Senior nutrition tips: Eating right as you get older

January 22, 2013

Now that the holiday season is over, it’s time to go back to reality and look health issues in the eye once more.

Time to check on lolo and lola and see if they’re eating what’s good for them, and finding what will make them enjoy their laid-back life all the more.

Remember, the elderly have special nutrition needs.

Sugar intake, for instance, is something to watch out for.

“One thing with the elderly is, they are prone to hypoglycemia,” observes Dr. Joel SJ. Lopez, medical director of R3 Medica Health Institute. “Very low levels of blood sugar can lead to behavioural changes.”

This, he adds, can explain why seniors’ moods shift suddenly. One time, they’re sweet and easy to get along with. The next, they’re brooding and ready to snap at anyone.

Deficiency in magnesium, Dr. Lopez goes on, can also be responsible for mood swings in the elderly.

“One of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency is depression, which is common in the elderly,” he points out.

But don’t despair. Green, leafy vegetables, says Dr. Lopez, could do the trick. Just don’t expect overnight miracles.

“Sometimes, it takes a while to correct magnesium deficiency. The process takes a year if you just take magnesium tablets.”

Giving grandma or grandpa all the nutrients he or she needs in food is also no guarantee that his or her body will absorb these.

Dr. Lopez explains that starting age 30, the start of the aging process, our body doesn’t produce enough hydrochloric acid to digest the protein in food. And since the body doesn’t get enough protein, less and less amino acids go to the brain, he goes on.

What to do?

Head to the nearest grocery and buy a bottle of apple cider, replies Dr. Joan L. San Juan, R3 Medica Health Institute managing director.

“One or two teaspoons of apple cider before meals can help the body digest food better. It mimics the effect of hydrochloric acid in the body and is a treatment for indigestion,” Dr. Lopez adds.

Can’t chew

Apple cider is also good for the elderly who no longer have a complete set of teeth, and who can’t chew as much as they used to. Dr. Lopez suggests turning the kitchen blender on and whipping up nutritious mashed foods or purées for them.

Go easy on the pills, he adds.

“Anti-inflammatory medicines (e.g. for arthritis) can destroy the intestinal tract. When this happens, instead of digesting food into smaller molecules, the body absorbs bigger molecules which it then treats as foreign substances. The immune system will then attack the joints when it senses a foreign body in there.”

And this, Dr. Joel says, is how rheumatoid arthritis or other so-called auto-immune diseases develop.

R3 Medica Health Institute, he proudly says, prescribes an avoidance or food rotation diet to steer clear of such offensive agents.

The anti-hypertension medicine many of our elderly take is another health hazard.

“When these kinds of medications have side effects, the tendency is to prescribe more medicine,” notes Dr. Lopez. “It becomes a vicious cycle.”

After all, he adds, hypertension is not a disease. It’s a symptom of a disease caused by hormonal imbalance, nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity and others.

Moral of the story: Medicine should be taken in moderation and always under doctor’s supervision. A regular review of a person’s medication list is always in order since a lot of things change as we age. For instance, liver and kidney function tend to decline as we age. Since they’re responsible for detoxification and elimination of drugs, a decline in their function could lead to build up of drugs in the body which may ultimately cause some side effects.

For Dr. Lopez, medications should be taken only in acute or emergency cases. If you correct the underlying cause or causes of illness, then there maybe no need for maintenance medications.

There’s still no substitute for good old nutrition.

“Magnesium, for instance, is a muscle relaxant. It relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure,” says Dr. Lopez. Read: take magnesium, and the hypertensive patient may not need to run to the drugstore anymore.

Walnuts, he goes on, prevent lolo and lola’s memory from declining. Fish, especially the small ones like the humble dilis, have fatty acids that prevent inflammation.

Sometimes, you just have to go back to nature to solve nagging health problems. You not only help lolo and lola live longer. You also make their children, and their children’s children happier at having a healthy, cheerful place to go home to.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

Category: Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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