Digestive issues?

some tips

This fact sheet aims to provide information and tips related to digestive issues, particularly for older
adults.

What are common digestive issues?

As we age, bodily functions gradually deteriorate, including the digestive tract. Some digestive tract diseases can occur in people of all ages e.g. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), however, symptoms can worsen with age. Age-related issues that may occur include: dry mouth, reduced taste, constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux, ulcers, slowing of movement through the digestive tract, reduced ability to process tough fibres, and issues from medication (e.g. nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can increase risk of stomach bleeding and ulcers). Age-related digestive tract diseases include a higher risk of digestive tract cancers (e.g. oesophageal, stomach, colon) and diverticulosis.

Getting advice

Advice for healthy ageing is to consume a varied,  balanced diet based on the “Eatwell Guide” to ensure consuming recommended amounts of all nutrients however, age related change, and for those who have/have had digestive diseases, following the advice can be problematic (particularly for fibre intake).  If you have a disease, or significant issue, consult your GP and/or qualified dietician/nutritionist for more detailed advice.

Did you know?

About half of people age 60+ have diverticulosis.

This is when small pouches in the lining of the colon bulge out along weak spots in the intestinal wall. Many people have no symptoms however, others may have pain, nausea, gas, bloating, cramps, and constipation.

Did you know?

The best way to age healthily is to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle; some of the tips and recommendations for preventing digestive issues are the same as for helping to manage the symptoms of those already suffering from digestive issues.

  • Cut back on fatty and junk foods
  • Avoid fizzy drinks
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat and drink slowly
  • Avoid late night eating
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol
  • Exercise more
  • Manage your stress
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners, particularly those that cause excess gas e.g. fructose and sorbitol

Eating some fibrous foods can cause discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation and/or nausea/vomiting. We need to eat around 30g of fibre a day for healthy ageing as too little fibre can cause some of the very digestive issues that make eating fibre more difficult, creating a vicious cycle. If you are experiencing discomfort/adverse symptoms, try some of the following tips to ensure you are obtaining required nutrients while reducing adverse effects.

Discomfort from tough skinned fruit and vegetables?

Remove their skins

e.g. peppers, apples, pears, aubergines, tomatoes and old potatoes. Avoid small tough skinned fruit and vegetables e.g. sweetcorn, small dried fruit.Buy tinned whole foods and chop yourself e.g. tinned plum tomatoes instead of chopped; the product is more likely to be better quality and it is easier to remove any remaining skin.

Discomfort from raw vegetables?

Use cooked vegetables

they are easier to digest. Steaming vegetables, rather than boiling, helps preserve nutrients.
You can even use cold cooked vegetables for salads e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, asparagus! Just add your usual salad dressing.

Pain with wind and bloating?

Do not be tempted to cut out whole sections of food groups.

Individuals react differently to potentially gas producing foods e.g. beans, onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts,cauliflower, wholegrains, and natural sugars (such as lactose in milk). For foods causing you pain, replace with suitable alternatives based on advice from the“Eatwell Guide

Pain and nausea when eating grains and seeds?

Avoid small grains and seeds.

This is particularly for diverticulosis, as seeds can get caught in the intestinal small pouches formed with diverticulosis, leading to inflammation (diverticulitis).