EP 6: The Aging Gut – Why Our Digestion Gets Worse The Older We Get (Part 2)

In This Episode, We Discuss:

  • 4th key ability to detoxify(0.33)
  • 5th key bile and gallbladder issues(5:23)
  • 6th and final key  decrease in digestive enzymes(8:25)
  • Takeaways(13:05)

Hi, it’s Dr. Jenny Sechler. Welcome to the Art and Science of Defying Aging. Today’s episode is part two of my gut series, and how the gut changes as we age. If you missed part one, go back and listen. Let’s dive in now to part two. 

So, just briefly to summarize, in part one, we talked about the oral microbiome. We talked about hydrochloric acid. We talked about changes within the gut microbiome, and how the opportunist bacteria start to increase as we age, and basically how to regain balance. 

(0.33) So, let’s move on to the fourth key. The fourth key, is with aging, we decrease the ability to detoxify. Now, why is that important? Well, every day, and I’m going to use a real technical term here, but we take quote “crap” in every day. We have to get rid of that crap. Well, what exactly are we taking in every day? We take in the pollution in the environment in which we live. The things that we’re touching, things we contact, such as makeups. There are heavy metals in many of our makeups. The body products we use. The perfumes and the scents within our laundry detergents. The foods that we’re eating. The things that we’re drinking. Even people. All these things can have a toxic nature, so our bodies have to process these. Then we eliminate them through our pee, through our poop, and through our breathing mechanisms and lastly through our skin. 

Unfortunately, as we age, we do decrease the ability to detoxify, because the major detoxifier in the body is called glutathione, and it’s made in the liver. 

We’re finding even younger people are losing the ability to detoxify. Our environmental issues, our stresses, our food, and our drink, these are lifestyles, are enforcing and increasing the toxic loads on our minds and our bodies. 

Our cells contain glutathione, and again, it’s considered to be the major detoxifier in the liver. And it’s made from three amino acids: cystine, glutamate, and glycine. The glutathione protects our mitochondria, ensuring that our cells are able to make the energy that our body needs on a daily basis. The mitochondria are like the power plants of our cells, and every one of our cells have mitochondria. They convert glucose, amino acids, and fats into energy. 

Age is the most natural reducer of glutathione levels. But, there are a number of other environmental factors and medical conditions that increase your risk of deficiency. I just mentioned some environmental issues, chemical toxins, fertilizers, those kind of things that we use in our yards that we’re exposed to. Chronic stress, excessive alcohol use, smoking, poor diets, and even certain medications, even like Tylenol. So, the role of glutathione on your body’s detoxification system is vital, but your natural processes sometimes need a boost. 

I want to just mention how detoxification works in the body. In phase one, we take in all kinds of food, drink, and toxins, and they’re partially processed and basically packaged up by specialized proteins inside of the mitochondria, called cytochromes. So, phase one is basically prepping our body to get rid of these toxins. It’s a very easy explanation, but that’s the easiest way for us to understand what’s really happening within our liver. After those toxins are basically packaged and ready to go, they move on to phase two in the liver, and then various enzymes act directly on these toxins to degrade them, and break them down to neutralize them and actually clear them out. Toxins are removed from our body mainly by the kidneys through urine and bile through the liver. Without glutathione, our bodies will not able to neutralize and eliminate toxins very effectively. 

Glutathione also plays a role in many chemical reactions in our bodies. I don’t like to think of our environment as something to be afraid of, but something that we should really embrace and enjoy. But unfortunately, we are surrounded by many things in our environment that can challenge us. And I think we can drive ourselves crazy thinking about all the toxins everywhere and give them too much power. So, I’m not suggesting ignorance, but just to acknowledge the true power of our bodies and even with aging, but to understand what’s happening and how to truly support the ability of our bodies to detoxify. 

Our supply of glutathione does seem to decrease as we get older and possibly because our bodies just can’t create as much. So, lower glutathione levels do appear to go hand in hand with poor health. I read in an article in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, and they found that higher blood glutathione levels, accompany excellent physical and mental health in women ages 60 to 100. 

So basically, you can actually test your glutathione levels through some specialized lab testing, and you can supplement. There’s different ways to supplement your glutathione levels. There’s many supplements that contain glutathione alone, or with other detoxification support nutrients. One of the other common things that we do in our clinic is do IV glutathione, and people just really seem to love the effects of it. They just feel better overall. So, look at some options about how you can support your glutathione levels. 

(5:23) Now, the next key, is I just briefly mentioned it. It’s about bile that comes from the liver. Bile is made from the liver and stored in the gallbladder in like a little sack or a bag. Now, unfortunately many people today are living without a gallbladder. And I read there are over 800,000 people every year that have their gallbladders removed. And typically, they were having symptoms. They were told, oh, it’s your gallbladder. And if you’re uncomfortable and in pain, of course, you’re going to say yes, please take it out, and many people do experience relief long-term. 

However, there are some underlying issues and problems that go on without having a gallbladder that are never really discussed. Basically, the consequences of losing your gallbladder, is now you have this dumping of bile and it’s not regulated anymore. And, a lot of people, it sends them to the bathroom immediately after eating. They tend to experience higher levels of toxins, because most toxins are fat soluble, and that bile then grabs onto those toxins. 

So, now having decreased bile concentration and amounts, they can not eliminate the toxins as effectively. So, the body has to find other ways to eliminate toxins and fats, and because most toxins are fat soluble, the fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, many people experience deficiencies now in these vitamins. 

The liver is still producing bile, but the bile is not really secreted in adequate quantities at meal time. It’s like in a constant trickle into the small intestine. Many people find this very irritating, and they have other symptoms, while other people don’t. But it’s not able to secrete a large amount at mealtime so fats can be properly digested. It often equates into people having bloating, diarrhea, or constipation or both, and indigestion. 

The liver can be overwhelmed when faced with larger amounts of fats, equating into weight gain. People not understanding, well, why have I gained weight? And unfortunately, they can tie back in to bile through the liver, and not having a gallbladder. 

So, impaired fat digestion and likely deficiency of fat- soluble nutrients, as well as essential fatty acids, can be very common, along with malabsorption of nutrients like B12. So, some people who have their gallbladders removed actually get worse, because the underlying or root cause was never addressed. 

Even if you still have a gallbladder, it could still get sluggish. Think about it almost like a fluid, and that starts to get thicker and thicker due to inability to decrease toxin loads, our stress levels, our foods, and even hidden infections. So, if you still have a gallbladder, then supporting your liver will help with this bile concentration, simple things like beet juice. I don’t like beets. I think beets taste like dirt, but many people love beets. So, I try to encourage them to either drink beet juice with their meals, or I usually prefer to take beets in a capsule or some kind of tablet form. 

(8:25) And the last key we’re going to talk about, is that as we age, we tend to experience a decrease in digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are so important to our overall health. I’m just going to tell you a few benefits of enzymes. They lower inflammation. They can reduce pain. They can improve cholesterol. They can speed up tissue repair. They can improve our absorption of vitamins and minerals. 

There are six different types of enzymes. I don’t want to get too specific about all the enzymes. I just want to have a general understanding of how important enzymes can be to our bodies through digestion, and how they decrease as we age. Earlier in part one, I mentioned hydrochloric acid. I suggested and talked about betaine with pepsin, because low stomach acid makes it more difficult to digest our proteins, making us more tired.

Digestion is one of the biggest energy requiring processes of our bodies. So, when proteins are poorly digested, we’re more likely to become sensitive to them, along with gluten, dairy, and other foods. 

Systemic enzymes, also known as proteolytic enzymes, they can also act like natural immune modulators. Systemic enzymes are like a blend of plant and animal derived enzymes, usually contained like a mix of bromelain, rutin, trypsin, and pancreatin. They’ve been studied extensively in Europe. They’ve become a very popular alternative, actually, to pain medications for arthritic diseases, even inflammatory disease. 

I’ve had my husband on these systemic enzymes for years. The protocol, basically, is they’re not taken with food. They’re usually taken on an empty stomach, about 30 to 45 minutes before a meal. Otherwise, they get too caught up in the digestive process. So, that’s one way that you can take some systemic enzymes. 

There’s also fat digestive enzymes. I think this is often overlooked by many patients and practitioners. But, some signs and symptoms that may suggest you have an issue with digesting absorbing dietary fats include frequent diarrhea, gas, bloating after eating, stomach pain, greasy stools. I even ask my clients, do you ever notice that your stool is floating? And they’re like, well, I don’t look at my poop. But, unfortunately, once in a while we should, because again, if they’re floating, that’s another sign they’re not digesting fats properly. Another sign of this is dry skin, like eczema, depression, dry, itchy, flaky skin, those types of things.  

We’re going to talk about broad spectrum digestive enzymes. In addition to poor protein digestion, many people just have an inability to digest fibers, starches, and fats. So, they go undigested, and people can feel really bloated after a fiber meal. Basically, I hear my clients tell me that things like cauliflower, or broccoli, or a lot of green things, like I just don’t really feel very good. So, I don’t eat them. Well, these foods are necessary for a balanced gut, and a healthy body and mind. But, they are just missing some enzymes to help you to break those down. Because when they eat them, sometimes besides the bloating, they might get diarrhea. They may have some cramping, or even muscle cramps. 

In addition to the betaine with the pepsin, regarding the hydrochloric acid, many people will need to take a broad spectrum digestive enzymes to help them reduce symptoms and nutrient deficiencies, to feel more energetic to increase absorbability of their foods. 

On a side note, I want to mention that another change in our gut within our small intestine can be related to decreased motility. Now, why is that important? Because that motility moves our food through, and with sluggish and slow motility, we invite bugs because anything that becomes stagnant, sits and rots and invites more bugs. 

That’s where we come into the issue of SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth. There’s becoming so much more great research on SIBO and how to treat it. But, basically we don’t want things to sit in our gut for too long. So, there are other nutrients, and I use a few supplements just to ensure that things are moving through our small intestine so they don’t sit. One key, actually, that I’m finding is that a low thyroid can be directly related to a sluggish motility issue. Sometimes it can be nutritional deficiencies. So, just to mention, this can be a contributing issue, along with the other keys that can change as we age. 

Those are the six keys of an aging digestive system. So in summary, what aging people tend to experience is an accumulation where they have earlier issues, or even simply, worsening issues if the root cause was never identified. It’s usually always a combination of issues like nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, adrenal dysfunction, gut infections, and an inability to get rid of toxins, low hydrochloric acid issue, and low pancreatic enzymes. 

It usually takes a detective process to really identify how many contributing issues that someone has. And one of the first things that I like to do with my clients when I talk to them about their diet, and I asked them, are there certain foods, because that’s usually the first place and easiest place to start. They’ll say, nope, no problems there for me. 

So, I challenge them to take a 14 day, no wheat and no dairy test. I say, for 14 days, avoid all wheat, gluten, and dairy. On the 15th day, go ahead and eat all the wheat, gluten, and dairy that you want, and come back and tell me how you feel. And that people that do it, I love to see their responses, because the ones that do it say, oh my gosh, I had no idea. 99% of them  feel like crap. 

And I say, excellent, because even if I tell you something, it doesn’t really have much meaning. But, until you experience it, then you realize the impact it can really have on your bodies. Many of the clients that I had do this experiment, they never went back to wheat and dairy again. But, I think the overall take away picture from this, is just to understand the impact that it can have on you. So many clients said, you know what? I’m going to cut back. Or, during stressful times in my life or at work, I’m going to avoid those things. Then it helps your immune system, helps you to sleep better, helps you just to restore. 

On the other hand, if you’re going to go to a birthday party and you want a piece of cake, I say, go sit down and eat that piece of cake and make it one of the best pieces of cake you’ve ever had. Because if you’re feeling grief, you feel guilt around that, those emotions create biochemical reactions in the body, decreasing proper digestion. Remember, your mind frame really does matter. 

The takeaway from all of this, is it can really be a complex web of issues, and typically it’s you a few things that are involved affecting your digestive system. That’s why I like to start north and work south, and identify as we move downward. Because if we don’t address the oral microbiome, and we skip it, and we treat something downward, like pancreatic enzymes we just mentioned, we’re not going to notice a significant improvement. So, it’s important to start at the top, and work down to optimize and support the changing in the aging gut. 

There’s some great advanced lab testing available to us now, to look at a lot of these factors. That’s where I like to start. That’s where I recommend our clients start, so we can identify, remove, and restore function to our gut support us in our aging journeys. Thanks for listening, and see you next time. 

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