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Unintentional weight loss as we age

August 2016

Weight is a big subject these days;  no one can have missed the warnings of the serious problems of obesity and being overweight and almost everyone seems to be on some sort of diet or other.

But for many of us, as we age, this problem diminishes and in fact, as the years roll past, a lot of people can begin to lose weight unintentionally.

The idea of easy weight loss can seem ideal when you are young and fit, but at our age losing weight can be a problem.  Steady unplanned and unexpected fast weight loss can both be a symptom of disease including cancer or an indication of depression, so it always needs to be checked out.

But sometimes as we age, with no outlying cause, the weight continues to come off. Malnutrition is a serious health issue among seniors and is so common that it has been called the anorexia of ageing.

Generally this under nutrition has been attributed to an overall reduction in appetite plus other problems including restricted diets such as limits of salt, sugar or fats. Another factor is limited income as many people struggle financially as they age. Also reduced social contact and even just cooking for yourself can contribute towards people not taking enough care to ensure they have a well planned nourishing diet.

However now new research from the University of Plymouth shows a completely new reason why older people may ‘lose their appetites’ and eventually become under nourished.

Researchers there have found major changes among older people in a special hormone that helps control our hunger.

As we age, the general hunger hormones ghrelin continues to work as normal; but there are big changes in the peptide YY. This is the hormone that tells us when we are full so we stop eating.

The study found that the peptide YY was a lot higher in older people, meaning they felt full quicker and therefore ate less. The research compared the hormone levels in the over 80s with the levels in three other groups, 20 - 39; 40 – 59 and 60 – 79 year olds, and the results clearly indicated the increased levels of YY in older age groups.

The research was led by Professor Mary Hickson at the University who said the study was a promising start, especially as there is little current research on the effect of ageing on appetite loss.

She said that if further studies on larger number of participants also show an increased production of the peptide YY, then steps could be taken to start correcting this hormone imbalance and combat the problem of malnourishment in older people.

Until the research is completed, at the moment all people can do is to ensure they are eating a diet that covers all their requirements.  There is some good advice for healthy eating for seniors on the Royal Voluntary Service website.


 

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