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101 Facts About Ageing #61: Ageing Of The Stomach

Posted on 15 March 2022

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As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist, politician, and diplomat once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. And we wholeheartedly agree. A shared set of facts is the first step to building a better world with longevity for all. In that spirit, we are creating a series that covers 101 indisputable facts about ageing, health and longevity.

  • With age, the elasticity of the stomach wall is reduced.
  • Production of gastric acid and stomach enzymes declines in 10-20% of individuals.
  • Production of mucus and alkaline bicarbonate decreases, making the stomach wall more prone to damage.
  • The stomach takes longer to empty its contents into the intestines.

The stomach acts as a reservoir for ingested food, allowing us to eat at irregular intervals. The walls of the human stomach are elastic and can expand to accommodate about a litre of food. This allows us to eat larger quantities of food at once, which is then slowly digested to provide nutrients until the next meal. The stomach itself also plays a role in digestion by secreting gastric acid and enzymes to break down nutrients in the food – particularly the proteins.

Summary of age related changes in the digestive system.

With advancing age, the stomach wall loses some of its elasticity, meaning that it cannot accommodate as much food. The stomach also empties its contents into the intestines more slowly. These changes don’t generally cause very noticeable symptoms, though they probably contribute to reduced appetite and prolonged satiety in older age.

Secretion of gastric acid and enzymes doesn’t change much during ageing for the majority of people. However, between 10% and 20% of people do experience age-related reductions in gastric acid secretion, which can reduce the absorption of certain drugs and nutrients like vitamin B12.

The lining of the stomach also becomes more prone to damage with age, as there is a reduction in the number of goblet cells, which are responsible for producing protective mucus. Age is also associated with a reduced secretion of alkaline chemicals that protect the lining of the stomach against gastric acid.

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