signs your body isn’t absorbing nutrients

Signs your body isn’t absorbing nutrients

May 27. 2022

The primary role of the small intestine is to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream from the food we eat. But like with any other process in the body, the disorder is common. Malabsorption syndrome is a disorder in the small intestine when it can’t absorb enough of certain nutrients. Some nutrients that often cause trouble in absorption are protein, carbohydrates, and fats that make up macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals that make up micronutrients. There are a lot of different possibilities why your body isn’t absorbing nutrients and signs it gives you to know that it agonizes.

Possible causes of the body not absorbing nutrients

First of all, you have to differentiate between nutrient deficiency caused by poor diet and nutrient deficiency due to malabsorption. To cure the first deficiency, you need to replace the missing nutrients. Those missing nutrients can cause your metabolism to slow down, and you will struggle to lose weight. A “cure” for that is Lipo Ignite® – a set of injections that help you bring back your metabolism and burn fat and excess weight. To cure the second deficiency, you need more than just replacing the missing nutrient; it needs to be adequately treated not to cause further and more significant complications.

Factors that may cause the body not to absorb nutrients include:

  • Damage to the intestine from trauma, surgery, inflammation, or infection
  • Long use of antibiotics
  • Conditions like chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or Crohn’s disease
  • Lactose intolerance or deficiency
  • Parasitic disease
  • Diseases of the liver or pancreas
  • Radiation therapy
  • Certain drugs may injure the lining of the intestine

These are also some rare disorders that can result in malabsorption, and one of them is called short bowel syndrome (SBS). Because the small intestine is shortened, it’s less able to absorb nutrients.

Malabsorption can also be caused because your stomach cannot produce the specific enzymes necessary to digest certain foods.

Symptoms of malabsorption syndrome

When your small intestine cannot absorb nutrients, and when those unabsorbed nutrients pass through your digestive tract, symptoms of malabsorption syndrome occur.

People have different symptoms depending on the nutrient that doesn’t get absorbed properly. Thus you get different symptoms if you cannot absorb fats, protein, sugars, or vitamins.

Other symptoms that may occur are a result of deficiency of the nutrient. Poor absorption is what causes them.

If a person cannot absorb fats, they may have light-colored, smelly stools that are soft, bulky, and difficult to flush (it may either float or stick to the sides of the toilet bowl.

If a person cannot absorb protein, they might experience hair loss, fluid retention, or dry hair. Fluid retention manifests as swelling and is also known as edema.

If a person can’t absorb sugars, they may have gas, bloating, and explosive diarrhea.

If a person can’t absorb vitamins, they might be anemic, have low blood pressure, lose weight, or experience muscle wasting.

This condition can affect people based on age or gender. Women may stop menstruating while children may not grow properly.

Signs your body isn’t absorbing nutrients

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is racing, pounding, or fluttering, and it’s often a sign of iron deficiency. Excess pressure on the heart due to lack of iron can result in these abnormal heartbeats, and you may feel like your heart skips a beat.

Digestive disorder

You might be at risk of not absorbing nutrients if you have poor digestive health. If the digestive system isn’t working correctly and there is compacted waste stuck in it, the digestive system can’t absorb any nutrition from the food you’ve been eating.

Hair loss

As this is a condition where your body isn’t absorbing macronutrients and micronutrients from the small intestine into the bloodstream, because of difficulties in absorbing protein, a sign from your body tells you that may be dry and brittle hair and even hair loss.

Brittle nails

Brittle nails are also a sign your body isn’t absorbing enough protein. When that happens, our bodies begin to conserve our protein and stop sending it to nourish our hair and nails.

Atypical stool

The appearance of one’s stool is a clear indicator of things that happen in your body and how it absorbs nutrients. An indicator that your body is suffering from malabsorption syndrome is loose stool or diarrhea, as well as light-colored stool and high odor.

Numbness and tingling

Feeling numbness and tingling can indicate a nutritional deficiency. If a person lacks vitamin B12, they might experience these signs.


People that lack iron and magnesium can experience fatigue and dizziness. When your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, it gives signs until it starts to suffer more. When lacking iron and magnesium, the body might be at risk of anemia, affecting energy and mood levels.

Bloating and swelling

If you’re feeling abdominal discomfort and cramping, bloating in that region, or swelling in the legs, you’re most likely suffering from malabsorption.

Menstrual cycle issues

When your body isn’t absorbing enough nutrients and calories, it will throw the body off balance as well as your period. If you find your period is irregular, it might be because your body is struggling to absorb nutrients from the food you eat.

Muscle cramps and weakness

Some muscle cramping can be considered normal. But if your body isn’t absorbing the nutrients properly, you may experience muscle cramps and weakness more often. Your body needs fuel so it can work more and work well.

Diagnosing malabsorption syndrome

If you or your doctor suspects you’re suffering from malabsorption syndrome, then it’s time you start with a few simple diagnostic tests:

Blood test

These tests check the levels of specific nutrients in your blood, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, carotene, etc.
A lack of these nutrients doesn’t necessarily mean your body isn’t absorbing nutrients; it can mean you’re not choosing the right food with healthy levels of nutrients.

Stool test

To determine whether the fat is present in your stool or feces. Normally, fat can’t be found, so this test is the most reliable because if the test turns out positive, that means a person suffers from malabsorption syndrome.

Breath test

This test is used to test if a person is lactose intolerant. When lactose isn’t being absorbent, it enters the colon, where bacteria should break down the lactose and produce gas. The excess hydrogen is absorbed from your intestine, into your bloodstream, and then into your lungs, so you end up exhaling the gas.
If you have gas in your breath after eating a product that contains lactose means you have lactose intolerance.


If your doctor suspects you have malabsorption syndrome, he might send you to do a biopsy. This procedure will be done using an endoscopy where a tube is inserted into your mouth into your stomach and small intestine to take a small sample of cells.

Imaging test

This test consists of taking pictures of your digestive system to look for structural problems.

How to treat malabsorption syndrome

Treating the malabsorption syndrome includes managing the signs your body gives you to tell you it isn’t absorbing nutrients and replacing the nutrients your body needs to function correctly.

Treatments depend on the cause of the malabsorption syndrome

  • Enzyme supplements that help the body absorb nutrients
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Diet changes
  • Hiring a dietitian to design a nutrition plan and ensure you get the nutrients you’re missing
  • Medications to control diarrhea

Chicago’s best weight loss expert says that treating malabsorption is very important because it can harm every system in your body. It’s also essential to know which vitamins you lack so you can apply appropriate dietary changes and bring the vitamin levels back to normal.

How malabsorption affects your health

To maintain strong bones, healthy skin, heart, and nerve function, you need certain vitamins and minerals daily. The first thing you should do is change your eating habits. Everybody loves snack food such as chips and soda; they make you “addicted” to them. And we would all like to know how to stop craving potato chips and soda. There are a few ways but the main one should be your overall health.

Depending on the nutrient that can’t be absorbed, you may have problems with anemia, numbness in your hands and feet, memory issues, digestive system, etc.

Risk factors that may cause your body not to absorb certain nutrients

Risk factors for malabsorption syndrome include:

  • a family history of malabsorption
  • a family history of cystic fibrosis
  • drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • intestinal surgery
  • use of certain medications such as laxatives or mineral oils
  • traveling to India, the Caribbean, or other parts of Southeast Asia

Final thoughts

Not getting enough nutrients can be detrimental to your health. It can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases. That’s why you shouldn’t ignore the signs your body gives you that indicate it isn’t absorbing nutrients properly. Listen to your body, take care of it, and if you doubt that you see some signs of malabsorption syndrome, schedule a call with our team, and we’ll help you on your next step.

Nurse Walton


Nurse Walton

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers. Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients. This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009.

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