American Academy of Health and Fitness
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Integumentary (Skin) System
Skeletal System
Muscular System
Nervous System
Endocrine System
Cardiovascular System
Lymphatic (Immune) System
Respiratory System
Digestive System
Urinary System
Reproductive System

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Digestive System

The major functions of this system are the processing of food and the absorption of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and water.

Because of the large functional reserve capacity of most of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, aging has relatively little effect on GI functioning. The digestive system is made up of the mouth, teeth, tongue, salivary glands, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, large intestine, and small intestine. Essentially, normal digestion and absorption occur in the elderly; however, there are many changes in the digestive system that parallel the age-related changes seen in the other systems. Like other systems, the rate of new cell growth declines and tissues become more susceptible to damage.

Due to a decrease in smooth muscle tone along a majority of the aging GI tract, food moves through the system more slowly as the contractions necessary for the movement and breakdown of food become weaker. Constipation becomes a problem along with hemorrhoids. Weakening of the cardiac sphincter, a muscle that regulates the flow of food from the esophagus into the stomach, can lead to esophageal reflux which causes “heart burn.”

When toxins, such as alcohol and chemicals, are absorbed by the digestive tract and transported to the liver for processing or storage, the liver cells are not immune to the effects of these compounds. Chronic exposure leads to damage and disease in the liver and many other organs.

With age, cancer rates increase, especially in the colon and stomach. Plus, changes in other systems have direct and indirect effects on the digestive system. For example, the reduction in bone mass and calcium content in the skeleton is associated with erosion of the tooth sockets and tooth loss.


Not so fun fact:

Many drugs, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause esophageal injury. The elderly are at high risk of pill-induced esophagitis and its complications, particularly when esophageal transit is delayed. Drugs should be swallowed in an upright position and followed by a good drink.

Not so fun fact:

With age, calcium absorption diminishes, even in healthy persons who are not deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency also often occurs in the elderly. Since vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, a deficiency can ultimately lead to malabsorption of calcium. Malabsorption of calcium is almost certainly a major factor in age-related bone loss in men and women. Accordingly, the dietary calcium requirement is higher in the elderly.

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Contact Information:

American Academy of Health and Fitness
Phone 800-95-SRFIT (800-957-7348)
Fax (703) 451-4952

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