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My dad passed away a couple of years ago, so my mom lives alone with her favorite companion — an ornery chihuahua named Coco.
I worry a little about her living alone, but she has a great network of friends and neighbors and I manage to talk her into spending several weeks of the year with me at my home.
It was during one of these visits that I became familiar with the term “old people farts.”
Mom would apologize on occasion when such an occurrence was audible, saying, “sorry — I’ve got old people farts now.”
I admit, I thought it was funny, but we did discuss her diet. She hadn’t really changed much about how and what she eats (and she’d been on the same few medications for a few years), so the researcher in me started digging…
The truth behind old-person toots
I’m eligible for an AARP card myself, and I imagine more of us than care to admit may be noticing a little more gas with each passing year.
Our aging bodies, of course, don’t just change outwardly. A lot changes with our day-to-day body processes and functions as well.
For seniors, many of those changes affect the gut and digestion…
Metabolism slows, digestion becomes less efficient, motility slows (because age-related muscle weakness happens in the gut, too) — and constipation becomes more frequent or bowel movements become less predictable.
Many of these changes are why seniors are at higher risk for developing leaky gut, a condition that’s an open door to infection and disease.
Part of what kicks off the digestive problems is food sitting longer in the stomach — where it ferments and starts producing gas. This happens because the production of digestive acids and enzymes responsible for breaking down the food slows for seniors as well.
The serious side of this is that all of these gut changes also affect how we digest food and assimilate nutrients. That’s why seniors are more prone to vitamin and nutritional deficiencies such as we see with vitamin D, B12, B3 or niacin.
Another serious concern that can cause poor nutrient absorption is the over-50 food allergy — non-celiac gluten sensitivity — which affects more than 18 million Americans.
If you’re one of these people, you’ll experience a lot of the same distressing symptoms as people with celiac disease: abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating (gas), fatigue, cognitive difficulties and mood swings.
So even though the idea of “old people farts” may seem amusing — it can also be a sign your health is in trouble.
Help for a gassy gut
The good news? These problems aren’t hard to fix. But don’t run too fast to your drugstore.
Most of the OTC remedies further decrease digestive juices and you get stuck in a vicious cycle. The gas remedies are only temporary fixes. And some acid reflux medications — proton pump inhibitors — have been found to increase risks for bone fractures, pneumonia, vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiencies and can harm your kidneys.
Truth be told, those same meds were linked to a 4-fold increase in COVID-19 infections.
Instead, you need to focus on improving just a few key areas:
- Supplement digestive enzymes such as bromelain and papain to give your stomach an extra hand digesting food.
- Take probiotics and feed them prebiotics. You can get them either in supplement form or eat more fermented foods, like yogurt, to beef up these good bacteria in your microbiome — and eat fiber foods, almonds, chicory, garlic, and chickpeas, for prebiotics that help probiotics thrive.
- If you try the first two and don’t see much improvement, give up gluten foods (wheat) and see how you do. It did wonders for me years ago. Gluten is sneaky though, and it’s hard to avoid accidental ingestion. A proteolytic enzyme supplement can help.
Unlike the OTC and prescription fixes for gas and bloating, these alternatives have no downside. In fact, where proton pump inhibitors can hurt your bones, probiotics boosted bone growth.
Now, remember, passing gas is normal and means things are working along your digestive tract. So you don’t want to give up all the “old people farts.” But taking care of your digestion and gut with the right nutrition should put you in control of them.