Malabsorption is the difficulty digesting or absorbing nutrients that are found in food. The small intestine is responsible for most of our nutrient absorption, and any condition that can affect the function of the small intestine can cause malabsorption. Some common causes include Cystic Fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome, and chronic pancreatitis.1,2
Symptoms of malabsorption can range from severe to subtle and often occur in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract where nutrients are supposed to be absorbed; these GI symptoms include chronic diarrhea, pain, gas, and bloating. Malabsorption can also lead to other illnesses and issues, and may depend on the specific nutrients that are not being properly absorbed. For example, protein and calcium malabsorption can lead to weakened bones, vitamin A deficiency can result in vision problems, and malabsorption of fat and carbohydrates can lead to weight loss and diarrhea.3 In children, malabsorption can also affect growth and development.4
Proper nutritional support is very important for those affected by malabsorption. Providing the nutrients that the body is having trouble absorbing is essential. Oral nutritional supplements can help provide extra vitamins and minerals, calories, and protein that the body needs. The sources of these nutrients may need to be different than what would be found in regular foods. For example, the protein may need to be pre-digested so that it can be more easily absorbed. And medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be used as fat substitutes because they are easier to digest than long chain fats.5
1http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/Malabsorption.aspx. Accessed March 2015 .
2The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. niddk.nih.gov
3Gorospe EC, Oxentenko AS. Nutritional consequences of chronic diarrhoea. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2012 Oct;26(5):663-75.
4Amin SC, Pappas C, Iyengar H, Maheshwari A. Short bowel syndrome in the NICU. Clin Perinatol. 2013 Mar;40(1):53-68.
http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/180785-treatment . Accessed March 2015.