What is poor digestion?

Maldigestion is a gastrointestinal problem characterized by a malfunction of the digestive system that causes it to function incorrectly. There are several reasons why a person may experience poor digestion. Chronic poor digestion can lead to malabsorption, in which people are unable to get the nutrients they need from their diet and experience health problems as a result. People with poor digestion and malabsorption disorders may experience problems such as weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain and tenderness, excessive farting, fatigue, poor skin, and unhealthy hair and nails.

One reason for poor digestion to occur is a disease process. Diseases of the liver, kidneys, and pancreas can lead to poor digestion because these organs play a role in digestive processes, as do conditions like Crohn's disease. Genetic conditions like enzyme deficiencies can also contribute, since people don't produce the enzymes they need to break down food. A common example is lactose intolerance, in which people can't digest lactose because they don't have the right enzymes. Gluten intolerance is another common example of a maldigestion disorder.

Other things that may be related to poor digestion include problems with gastric emptying, such as emptying the contents of the stomach before they are ready to move on to the next stage of digestion, and changes in the structure of the stomach or intestines. Some surgeries can cause poor digestion by removing parts of the large or small intestine or by rebuilding the stomach. Sometimes this is really deliberate, as in the case of weight-loss surgery that aims to limit digestion.

When a patient appears to have poor digestion, a doctor may order some diagnostic tests to get more information. These may include imaging studies to examine the structure of the intestinal tract, along with multi-food challenge tests designed to determine whether or not these foods are associated with the problem. Measures to address the inability to digest food may include dietary changes and surgery.

It is important to note that poor digestion can have a ripple effect. When someone can't digest wheat, for example, it causes inflammation and irritation that interfere with the absorption of nutrients from foods that can normally be digested. This is why people get sick when they can't digest particular foods, and it can take weeks or months for the digestive tract to recover and start processing food normally. When people deviate from restrictive diets and consume a prohibited food, they may experience lingering ill effects as a result of the disruption caused by indigestible foods.

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