What are the long-term effects of poor digestion?

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Poor digestion can do more than give you a stomach ache or excessive gas; poor digestion may interfere with the ability of your body to breakdown, absorb or metabolize nutrients from the foods you eat. Some of the long term effects of faulty digestion include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies – When a person is less able to fully digest food because of an underlying digestive problem, they may be at risk of poor nutrition. The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and delivering them to the body’s cells. When this function is impaired, the body may not be getting the nutrients it needs for energy, growth and repair. This may be due to many causes including abnormalities of the gut wall, an inability to produce digestive enzymes or an imbalance of gut flora.1 In the case of some long‐term digestive conditions, malabsorption of dietary fat, protein, carbohydrates and a wide range of vitamins and minerals can occur.2 Consequently, what a person eats may not actually be crossing over from the gut into the body.
  • Tiredness and fatigue – If the body isn’t obtaining the vitamins and minerals it needs to produce energy due to poor digestion it may result in tiredness, lethargy and fatigue.1
  • Poor skin and hair quality – In the same way body tissues require adequate nutrients, so to do your hair, skin and nails. Therefore problems with the digestive system may lead to changes in their condition.
  • Reduced growth in children1 – If a child has a long‐term digestive condition and nutrient malabsorption, it may impair their growth and physical development.
  • Increased susceptibility to illness – This may occur because the immune system isn’t receiving the nutrients it needs or because of an imbalance in gut flora, which play a role in maintaining immune function and preventing the overgrowth of potentially harmful microorganisms.
  • Bone problems or osteoporosis – Malabsorption through inadequate digestion and an inability to absorb important bone nutrients due to an underlying digestive condition may result in osteoporosis over time.2,3
  • Unintentional weight loss – Some long‐term digestive conditions can cause reduced appetite and poor absorption of nutrients, which may result in unintentional weight loss.4

If you have or suspect you have a digestive condition and are concerned about long‐term complications such as nutrient malabsorption, consult your healthcare professional for advice.

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Published February 25, 2015
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