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Does Aging Affect the Digestive System?

July 9, 2009

lactoseBelieve it or not, aging affects the digestive system in many ways. Food is emptied from the stomach more slowly and the stomach can not hold as much food because it is less elastic. But in most people, these changes are too slight to be noticed. However, changes in the digestive system can cause problems in some people.  Problems in the digestive tract which produces less lactase, an enzyme the body needs to digest milk. As a result, people are more likely to develop intolerance of dairy products.

Which leads to the question: What is lactose intolerance? It is the inability to metabolize lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products, because the required enzyme lactase is absent in the intestinal system or its availability is lowered. It is estimated that 75% of adults worldwide show some decrease in lactase activity during adulthood. Like most illnesses, the digestive disorder affects some populations more than others:

75% of all African-Americans and Native Americans are lactose intolerant.
95% of Asian-Americans are lactose intolerant.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
The following are the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Common symptoms, which begin about 30 minutes to two hours after consuming foods or beverages containing lactose, may include:

How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
The most common diagnostic tests are used to measure the absorption of lactose in the digestive system include the following:

Lactose tolerance test
This test measures the absorption of lactose in the digestive system. Beginning with fasting before the test and then drinking a liquid that contains lactose, several blood samples are taken over a two-hour period to measure the person’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level. The blood glucose test indicates how well the body is able to digest lactose.

Hydrogen breath test
The patient drinks a lactose-heavy beverage, and the breath is analyzed at regular intervals to measure the amount of hydrogen. Undigested lactose in the colon is fermented by bacteria, resulting in the production of various gases, including hydrogen. When high levels of hydrogen are present in the breath, improper digestion of lactose is diagnosed.

Now that you have a better understanding of lactose intolerance, I encourage each of you to take control and learn more about your health status. According to research it is suggested that many dairy products, certain breads, oils and fats should be reduced, but fresh fruits and vegetables are strongly encouraged.

A good health starts with good nutrition and exercise.  “Buy Fresh from Florida” fruits and vegetables and be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

Sources: University of Maryland Medical Center & The Merck Manual of Health & Aging

Photo courtesy of Flickr

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 2:47 pm

    interesting material, where such topics do you find? I will often go

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