Some people can’t seem to lose weight as they age, and others can’t seem to keep it on. The balancer of our food intake against our energy expenditure (what goes in ~ what goes out) is our appetite. What factors feed into our changing appetites as we age?
There are a number of reasons why our appetites change as we age and we need to balance them in order to avoid either obesity, or the so-called ‘Anorexia of Aging’ that sees people lose an unhealthy amount of weight. Changes in our activity levels and changes in hormone levels affect both our appetite and our ability to regulate our food intake. Some may still feel hungry even after over-eating, others may feel full after the smallest of meals.
Hormones respond to physical or environment factors and can give us indications about how well our body is reading and responding to our needs and environment.
Leptin is a hormone made by fat cells. It decreases our appetite as the fat content in our body increases. It lets our body know it’s already had enough to sustain it and so makes us feel full.
Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite. It signals that we need to top up nourishment in order to maintain activity levels, and creates the desire to eat.
Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate appetite because it allows the body to convert glucose found in food, into energy stored in the body’s cells.
Hormone resistance can throw all of these hormonal levels and signals out of whack.
Some people can build up a resistance to the appetite-suppressing effects of Leptin and feel either continually hungry, or they may not receive the signal that they’ve already eaten enough to sustain them. This will likely result in eventual obesity, or a sense of starving if you try to diet. With a resistance to leptin, those who do try to diet will overeat again when any regiment has eased.
Diabetes affects insulin production or the body’s ability to use insulin to convert fat into energy, but people without diabetes can also show signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance results in higher blood sugar levels and increased hunger, both leading to increased weight gain and unhealthy side effects.
On the flip-side resistance or an insensitivity to the hormone Ghrelin can mean that people are not getting the signal that they need to eat more. Ghrelin is secreted from cells on the inside of the stomach and in the pancreas. Being underweight or not getting enough nourishment as we age can lead to health issues like muscle loss, bone fractures, and increased susceptibility to infections.
Prevention cites other appetite issues as we age. These include the effect of any medications we may be taking, reactions to stress and emotional changes, and if dementia is setting in a person may not remember to eat, or remember how to interpret that they are hungry and what to do next to respond to that hunger.
Both gaining or losing weight noticeably are symptoms of something happening differently, either with your appetite or the hormones that stimulate and regulate it. Hormones and healthy weight for your size can be checked at regular health checks.