Ask the experts: Digestion and ageing

Q: "I’ve noticed over the last few years that I often feel uncomfortably full when I have a big evening meal. Does our digestion change as we get older?"

A: As we age our stomach, liver and pancreas secrete a little less of the substances necessary for digestion, the surface area of our small intestine diminishes slightly, and swallowing and the movement of food through the digestive tract slows down a little. These small changes, however, should not cause any noticeable effects in your 50s.

Compared with men, women have a slower emptying of food from the stomach and so women are more likely to experience feelings of fullness. Some medications such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and some antibiotics also delay gastric emptying.

To avoid feeling over-full, try to eat a smaller meal at night, chew food well and steer clear of fatty foods which delay stomach emptying. Don’t lie down straight after a meal. Regular exercise may also help.

If the feeling of fullness persists, and especially if you have lost weight, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any serious causes.

First published: Dec 2010

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