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Digestion and Aging

Digestive woes tend to increase with age. Here are some supplements that can soothe indigestion, heartburn, and more.

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As many people age, digestive complaints, particularly heartburn and indigestion, become more common. A handful of key supplements can be extremely helpful for enhancing digestion in older adults. Here’s a closer look:

Hydrochloric Acid

Although most people with indigestion think they have too much stomach acid (hyperacidity), a lack of gastric acid secretion is actually a more common cause of indigestion and heartburn. That’s why hydrochloric acid (HCl) supplements help produce complete relief of indigestion in many individuals.

There are many symptoms and signs that suggest impaired gastric acid secretion, including bloating, belching, food allergies, diarrhea, constipation, cracked or peeling fingernails, and iron deficiency. In addition, a number of diseases have been linked with insufficient gastric acid output, including asthma, celiac disease, diabetes, chronic autoimmune disorders, lupus, osteoporosis, and more.

Since not everyone can have detailed gastric acid analysis to determine the need for HCl supplements, here is one way to determine your perfect dosage:

Start by taking one tablet or capsule containing 500–600 mg of HCl with a large meal. If it doesn’t aggravate your symptoms, try upping the dosage—one tablet or capsule with your first meal, two with the meal after that, three with the next meal, and so on.

Continue to increase the dose until you reach seven tablets, or until you feel warmth in your stomach, whichever occurs first. A feeling of warmth in the stomach means that you have taken too many tablets with that meal, and you need to take one less tablet for a meal that size. It’s a good idea to try larger doses again with another meal—you want to make sure that HCl caused the warmth and not something else.

After you’ve determined the most you can take with large meals without feeling any warmth, maintain that dose at all meals of a similar size, and take less with smaller meals.

When taking a number of tablets or capsules, take them throughout the meal.

As your stomach starts producing enough HCl on its own, you will notice that warm sensation again; when this happens, reduce your dosage accordingly.

DGL for Peptic Ulcers

DGL is short for deglycyrrhizinated licorice, but I tell people that it stands for Darn Good Licorice. DGL is produced by removing glycyrrhetinic acid from a concentrated licorice extract. This particular compound is removed from the herb because it can raise blood pressure in some individuals.

My fondness for DGL is the result of having used it effectively in treating even the most severe peptic ulcers. In fact, I cannot think of a case where DGL did not work. Rather than inhibit the release of acid, DGL stimulates the normal defense mechanisms that prevent ulcer formation. It improves both the quality and quantity of the protective substances that line the intestinal tract, increases the lifespan of the intestinal cells, and improves blood supply to the intestinal lining. There’s also some evidence that it inhibits growth of H. pylori bacteria.

Numerous clinical studies support the use of DGL as an effective anti-ulcer compound. In several head-to-head studies, DGL has been shown to be more effective than Tagamet, Zantac, or antacids in both short-term treatment and maintenance therapy of peptic ulcers.

The standard dosage is 2–4 chewable tablets (380 mg), taken at least 20 minutes before meals. Taking DGL after meals is associated with poor results. DGL should be continued for at least 8–16 weeks after there is a full therapeutic response. Most people experience significant relief of ulcer symptoms with DGL licorice, which comes from the herb’s root, within 30 days of use.

Digestive Enzymes

Lack of digestive enzymes from the pancreas is another functional cause of indigestion. When heartburn, abdominal bloating and discomfort, and gas occur within the first 15–30 minutes after eating, it’s usually due to a lack of HCl secretion. But if these symptoms occur more than 45 minutes after eating, it’s usually a sign that you are lacking pancreatic enzymes. Keep in mind that the release of pancreatic enzymes is triggered by the HCl secreted in the stomach, so taking HCl supplements can sometimes lead to improved release of pancreatic enzymes.

Digestive enzyme products, however, are the most effective treatment for pancreatic insufficiency. These preparations can include enzymes from fresh hog pancreas (pancreatin) or vegetarian sources such as bromelain and papain (protein-digesting enzymes from pineapple and papaya) and fungal enzymes. In my experience, the best results are found from multi-enzyme preparations from vegetarian and fungal sources. They are more resistant to digestive secretions and have a broader range of activity.

The Importance of Probiotics

As people age, there are some major changes in the type of probiotics that inhabit the intestinal tract. These changes are the result of many factors, including diet, prescription drugs (mainly history of antibiotic or antacid use), and a decline in digestive secretions.

Several recent studies have shown that one of the key goals in older adults is to increase the levels of Bifidobacteria species.

Supplementing with Bifidobacteria has been shown to produce a multitude of benefits in baby boomers and older adults, including improved bowel function (reducing constipation and/or diarrhea), enhanced immunity, and reduced inflammation.

Use a formula that provides a minimum of 3 billion Bifidobacteria per dosage.

Fish Oil for IBS

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those that come from fish oil, may alleviate symptoms of IBS. Ideally, you should have a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. However the average American diet has a ratio of as much as 20:1. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. Taking supplements can help you improve your ratio.

Arthur Andrew Medical Devigest ADS helps to relieve gas and bloating with a combination of enzymes that target hard-to-digest proteins such as gluten and casein.

Enzymatic Therapy DGL Ultra is a chewable extract of deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL (a.k.a. “darn good licorice”), shown to ease acid reflux and indigestion.

Enzymedica Digest Gold with ATPro takes this popular enzyme formula to a new level with ATPro, a proprietary blend including ATP, a molecule that aids in the digestive process.

Natren Healthy Trinity features three super strains of probiotics: L. acidophilus, L.bulgaricus, and B. bifidum. a combination users say is particularly helpful for heartburn.

NOW Foods Betaine HCl combines two enzymes, betaine hydrochloride and pepsin, effective for digestive issues including low stomach acid. “It works!” says one online reviewer.