Age affects the way a woman's body digests and utilizes nutritional foods. As you age, your metabolism will slow and your energy requirements will decrease, so a balanced diet is important. Hormonal changes can lower your metabolism as well. Natural aging or certain medications can diminish your sense of smell and taste, which can make food unappealing. It may be more difficult to obtain all of the necessary nutrients that you need for good health as you age, or you may be eating an unbalanced diet for your aging metabolism.
WEAKENED DIGESTIVE MUSCLES
Your digestive system goes through changes as you age. Age can weaken muscles throughout your body, including your gastrointestinal tract. Weakened muscles can slow digestive movement and increase constipation. Circular sphincter muscles lying between defined gastrointestinal sections, such as your esophagus and your stomach or your stomach and your small intestine, become weakened and allow the backflow of digestive contents, or reflux. Reflux slows the digestive process and has the potential to cause gastric ulcers. Slow digestion and reflux can decrease nutritional uptake in older women.
DECREASED DIGESTIVE JUICES
Aging is associated with decreased gastric juice production from your stomach and your pancreas. Reduced gastric juices can limit your nutrient uptake and increase small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Ingested bacteria that is not killed by normal amounts of gastric juices multiply in the small intestine and compete with your digestive system for consumed nutrients. Bacterial overgrowth is associated with reduced body weight. In a 2006 study published in "Geriatrics," 71 percent of malnourished patients admitted to the hospital had small intestine bacterial overgrowth.
As you age, your needs for energy expenditure decrease. Healthy older women often feel less hungry, eat more slowly and consume fewer snacks. Your daily food intake may decrease 30 percent from 20 to 80 years of age. In some older women, the energy intake may be greater than the decrease in energy expenditure and body weight is lost. In others, slower metabolism and reduced physical activity can lead to obesity. To ensure a healthy transition, consult with your doctor before you make any dietary modifications.
MEDICATIONS AND DENTAL HEALTH
The prevalence of disease and declining health increase as you age. The increased presence of disease in older women promotes the high use of prescription medications. Some medications, such as heart medications, can decrease your sense of taste and smell or reduce your saliva production. The loss of these senses makes food less enjoyable and leads to a decreased nutrition intake. Also, poor dental hygiene can decrease taste and restrict your eating habits. Individuals with painful teeth or oral sores are unlikely to eat a balanced diet.
KEY NUTRIENT NEEDS
Key nutrients women should evaluate as they age include protein, vitamins B-12, A, D and C and certain minerals. Protein needs actually increase with age. According to the Australian Ministry of Health, women up to 70 years old should consume 46 grams of protein per day, while women over 70 need 57 grams per day. Since vitamin B-12 is only absorbed by your body during protein digestion, reduced digestive juices in older women may not allow enough B-12 absorption, which creates a deficiency. Other vitamins and minerals become deficient from the lack of a healthy diet caused by a multitude of reasons, including restrictive finances.
- The Merck Manual: Effects of Aging on the Digestive System
- Clinical Interventions in Aging: Assessment and Management of Nutrition in Older People and Its Importance to Health
- Geriatrics: Small Bowel Overgrowth, An Underrecognized Cause of Malnutrition in Older Adults
- Pharmacological Reviews: Aging Biology and Geriatric Clinical Pharmacology
- Center for Continuing Medical Education: Adverse Taste Side Effects of Cardiovascular Medications
- Australian Government, Ministry of Health: Protein
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Micronutrient Requirements in Older Women