Many people have heard of the word malabsorption, but what does it actually mean and how are people affected by it? “Malabsorption is defined as an inability to absorb nutrients from foods.” (Nationalnutrition.ca). Normally after you eat, your small intestine takes the nutrients from the food and absorbs it into your bloodstream and throughout your body. “The small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients in your food, and your circulatory system passes them on to other parts of your body to store or use. Special cells help absorbed nutrients cross the intestinal lining into your bloodstream. Your blood carries simple sugars, amino acids, glycerol, and some vitamins and salts to the liver. Your liver stores, processes, and delivers nutrients to the rest of your body when needed” (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases). However, when your body does not absorb those nutrients given to you by food, it is called “malabsorption.” If your body does experience malabsorption, nutrients will not travel throughout your body, affecting your energy level, growth and cell repair.
It can be hard to determine if our bodies are absorbing nutrients from food or not. However, there are symptoms that allow you to know that your body is not getting the needed nutrients. “There are many symptoms associated with malabsorption. Weight loss, diarrhea, greasy stools (due to high fat content), abdominal bloating and gas are suggestive of malabsorption. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting from malabsorption may cause glossitis (sore tongue), cheilosis (a fissuring and dry scaling of the surface of the lips and angles of the mouth), and anemia.” (International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders). Malabsorption can be caused from other diseases that affect the way your body absorbs nutrients, causing these symptoms. Typically, the diseases that cause malabsorption are gastrointestinal diseases.
Now that we know what malabsorption is, how it affects our bodies, and the symptoms that come with it, how do we treat it? If you think that you may be having some of these symptoms, and you do not think you’re getting nutrients from your food, there are some holistic options for healing absorption and assimilation difficulties. Malabsorption conditions can prevent your intestines from absorbing nutrients from the foods that you eat. But, you can take a proactive decision by looking into relaxing your digestive system.
Some health experts believe that something as simple as fasting or eating simpler meals throughout the day could help you absorb the nutrients you need. “How does it work? Well, a one day fasting day weekly just drinking water allows your hardworking gut microbes, and your entire digestive system, to take a break and fully clean out. This time off also gives your friendly flora a chance to reset and focus on tasks other than digestion — like boosting their population. In a recent mouse study, daily fasting flipped a genetic switch that strengthened the gut barrier against harmful bacteria, preventing the bad guys from escaping into the bloodstream to trigger an immune and inflammatory response” (Jamie Morea). Many people are hesitant to fast even for one day, but it can be extremely beneficial for absorption of nutrients. If you do not want to go throughout the day fasting, some health experts recommend intermittent fasting, eating within a specific shortened time period such as 10 am to 6 pm, giving your body the whole night until the mid morning (at least 12 hours or more) to digest and cleanse.
A one day water fast is not the only way to get your body back in sync and feeling better again. There are longer cleanses that you can do under supervision to clean out your system and get it working like normal. The True North Health Center, located in Santa Rosa, California, believes that water fasting can be a way that you can cleanse your body. “Fasting is a powerful and effective tool in a comprehensive program designed to promote the restoration and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Fasting can help people get on (or back on) track to healthful living. Fasting is not a cure; it is a process that may facilitate the body’s own healing mechanisms. It is a gift to an overburdened body. It can be extremely effective at creating an internal environment where the body can do what it does best – cleanse and heal itself” (True North Health Center). When you are having trouble digesting, or are not absorbing the nutrients from your food, water fasting may be the answer for resting and restarting your system and helping it to cleanse itself. This way, your body will gradually be given the ability to begin assimilating nutrients once again.
Although fasting is one way to cleanse and help your body restart and rejuvenate, you could also try a juice cleanse to help your system get back on track. “Green juices are liquid nutrition that your body drinks up almost immediately. Because the juicer does the ‘processing’- pulls the liquid nutrients from the fiber, your body doesn’t have to do the work. It can just enjoy the rich infusion of nutrients. This is excellent for those who are so sick and cannot process regular food efficiently, as well as for athletes pre- and post-workout, or for those who want an instant boost” (Hippocrates Health Institute). Juicing is a great way for your body to get nutrients, and quickly. The nutrients from the juices flow through your body almost instantly. Juices can give you energy and are a delicious way to help your body obtain nutrients.
Another way to help your body cleanse and heal is to eat monomeals. According to Dr. Douglas N. Graham, “Mono eating is the practice of eating one particular food for an entire meal, in sufficient quantity to produce satiation until the next meal. This is the way that every non-human creature on earth generally eats. I recommend eating monomeals for optimal digestion, absorption, and assimilation.” Dr. Graham believes that a person should have one specific food for an entire meal, then later on, a meal with another single food. An example of this is having a bowl of mango for a whole meal, taking a break for a few hours, and then eating lettuce for another meal, then giving your body a rest again, and so on. This will help your body digest food more efficiently and allow your body to absorb all the nutrients that your food brings. “Variety is obtained over time, throughout the seasons, not at every meal. In nature, if sufficient food is available, animals tend to eat one food at a time until they are full” (Graham).
Another health expert, Anne Osborne, author of Fruitarianism: Path to Paradise is a major supporter of monomeals. She writes an article about how she does monomeals several times during the year, to cleanse her system. “Some people ask me why I feel the need to go on mono diets after being on a fruit diet for so many years. There are several reasons why I enjoy and benefit from consuming one fruit alone, several times within each year. Firstly, I find the mono diet to be an effective way to cleanse and rebalance the body. There are a lot of environmental pollutants that I am exposed to, including sprays from local farms, vehicle emissions, and ‘dirty’ electricity, and I often have limited control over my contact with these toxins” (Osborne, Marvelous Mono Diets). Eating monomeals and getting all of your vitamin and mineral packed fruits and vegetables, by eating one of them at a time, is an excellent way to avoid malabsorption, and have a happier and healthier life.
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Written by Heather Jans, Ramapo College Intern to Karen Ranzi, M.A.