Malabsorption is caused by damage to or removal of part of the pancreas. This causes a change in the flow and amount of the pancreatic juice, containing digestive enzymes. This affects the body’s ability to absorb and digest nutrients such as fat, carbohydrate and protein.
Without digestive enzymes, food passes through the digestive system without being broken and absorbed. This is called malabsorption.
Different enzymes have the job of breaking down different types of food:
- Proteins are broken down by proteases
- Starchy carbohydrates are broken down by amylase
- Fats are broken down by lipase
Some of the signs of malabsorption can include:
- Good appetite and food intake but with continuing weight loss
- Pale stools that are smelly and difficult to flush away. Bowel movements may also be more frequent and looser than normal, this is called steatorrhea
- Bloating and abdominal pain after eating can be a result of starchy carbohydrates not being absorbed
- Loss of weight and weaker muscles
- A lot of flatulence (wind).
Malabsorption can be controlled and prevented using pancreatic enzyme replacement supplements. These are medications to replace the lost enzymes that are taken with meals, help you break down and start to absorb nutrients again.