Are you absorbing enough nutrients from your food?

Malabsorption syndrome can prevent the absorption of nutrients and can often lead to malnutrition. Here is everything you need to know about malabsorption syndrome.

What are nutrients?

Nutrients are particles found in food that the body cannot produce or cannot produce in the required amount. According to the World Health Organisation, all organisms need nutrients to make energy, grow, develop, and reproduce. While there are many kinds of nutrients, they can be split into two main categories; macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are eaten in large amounts and make up the majority of your diet. There are three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates and fat. Whereas micronutrients include vitamins and minerals and, although they are required in lesser amounts and are not directly used for making energy, they still play a crucial role in our bodies.

Why do we need macronutrients and micronutrients?

Macronutrients and micronutrients are fundamental for your body to conduct several basic functions.

  • Macronutrients provide energy - the chemical bonds involved in fats, proteins and carbohydrates are converted into cellular energy for your body to utilise to carry out biochemical reactions that happen throughout the day and night.
  • Micronutrients aid the production of energy – vitamins are not used as energy, but instead, aid the breaking down and building up of proteins, fats and sugars which are used for energy. To facilitate the production of energy, vitamins must convert into coenzymes which are small molecules that join up with enzymes. The coenzymes are extremely useful as they remain the same after catalysis meaning they can be reused multiple times.
  • Macro and micronutrients are necessary for body structures – fats, proteins and minerals are used to construct and maintain tissues, organs and other structures such as teeth and bones.

For your body to reap the benefits of macro and micronutrients, your small intestine must be able to absorb the nutrients from the food you are consuming. However, the body can encounter a disruption in the digestive system which prevents the absorption of nutrients, also known as malabsorption syndrome.

What is malabsorption syndrome?

Normally, when you eat, your small intestine absorbs the nutrient contents of your food and transports it into your bloodstream. Your bloodstream will then carry nutrients such as calcium and protein to your bones, muscles and organs. However, in people who have malabsorption syndrome, the small intestine prevents the absorption of nutrients and can often lead to general malnutrition or symptoms associated with deficiencies in specific nutrients.

What causes malabsorption syndrome?

Malabsorption syndrome can be caused by digestive problems as your stomach may not be able to produce the enzymes it needs to digest certain foods. However, several other factors can contribute to the development of malabsorption.

Causes of malabsorption: 

  • Conditions including coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, chronic pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis.
  • Prolonged use of antibiotics.
  • Damage to the intestine from infection, inflammation, trauma, or surgery.
  • Lactose intolerance.
  • Certain defects present at birth, such as biliary atresia, when the bile ducts don’t develop normally and prevent the flow of bile from the liver.
  • Certain drugs may injure the lining of the intestine, such as tetracycline, colchicine, or cholestyramine.

Recognising the symptoms

The symptoms involved with malabsorption syndrome can vary depending on the cause, how long a person has had the disorder and the severity of the condition.

Short-term symptoms of malabsorption may include:

  • Stomach distention and bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach cramping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Gas

However, when the body cannot absorb enough nutrients, more long-term effects of malabsorption may appear.

Long-term symptoms of malabsorption may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Bones that fracture easily
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight loss
  • Iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause shortness of breath

If you find yourself suffering from any of the identified symptoms the best starting point is to find out whether you are at risk of low nutrients by measuring your levels through a blood test. Our Nutrition Blood Test includes 13 different tests to help you understand whether you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, or whether you would benefit from taking supplements.

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