There's a popular saying that I'm pretty sure you're probably familiar with. It goes "You are what you eat". My mom said this to me all the time as I was growing up, and I know I used to say it to my own children until I learned the real deal. That being, we're not what we eat, we're what we ABSORB.
The integrity of our digestive system is the key to our overall health and wellbeing. In all of my public speaking events and client consultations, I explain the importance of the digestive system, both in terms of how a poor system will promote illness and how, once the digestive system is repaired, we can restore balance, vitality and longevity to the body.
Digestive system impairment is among the most common health problems in Western society today and it often leads to a condition that most have never heard of - Malabsorption Syndrome. Malabsorption is when the body fails to properly absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the foods we eat. Even though a person's diet may seem adequate and healthy, a person with malabsorption syndrome will develop a number of nutritional deficiencies. This can be the result of a number of factors including impaired digestive processes, impaired absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream from the digestive tract, or both.
There are many common symptoms of malabsorption syndrome which, unfortunately, can make getting a diagnosis tricky. Typical symptoms include:
Cravings can also be a problem. As the body attempts to receive the nutrients it needs, but is not absorbing, the body may start to crave more and more food which often leads to the consumption of empty calories (i.e. sugary foods) and fatty foods.
Our intestinal tract, pancreas, liver and gallbladder all play an important role in how well or poorly our digestive system absorbs the nutrients we consume. So, anything that interferes with the functioning of these organs will negatively affect our digestion. Factors that can contribute to impaired digestion are:
But even if our organs are operating properly, there could still be a problem that prevents nutrients from being taken up by the blood stream to nourish the body tissues. Damage to the intestinal wall, which is where nutrients are actually absorbed, is one such problem. Disorders such as celiac disease, colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, IBS, lactose intolerance, parasitic infections, and excessive consumption of alcohol, pain relievers, antacids and laxatives all can damage the intestinal wall. Too fast of a transit time, the time it takes for food to travel the intestinal tract, also inhibits nutrient absorption as nutrients get passed out of the body as wasted before there's even a chance to absorb them.
Other factors which contribute to malabsorption include:
Our bodies need all nutrients in the right balance in order to function optimally and effectively. Nutrients work together much like a symphony. If the brass section is missing, then the woodwinds, strings and percussion sections won't be able to play the song as it's meant to be played. If there is a deficiency in even a single nutrient, the body can no longer work in harmony as it should and, if left unattended to, can lead to disease. Malabsorption is a major contributing factor to many chronic diseases including osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, and all types of infections.
What To Do If You Suspect Malabsorption Syndrome
It is of the utmost importance that you have a collaborative team working with you to properly diagnose and treat your symptoms. Simply eating a healthy diet may not be enough to eliminate your symptoms. Proper testing and treatment is critical to getting to the root cause and restoring balance to the body.
If you are concerned that you may not be absorbing nutrients effectively, or would like to explore how working with a nutritionist can help you reach your health and wellness goals, book your free 30-minute consultation session where we can discuss how I can help.
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!