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Why do so many people develop digestive problems as they grow older? One reason of course is quite simply that they are ageing, and unfortunately all our body systems become less efficient with the passing of time – c’est la vie! As far as the digestive system is concerned, over the average person’s lifetime it has to deal with no less than one hundred tons of food so it is pretty much a full-time job for decade after decade. And even if we have eaten what we consider a healthy diet throughout our lives, gut problems such as indigestion, acid reflux, bloating, inflammation, food intolerances and constipation can start to occur – as can serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.

Furthermore, our levels of stomach acid, which is critical to the digestion of protein in particular, start to decline, and just to make things even more challenging, we become less proficient at extracting and absorbing the vital nutrients in the food we eat. And digestive disturbances are not the only result as poor or inefficient digestion inevitably has a knock-on effect on our energy levels as well as how we look and feel, both physically and mentally. Digestion is often described as the control centre for the entire body, and rightly so.

So how can we support our digestive system as we grow older and help it to do its job properly? As an ex-chef, I love the fact that digestion actually starts with the senses, particularly sight and smell. We eat first both with our eyes – if a plate of food looks delicious, chances are we’ll love it, even if the flavour does not live up to expectation; and with our nose – just think of the aromas emanating from a BBQ, or brownies baking in the oven, or even the frying onions which a street vendor is preparing to go with his hamburgers! Seeing and smelling food triggers the digestive system and prepares it to assimilate and digest food.

There are countless steps you can take to avoid many of the digestive challenges which are so common nowadays, in people of all ages, and below are just three which are top of the list for my Dynamic Ageing clients..

1. An absolutely key rule for good digestion is that once we actually start eating, we need to chew everything really thoroughly before we swallow it as this sends messages further down the line that it is time to get to work – digestion actually starts in the mouth so slow down and chew, chew, chew !

2. Another key must is to look out for our microbiome or intestinal bacteria – about 100 trillion of them live inside us, outnumbering our cells to the point where we are in fact only 10% human, the other 90% of us being bugs or “flora”. Some of it supports our health, some of it is harmful so it is crucial to have more good inhabitants than bad inhabitants because they all play a hugely important role in our health. How can we encourage the goodies to thrive? They love fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fermented foods, but provide them with plenty of sugar, alcohol, deep-fried food, processed food, burned meat, soft drinks and gluten and they will rapidly be overwhelmed by the baddies. I am tempted to add coffee to this list, because it is an intestinal irritant, but the research is not totally conclusive so experiment and see whether your digestive system reacts to it.

3. Relax! Stress wreaks havoc with digestion, and lifestyle in the 21st century takes its toll. The gut and the emotions are very closely connected, and the brain and gut are in constant touch, communicating thousands of times every day. In fact, 95% of the body’s feel-good serotonin is actually found in the gut and there are actually more serotonin receptors within the digestive system than in the brain. Furthermore, the bacterial inhabitants of the gut mentioned above can create positive emotions, or anxiety and depression-like symptoms.

So take good care of your gut because once things start to go wrong in that area, related symptoms are likely to start to show up throughout your body.

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