As we age, our bodies often remind us we are getting older. While other parts of our body may start to show signs of aging, our digestive systems are not always affected as much by age as we may believe. However, there may be certain foods you once enjoyed with ease that are now causing stomach upset if you overindulge. And while food intolerances are always a possibility, these new symptoms do not necessarily mean we have developed intolerances for certain foods.
Certain changes to digestion do occur as we age. These include: 1. Slowed digestive response. As the digestion response slows it requires more time to break down the food in our stomachs. As a result, we can feel full for a much longer period of time after consuming a large meal, which may also make us feel bloated. 2. Less elasticity of the stomach. The stomach also becomes less elastic, meaning rather than being able to consume an entire pizza, like we could when we were teenagers, we are only able to eat a few slices before we start to feel full. 3. Lactase production decreases. As we age, the body slows how much lactase (the enzyme that breaks down the sugar, lactose, in milk) is produced, which can cause some of us to become lactose intolerant or start to feel the effects of consuming too many dairy products, like gas and intestinal cramping. Contrary to popular belief, lactose intolerance is not a “condition”. It's a normal process of aging, and your body's attempt to preserve resources (since milk is for babies, not adults).
4. Bacteria growth expands into the small intestine. While normal “gut” bacteria are essential to proper digestion, as we age, it is not uncommon for the bacteria to extend beyond the large intestine and into the small intestine and can make it seem like we have food intolerances (commonly termed SIBO). 5. Contractions weaken or slow in the large intestine. The feeling of constipation is not uncommon as we get older and is caused by this age-related factor. 6. Illnesses – Age-related reduced immune responses can affect the digestive system. 7. Medications – Certain medications can affect the digestive system and could have side effects similar to symptoms of food intolerances. 8. Failing to Change Eating/Dietary Habits – As we get older, what we eat, how much, and when are directly related to digestive problems sometimes mistaken as intolerances to food. Going back to our original question, the primary type of food intolerance we may develop as we get older is an enzymatic intolerance to certain foods, such as dairy products. This type of food intolerance is where the body no longer produces the right amount of enzymes needed to properly digest the food. In conclusion, if you are experiencing digestive problems related to specific foods, it does not necessarily always mean you have developed an intolerance to a food or food group. It may in fact mean your body has developed an inability to properly digest it. As a result, it may be time for some dietary changes to maintain a healthy digestive system. If some of the above points are affecting you, it is best to speak with a naturopathic doctor to determine the underlying to your concerns. You can book an appointment for a full health assessment with Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND at her naturopathic clinic in Toronto by calling 647.351.7282 today!