Malabsorption is a condition in which the digestive tract loses its capability to absorb certain nutrients. This can be triggered by various conditions or can develop as a side effect of certain forms of medications and surgical procedures.
Some forms of malabsorption such as pernicious anemia are unique to certain nutrients while other syndromes are general in nature when the individual lose the ability to absorb various nutrients.
How digestion and absorption works
When food is eaten, the body undergoes a series of processes to allow absorption of individual nutrients into the bloodstream. The digestive process starts in the mouth upon biting and chewing the food which is mixed with saliva. The stomach compresses and churns the food swallowed to combine it with the digestive juices from the specialized cells in the stomach lining. These juices start to breakdown some of the nutrients into smaller pieces.
The digestive process is finished in the small intestine where the enzymes generated by the pancreas breakdown the smaller pieces into individual nutrients that can be absorbed via the walls of the small intestines into the blood.
Malabsorption takes place if the nutrients are not properly broken down into small particles or can occur if the small intestine walls are damaged.
Indications of malabsorption
- Fluid retention
Over time, these can lead to fatigue, weakness, weight loss, muscle wasting and other conditions specific to whatever minerals or vitamins were not absorbed. A doctor should be consulted if any of these symptoms occur.
It is important to note that the treatment for malabsorption syndrome usually depends on the exact cause. Oftentimes, the primary treatment is to make dietary changes and medications are no longer needed.
A good example is celiac disease which involves inability to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins once the walls of the small intestines are damaged by an autoimmune reaction to gluten. At the present, the only form of treatment for celiac disease is avoidance of foods that contain gluten which allows the intestinal tissues to heal.
In some cases, medical care is needed and there is a need to use specific dietary supplements to replace the nutrients that were not absorbed. The supplements must be formulated so that they are readily digested and absorbed. In some circumstances, the nutrients might be given intravenously along with fluid if the individual is at risk for dehydration.
Always bear in mind that it is hard to avoid diseases such as celiac disease or pernicious anemia, but following the instructions of the doctor is vital to acquire all the needed nutrients by the body.
Oftentimes, malabsorption can be prevented. It is recommended to avoid excessive use of laxatives or alcohol which are both linked with a higher risk for malabsorption syndromes. If the individual has any medical condition that involves the digestive tract, a doctor should be consulted.