A few weeks ago I posted about the importance of nutrition and how it impacts our health. Do you feel that you eat really well and still don’t feel great? Eating a varied diet that includes plenty of healthy fats, protein and fiber can go a long way, but sometimes there are more pieces to the puzzle. If you eat lots of vegetables and fruits, limit sugar and processed foods but still have low energy, trouble concentrating or other signs of poor nutrition it could be that you aren’t properly absorbing the nutrients that you are eating. Most of our nutrient absorption takes place in our small intestine, so conditions that cause inflammation or damage to the tissues there can lead to malabsorption. Here are a few chronic conditions that will affect absorption of valuable vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and more:
- Celiac Disease (number 1 cause of malabsorption) - This condition is on the rise and currently 1 in 100 people have Celiac Disease although I have seen reports as high as 5 in 100. People with Celiac Disease develop intestinal inflammation in response to eating a protein in certain grains called gluten. The treatment for Celiac Disease is a strict gluten-free diet.
- Hypochlorhydria - As we age it is very common to develop low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) which can lead to a difficulty absorbing many nutrients including vitamin B12.
- Gallbladder Dysfunction - If you have gallbladder sludge or stones and you aren’t producing bile properly it can be difficult to absorb fat. Some signs to look for: dry skin, greasy stools, low levels of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) in your blood.
- Antacid use (particularly proton pump inhibitors aka PPI's) - antacids lower our stomach acid making it more difficult to break down the nutrients in food, particularly minerals and vitamin B12.
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) - When the beneficial flora in our GI tract are living in our small intestine rather than our large intestine they can interfere with breaking down and absorbing nutrients. Signs to look for: bloating and fullness soon after eating, intolerance to prebiotics (fermentable components of food that nourish the microorganisms in our GI tract such as inulin), and constipation.
- Dysbiosis - This is a broad term for an imbalance in the flora that inhabit our bodies. In our GI tract the beneficial flora have many jobs that benefit our digestion, immunity, energy and mood. When foreign invaders take up space they can wreak havoc on our intestines and depress our overall health and wellness.
- Crohn's Disease - This condition typically presents with diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, mouth sores due to ulceration and inflammation of the small intestine. The broad term is Inflammatory Bowel Disease and this condition is usually well controlled with naturopathic interventions.
Dr. Sara Jean Barrett is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and co-founder of Wellness Minneapolis. She is also the Vice President of the Minnesota Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a Member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Click here to learn more about Dr. Barrett.