It's not unusual for your digestive system to change as you get older, with new problems occurring with out warning, especially with hormonal changes. Common complaints include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, food intolerance, diverticular disease, bowel discomfort and changes in bowel patterns. It also pays to make sure that these symptoms aren't caused by a more serious underlying condition - if in doubt, consult your doctor.
But whatever your issue, there are plenty of easy ways - including natural solutions - to relieve symptoms and live life with a comfy tummy.
Pain, weight gain and nausea
"Lower oestrogen levels in older women means that connective tissue may be thinner, including the lining of the digestive tract, bringing discomfort after you eat," says Alison Cullen, nutritional therapist at A.Vogel. Her first recommendation is simply to chew your food properly. "Hormonal changes also affect the liver, leading to weight gain and nausea," says Alison, "so stay away from fatty and fried foods and consider a milk thistle supplement, like the A.Vogel Milk Thistle Complex."
Another alternative remedy is acupuncture. "When we get digestive issues, it's because the flow of energy (Qi) is interrupted or incorrect…bringing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or acid reflux," says Rhiannon Griffiths, a member of the British Acupuncture Council. A therapist can use acupuncture points on the legs, feet, hands, arms or tummy to help ease the problems.
Another problem that affects us as we get older is constipation, a condition exacerbated by lack of dietary fibre, not drinking enough water and a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise can prevent a ‘slow and sluggish’ digestive process by speeding up the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine, and by stimulating intestinal muscles. "Resistance exercise increases the metabolic rate – meaning the body processes the energy in food more effectively," says personal trainer Matt Roberts. "Being active also encourages us to drink more water, and a hydrated body prevents constipation."
IBS and diverticular disease
IBS symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating and a change of bowel habit. While the cause of IBS isn’t fully understood, experts believe it’s related to gut sensitivity. Follow the ‘Golden Rules’ recommends Emer Delaney, a leading London dietitian and advisor to BBC 1’s ‘Rip Off Food’. "I have a set of golden rules," says Emer Delaney, a leading London dietitian and advisor to BBC 1’s Rip Off Food. "These include regular meals, not leaving periods between eating and restricting caffeine, fizzy and alcoholic drinks. Rule out anything more serious (such as ovarian cancer) with a visit to your GP and consider help from a specialist dietitian."
Examining your diet could also help to treat diverticular disease, a digestive condition that affects the large intestine with small bulges or pockets developing in the lining of the intestine. Emer believes eating high-fibre foods including beans and pulses, granary breads, brown rice and pasta, nuts, bran-based breakfast cereals and fruit and veg, should help ease the symptoms of this common condition, such as lower abdominal pain and bloating.
The risk of colo-rectal cancer also increases with age, with 80 per cent of bowel cancers evident in the over 60’s. "It’s imperative to minimise risk by looking at diet and lifestyle, and taking targeted supplements," says Linda Booth, who sits on the Executive Committee of UK charity the IBS Network. "The most important supplement for the over 50s is a probiotic that contains both lactobacilli and bifidi strains." She also recommends eating more fibre or taking a supplement such as Tummies Fibre tablets.
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