Conquering Common Age-Related Gut Changes with Smart Food Choices

Conquering Common Age-Related Gut Changes with Smart Food Choices

Published on Wednesday, May 01, 2024 by Kitty Broihier

Oh, my aging gut! What to expect…and how food can help 

Older may be wiser, but it doesn’t make for improved gut function. Have you noticed more bloating, constipation, or indigestion as you age? Not only are these conditions annoying, they can be painful, too. However, while it’s true that you can’t stop time, you can take steps to help tame your tummy troubles no matter what your age. 

Many research studies, including the ones cited in this article, compare older people with younger ones. In this article, I’m focusing on the 65+ set. However, it’s important to realize that these conditions do not happen at a specific age, of course, but develop over time. And since we are all aging, well, you get the point.

Deciphering Your Digestive Changes

It’s normal to experience GI changes as you age. Your gastrointestinal (GI) system has many jobs—lots of stuff happens there! Aging impacts all its functions, including digestion, motility, enzyme and hormone production, and absorption. These changes show up in various parts of the GI tract.

  • In the stomach, common age-related conditions include: 

These natural changes, combined with genetic influences and the impacts of diet and lifestyle, can add up to a greater likelihood of digestive problems, including peptic ulcers, gastric ulcers, and atrophic gastritis, as well as reflux. 

  • Slowed motility in the small intestine isn’t typically due to aging. It’s more commonly a result of specific medications or combinations of medications, as well as the presence of other diseases such as diabetes and chronic renal failure. Nevertheless, slowed intestinal motility and typically decreased hydrochloric acid production in older people are two primary factors associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) risk. The prevalence of SIBO is significantly higher in older people than in younger people.

Importance of Hydration for Digestion

We tend to think of water as necessary for keeping our joints lubricated, our skin soft, and—most obviously—preventing dehydration. However, the importance of adequate water for healthy digestion is frequently overlooked. 

Getting the recommended amount of water benefits GI function by:

  • creating adequate saliva, which starts the digestion process
  • helping break down the food you eat
  • providing liquid for the transport of nutrients and removal of waste
  • helping to soften stool, helping prevent constipation

Unfortunately, older people are more susceptible to dehydration, and in general, they also have a decreased sense of thirst. This adds to the need for increased attention to getting plenty of fluid. New hydration guidelines suggest that older adults should consume the beverages they prefer to meet their needs. This means that it doesn’t have to be water, but of course, water is encouraged. 

Nutrition Tips for Age-Defying Digestion

Keeping your gut happy and functioning at a high level means making smart food and beverage choices. In general, good nutrition is the same for people of all ages: getting plenty of fruits, vegetables, and legumes, opting for whole grains when possible, drinking adequate amounts of water, and keeping high-fat, high-sugar foods in the “once in a while” category. 

Beyond these basics, however, there are some nutrition moves you can make to combat age-related digestive woes: 

Don’t forget that for good gut health, it’s not all about the food. Other lifestyle habits can help nourish a healthy digestive system, such as practicing mindful eating and getting regular exercise.  And if you have any helpful tips, share them in the comments below—your ideas might help others!


  1. Dumic, I., Nordin, T., Jecmenica, M., Stojkovic Lalosevic, M., Milosavljevic, T., & Milovanovic, T. (2019). Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders in Older Age. Canadian journal of gastroenterology & hepatology, 2019, 6757524.
  2. Firth, M., Prather, C. (2002). Gastrointestinal motility problems in the elderly patient. Gastroenterology, 122(6), P1688-1700.
  3. Kim, S., & Jazwinski, S. M. (2018). The Gut Microbiota and Healthy Aging: A Mini-Review. Gerontology, 64(6), 513–520.
  4. Li, S., Xiao, X., & Zhang, X. (2023). Hydration Status in Older Adults: Current Knowledge and Future Challenges. Nutrients, 15(11), 2609.

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