Probiotics: A key to maintaining good gut health in senior citizens

With age, there is a decline in smooth functioning of a person’s digestive system. This leads to problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, chronic digestive problems like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Diabetic gastroparesis amongst others.

To counter this, it’s essential for one to understand how the gut functions and how probiotics and prebiotics play a major role in keeping elderly men and women’s gut healthy.

What is the importance of populating gut microflora for a better digestive health?

A colonic community of bacteria aids in immune health, smooth digestive system and other functions that ensure a smooth functioning of our body. Some of these bacteria cause diseases, while others fight it.

The gut microbiota in humans evolve throughout life and appear to play a pivotal role in both health and disease. Some of the signs of an imbalance in the gut microbiota include digestive issues like slowing down of gut rhythm causing indigestion, bloating, belching, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea to even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) amongst other conditions which further affect the body’s immune system. To maintain this balance in elderly’s digestive health, probiotics are helpful. They help boost immune health, fight inflammation and potentially have beneficial effects on cholesterol apart from addressing a number of aforementioned digestive issues.

How does age pose a change in microbiota and immunity?

Gut health depends upon various factors such as the food one consumes to lifestyle habits and several other factors including age. However, studies show ageing is related to changes in the gut microbiota which are frequently associated with physiological and dietary changes. In old age, the gut microbiome is no longer the same as it was when one is younger. The bacteria inside the gut become less diverse, and beneficial microbes, like Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium, lose ground. To put together, this results in a decline in cognitive and immune function, thereby resulting in the body’s frailty. This puts forth a case for a diet designed with prebiotics & probiotics for the elderly’s digestive health.

Ageing gut and the role of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics

1. Probiotics are helpful microorganisms, sufficient amounts of which reach the intestine to exert positive health effects. Numerous probiotic microorganisms like Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus reuteri, bifidobacteria, and certain strains of Lactobacillus casei or the Lactobacillus acidophilus group are used in probiotic food/supplements. Different probiotics have proven to be helpful to senior citizens’ gut health–S.boulardii being one.

2. A prebiotic is a non-digestible fibre ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gut microbiota. Prebiotic acts like a fertilizer which helps in the nourishment of the microbiota that benefits a senior citizen’s well-being and overall health.

3. Inulin-type fructans and some fermentable chicory fructans, are the major prebiotics used and collaborative combinations of probiotics and prebiotics are called synbiotic. They have proven to increase mineral absorption mainly that of calcium and magnesium thus showing their importance in the gut health of elderly people.

What are the home remedies that include probiotics in the diet of elderly?

There are probiotic supplements available in convenient options such as tablets, sachets, chewable probiotics, which help maintain the gut health with good bacteria/yeast.

Foods such as yoghurt, homemade buttermilk, kefir, and pickles are good sources of probiotics which helps maintain good gut health even in the elderly.

Foods such as beans, asparagus, onions, green bananas and other fermentable fibre sources augment a good digestive health. Apart from these, many whole foods provide a nourishing environment in which healthy bacteria thrive.

What is the medication required and safety to be kept in mind?

Probiotics contain a variety of microorganisms. Most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria and various types of yeasts may also be used as probiotics.

Those choosing probiotic supplements over probiotic food should best read instructions or consult their physician. Having said that, trusted brands should be well-identified and are generally safe. For people with poor immune systems, a risk–benefit consideration should be made. This population tends to have the greatest potential benefit from probiotics, and risk (usually infection) remains small. In the unlikely event an infection should happen, it can be easily treated.

However, it is always advised that to benefit from probiotics one must slowly introduce them into their diet to improve overall digestive health and maintain longevity.

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