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The anorexia of aging in humans

Physiology & Behavior
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.05.029
  • Energy Intake
  • Food Intake
  • Appetite
  • Hunger
  • Satiety
  • Weight Change
  • Elderly
  • Biology
  • Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology


Abstract Energy intake is reduced in older individuals, with several lines of evidence suggesting that both physiological impairment of food intake regulation and non-physiological mechanisms are important. Non-physiological causes of the anorexia of aging include social (e.g. poverty, isolation), psychological (e.g. depression, dementia), medical (e.g. edentulism, dysphagia), and pharmacological factors. Physiological factors include changes in taste and smell, diminished sensory-specific satiety, delayed gastric emptying, altered digestion-related hormone secretion and hormonal responsiveness, as well as food intake-related regulatory impairments for which specific mechanisms remain largely unknown. Studies in healthy elderly individuals have shown that men who consume diets over several weeks providing either too few or too many calories relative to dietary energy needs subsequently do not compensate for the resulting energy deficit or surplus when provided an ad libitum diet. Healthy elders have also been shown to be less hungry at meal initiation and to become more rapidly satiated during a standard meal compared to younger adults. Studies in animal models are required to investigate potential mechanisms underlying these observations, while human studies should focus on examining the potential consequences of this phenomenon and practical therapeutic strategies for the maintenance of appropriate energy intake with increasing age. In light of this need, we have recently demonstrated that low reported hunger assessed using a simple questionnaire predicts unintentional weight loss in a sample of healthy older women, and thus may provide a clinically useful tool for identifying older individuals at risk for undesirable weight change and therefore at high priority for intervention.

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