Although the prevalence of malnutrition in the old age is increasing worldwide a synthetic understanding of the impact of aging on the intake, digestion, and absorption of nutrients is still lacking. This review article aims at filling the gap in knowledge between the functional decline of the aging gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and the consequences of malnutrition on the health status of elderly. Changes in the aging GIT include the mechanical disintegration of food, gastrointestinal motor function, food transit, chemical food digestion, and functionality of the intestinal wall. These alterations progressively decrease the ability of the GIT to provide the aging organism with adequate levels of nutrients, what contributes to the development of malnutrition. Malnutrition, in turn, increases the risks for the development of a range of pathologies associated with most organ systems, in particular the nervous-, muscoskeletal-, cardiovascular-, immune-, and skin systems. In addition to psychological, economics, and societal factors, dietary solutions preventing malnutrition should thus propose dietary guidelines and food products that integrate knowledge on the functionality of the aging GIT and the nutritional status of the elderly. Achieving this goal will request the identification, validation, and correlative analysis of biomarkers of food intake, nutrient bioavailability, and malnutrition.
Keywords: Gerotarget; aging; dietary solutions; gastrointestinal tract; malnutrition.