8 common myths about gut health after 60 debunked

Mar 13, 2024
We separate fact from fiction to better understand gut health for over 60s. Source: Getty Images.

In recent years, gut health has become a big buzzword and one of the most talked-about trends in the wellness community.

With research showing how our gut microbiome affects not only our digestive system but also our mood, metabolism, and even our immune system, it’s no wonder why gut health is all the rage!

But as the popularity of understanding our gut health surges, we are left with a plethora of blogs and products promoting questionable information. Amidst all this noise, it can be hard to know what’s true and false, especially when it comes to digestive health specifically for those of us over 60.

It’s no secret that as we get older, our bodies undergo a number of changes, including changes to our digestive system that can impact our gut health. But how do fermented food and probiotics play a role in older bodies? Should we really be drinking apple cider vinegar and doing colon cleanses?

To help you navigate fact and fiction, Starts at 60 has done the research to debunk some common myths about gut health after 60.

Myth #1: Digestive problems are a normal part of ageing

Truth: While it’s true that many older adults experience digestive problems, it’s not a normal part of ageing. In fact, digestive problems are often a sign that something is not functioning correctly within the body. Age-related changes in the body, such as reduced production of digestive enzymes and decreased muscle tone in the digestive tract, can also contribute to our digestive issues.

Myth #2: Probiotics are a cure-all for gut problems

Truth: Though probiotics can help restore the balance of good bacteria in your gut, they are not a cure-all for all gut problems. Probiotics can help improve gut health, but they should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise and other lifestyle changes recommended by a healthcare professional.

Myth #3: You only need to take probiotics when you have gut problems

Truth: It’s advised that probiotics should be taken regularly to maintain good gut health, even if you don’t have any gut problems. Studies have shown that regular intake of probiotics can also improve immune function and prevent certain chronic diseases.

While probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, taking probiotic supplements can be an easy and convenient way to ensure regular intake of these beneficial microorganisms.

Eating fermented food is a quick way to up your probiotic intake. Source: Getty

Myth #4: Only fermented foods contain probiotics

Truth: As stated above, fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut are great sources of probiotics, but they’re not the only options available. In fact, you can also get your probiotic fix from supplements, certain cheeses, and some non-dairy products like kimchi.

These sources are particularly helpful for those who may not be able to consume dairy products, or for those who prefer to get their probiotics through other means.

Supplements are a convenient way to get a high dose of probiotics, and they come in various forms like capsules, powders, and even gummies. However, not all probiotic supplements are created equal, and it’s important to choose a supplement that contains strains of bacteria that are specifically beneficial for your individual needs.

Myth #5: A low-fibre diet is best for older adults

Truth: Fibre is essential for maintaining good gut health, especially in older adults. A low-fibre diet can actually worsen digestive problems and increase the risk of constipation. It’s recommended that those over 60 should consume a high-fibre diet as it helps to promote regular bowel movements and has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Keep in mind that while there are many sources of fibre, it is important to choose a variety of foods to ensure you are getting all types of fibre. Soluble fibre, found in foods such as oat bran, apples, and beans, helps to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar. Insoluble fibre, found in foods such as whole grains, nuts, and vegetables, helps to promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.

It’s normal and healthy to have a bowel movement anywhere between three times a week to three times a day. Source: Getty

Myth #6: It’s normal to have fewer bowel movements as you age

Truth: It’s true that bowel movements may become less frequent as you age, significant changes in bowel habits could be a red flag for an underlying medical condition. Some common medical conditions that can cause changes in bowel habits include inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and diverticulitis.

Ignoring changes in bowel habits can be dangerous, especially for older adults who may have a higher risk of developing certain medical conditions. It’s important to seek medical advice if you notice any significant changes in your bowel habits, such as sudden diarrhea, constipation, or blood in your stool.

Lifestyle changes can also be made to promote healthy bowel habits. Things like drinking plenty of water, increasing fibre intake, and staying physically active can all help promote regular bowel movements and maintain good gut health.

Myth #7: All gut problems can be cured with medication

Truth:  Although medication can be effective in treating certain gut problems, it’s important to note that there are many other approaches to consider as well. For example, making dietary changes like increasing fibre intake or avoiding certain foods that trigger symptoms can be very effective for managing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Alternative therapies like acupuncture may also provide relief for some individuals.

Myth #8: Gut health is not important for overall health and wellbeing

Truth: Our gut microbiome plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system, regulating hormones, and even influencing mood and brain function. Poor gut health can also lead to inflammation in the body, which is linked to a higher risk of chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing nutrients, making it even more important to focus on maintaining good gut health through a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle habits. By prioritising gut health, we can improve their overall health and reduce their risk of a wide range of health issues.

If you’re experiencing any digestive problems, it’s important to speak to your GP to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

And if you’re thinking of switching up your diet plan, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian to ensure that you’re making safe and healthy choices.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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