatment plan? The answer is simply, support gut first! Because your digestive system builds the foundation of your health and the food that you eat is the building blocks for whatever your goals are.
To make it better understandable, let’s explain briefly about the job of your digestive tract. Your gastrointestinal tract has four main functions.
1. Transportation: meaning, to carry nutrients,
2. Digestion: meaning, to break down food into absorbable parts,
3. Absorption: meaning to uptake the nutrients
4. Detoxification: meaning, to expel the toxins out of your body.
I always take my chance in here to explain how teeth health is helpful in preparation of food for digestion. Teeth by chewing and breaking down food particles into smaller pieces has a huge role in preparing food for better absorption. No need to emphasize that, taking good care of your teeth and having a healthy set of teeth and gum has a huge impact on proper function of your digestive system. Therefore, meeting your dentist on a regular basis should be one of the items on your to-do-list for healthy aging management plan.
Food after mouth finds its way down through a tube named esophagus to your stomach and eventually ends up to your intestine, where the nutrients that were prepared along the way, get absorbed. A healthy gut under balanced hormonal interaction has a proper motility, enough secretory glands to function on time and appropriate defensive immune system to keep you safe from any external invasion coming in through your mouth. The result of this harmonized orchestra is proper absorption of essential nutrient for your healthy daily function, your brain creativity, and your refreshing night sleep, without you even feeling that all these organs were working congruently to keep you healthy and happy.
What is a naturopath's take on gut health?
Practicing naturopathy is based on the principle of determining the root cause of events and conditions. For this reason, naturopathic doctors spend a significant amount of time on your first visit, taking a comprehensive medical history from you. Then to rule in or out underlying aetiologies, functional tests may be required that are usually useful. For instance, there are comprehensive lab tests for food sensitivities and allergies, microbial overgrowth, imbalance in the intestine, or hormonal issues affecting your gut health, among other things, are very helpful in determining the root causes of your current concerns.
Fifteen Naturopathic approach to gut health:
1. Take care of your teeth.
2. Pay attention to your gum.
3. Stop smoking.
4. Reduce alcohol intake.
5. Reduce your daily coffee intake.
6. Stay active during the day.
7. Wake up by the sun rise and go out to the nature and breath fresh air
8. Chew your food thoroughly.
9. Give yourself time to eat.
10.practice mediation before a meal to calm down.
12.Eat a predominantly wholefoods diet.
13.Remove refined sugar, processed foods, and smoked food.
14.Include fresh fruit and vegetables in your daily diet.
15. Keep a food and digestive symptom diary, to identify the probable food sensitivity or allergy.
In my practice, I tend to use support of herbals and botanical medicine to address different health issues. In addition to herbs, nutritional supplements are my second to go in case of deficiency found in my patient presentation and in combination, most of the time they address many different health issues including digestive problems.
Healthy aging depends on healthy Gut. They are interrelated in many levels and we can help profoundly through lifestyle adjustment, functional dietary support, sleep pattern modulation, stress reduction practices, exercise prescription, botanicals, and nutritional supplements.
What will happen when you come for a visit?
The first visit that we call history taking can be in person or virtual (phone or video). During 1 – 1 ½ hours visit, we firstly go over your health concerns and take a thorough history to get a holistic understanding of your condition.
In the second visit which is 30-40 minutes visit we do a complete whole body physical examination. Either in first visit or in the second visit we will provide a lab requisition to you.
In your third visit which is usually few days after receiving your lab exam we review the result of lab exam and setup a treatment plan for you.
The lab exam and blood draw are done by a lab technician in a lifelabs center of your choice.
To book your initial appointment you can call at 416-249-4567 or send an email to email@example.com or book online athttps://app.outsmartemr.com/online-booking/3252/a3y8k2.
* Disclaimer: The information in this article is property of Dr. Masoumeh Shayesteh Manesh, Naturopathic Doctor and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any diseases or promote any products or services mentioned on this website.