It doesn’t matter how many supplements you take or how many pounds of green veggies you consume… if your digestive and other nutrient input mechanisms are off-balance, your body will not be able to take advantage of all the “good stuff” you’re putting into it. Nutrient malabsorption can lead to serious issues for an individual. It is also a foundational disease-causing problem that has reached epidemic proportions around the world.
3 Primary Ways Malabsorption Occurs
Maintaining health by providing the body with all that it needs is a delicate dance. As you can probably imagine, malabsorption adds another level of complication to an already intricate choreography that eventually ends in some form of malnutrition. More often than not, disease conditions occur due to malabsorption of nutrients over decades.
In a nutshell, malabsorption is a situation where, for whatever reason, the body cannot break down and absorb certain proteins, fats, vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and enzymes in foods (and subsequently in any supplements) that a person may be taking.
So, what causes malabsorption in the first place? The following are just a few possible reasons.
#1. Gut Imbalance
Ultimately all other malabsorption triggers (which we will get to in a minute) come down to what happens in the gut. This is because the digestive tract is the “first stop” for a nutrient breakdown.
According to the Merck Manual , digestion and absorption occur in three phases. First, bile salts help food break down in the intestinal tract. Secondly, certain enzymes begin to digest (i.e., break down), microscopic food particles even further into substances cells can absorb for nutrition. Lastly, the lymph fluid transports these nutrients where they need to go.
When phase one of this process goes awry, this is sometimes called maldigestion. When any part of the second or third phase of this process is hindered, this is technically called malabsorption.
Anything that contributes to an imbalance of gut flora can lend itself to malabsorption issues too. Typical stress and diet-related conditions can result in malabsorption. These include:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- acid reflux
- diverticulitis 
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth syndrome (SIBO) 
- leaky gut (intestinal permeability)
- gut dysbiosis (lack of diverse gut flora) 
Specific GI-related traumas such as radiation therapy for cancer, intestinal infection, lactose or gluten intolerance, parasite infestation, taking certain kinds of drugs such as tetracycline, colchicine, or cholestyramine, or taking too many antibiotics  can also contribute to this condition.
On the other hand, malabsorption of certain substances can result in some of the conditions mentioned above. For example, IBS can be caused by malabsorption of fructose in the GI tract .
#2. Methylation Issues
A little-known cause of nutrient malabsorption can malfunction in methylation. Methylation is the process by which chemical compounds are converted into other needed substances. For example, methylation helps convert serotonin into melatonin and aggressive estrogens into less aggressive ones.
Even though methylation is a fairly complicated chemical process, it is also a very ordinary one; it happens in your body every single day. And when it isn’t functioning properly, malabsorption of nutrients is one of the unfortunate results.
There are many reasons why an individual may have poor methylation. A big one is a particular genetic condition commonly referred to as the MTHFR gene mutation. The MTHFR gene impacts how well your body metabolizes the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase or MTHFR. This may sound like a rather obscure term, but without it, the body cannot then metabolize many common substances.
Metabolization of protein and certain kinds of vitamins and minerals, including folate which is required for cell division, can be affected. The MTHFR gene mutation can also lead to other complications in digestion, hormone balancing, and immune function.
The MTHFR gene mutation may be more widespread than previously thought. It is estimated that between 30% and 60% of all individuals worldwide may carry the MTHFR gene mutation, which is passed down from parent to child .
Some individuals will have the mutation but not express any of its complicated symptoms. On the other hand, between 14% to 20% of the population may have a more severe form of it which can impact health more severely. You can find out if you have the MTHFR gene mutation through a simple genetic test.
#3. Specific Disease Conditions
Finally, there are some disease conditions that also have a malabsorption component, some of which are not necessarily related to the GI tract initially:
- Digestive diseases such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, tropical sprue, or whipple disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Diseases of the liver, such as cirrhosis
- Conditions of the gallbladder or pancreas
- Scleroderma, or any disease related to collagen production
- Hyper- or hypothyroidism
- Addison’s disease, which affects the adrenals
- Skin diseases which lead to rapid cell turnover
- Eating disorders
Common Symptoms of Malabsorption
According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders , there are many general signs that you may have nutrient malabsorption. These include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Greasy or light-colored stool
- Abdominal bloating
- Sore tongue
- Dry lips and mouth
- General fatigue
Also, some immediate and noticeable symptoms of malabsorption can also be connected to the lack of specific nutrients:
- Anemia, which is connected to malabsorption of iron or essential B vitamins
- Bruising or bleeding easily, tied to malabsorption of vitamins K and C
- Carpopedal spasms (i.e., spasms of the hands, feet, ankles, and wrists), connected to Magnesium and Calcium malabsorption
- Edema, associated with protein malabsorption
- Night blindness, connected to not absorbing vitamin K properly
- Peripheral neuropathy, linked to malabsorption of B Vitamins, especially B1 and B12
- Pain in the joints and bones and easily fractured bones, associated with magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin D malabsorption 
Keep in mind that the reasons for immediate symptoms of nutrient malabsorption mentioned above are just the tips of the iceberg. Often these reasons and symptoms overlap.
If you suspect malabsorption, you can obtain a clearer picture of your particular situation by speaking with your medical professional. They can inform you about tests available to you to check for malabsorption as well as specific protocols to get you back on track!
7 Steps to Help Prevent Nutrient Malabsorption (or Even Reverse It)
After all that bad news about malabsorption, here is the good news. There is A LOT you can do about it right now! Since malabsorption can be a serious issue, it is always important for you to discuss your particular concerns with your holistic health provider as soon as possible. In the meantime, here are some things you can do right now to improve your nutrient absorption capacity and overall health:
#1 – Eat a gut-healing diet.
You can help restore gut balance by eating a clean, wholesome diet which includes plenty of probiotics like sauerkraut, cultured vegetables, kefir, and probiotic supplements as well as prebiotics such as asparagus and garlic.
Cutting back on dairy if you are lactose intolerant (or just to give your body a break) as well as going gluten-free and stopping excess sugar consumption can all help to reduce digestive inflammation. Many studies to date  have made the link between high consumption of sugar and disturbances in gut flora balance.
Also, consuming gut-healing foods such as organic bone broth can help restore your delicate intestinal lining. And don’t skimp on the filtered water! Staying hydrated will support your liver and kidneys, which are also key players in the nutrient breakdown as well as the removal of waste.
#2 – Support methylation.
The dietary changes mentioned above will support your methylation pathways as well, whether or not you have the MTHFR gene mutation. Also, supporting your liver in additional ways and targeted supplementation, especially of B12 and folate, are also good strategies.
#3 – Get Moving.
Did you know that regular exercise can kick-start the production of certain healthy bacteria in your gut? It’s true! Even if it’s just a 15-minute walk, try to move your body every day. Your gut will thank you!
#4 – Reduce stress.
Chronic stress is a major downer for your health on all levels. It can affect your gut health, curtail immune system function, and raise inflammation levels in your body.
Cutting down on stress can help your health across the board, and especially your gut and methylation pathways. Stress-producing events happen to us all. Learning the tools to calm stress responses quickly, such as Tapping  or calming breathing techniques, will do you wonders on your way to optimal health.
#5 – Get quality sleep!
When we sleep is the time when the body has a chance to not only rest but to restore as well. When we do not get enough sleep, or our sleep is interrupted and not “quality,” our bodies can suffer.
Dozens of studies have shown that insufficient sleep can lead to accelerated aging, cell damage, and even depression. On the other hand, a 2014 University of Utah investigation  found a link between quality restorative sleep and longer telomere length. Telomeres are protective agents at the ends of each chromosome that are connected to aging.
#6 – Try some healing herbs.
Aloe vera, peppermint, fennel, and ginger are some herbs that may help your gut and encourage nutrient absorption. A great practice is to try a healing tea (ginger or fennel are good choices) between meals.
#7. Take Bioavailable supplements.
A regimen of bioavailable supplements will help to ensure the body has ready access to the nutrients that it needs. Keep in mind that many vitamin and mineral supplements on the market today include synthetic ingredients which are not as easy for the body to absorb. These solid tablets can even pass right through the system intact! If you’re going to invest in a supplement for the nutrients, it contains, makes sure it’s in a format your body can use.
Malabsorption is a serious issue that is affecting more and more people – many without them even knowing it. If you suspect malabsorption may be an issue for you, be sure to talk to your health professional before employing any natural healing protocol. Tests are available to find out if you have malabsorption issues, as well as complications with methylation.
In the meantime, putting into place some easy lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as adding simple supplements and self-care techniques that can help you heal and restore will do you wonders in turning your health around and regaining your vital energy!