Small and Large Intestine (I): Malabsorption of Nutrients

Nutrients. 2021 Apr 11;13(4):1254. doi: 10.3390/nu13041254.


Numerous disorders can alter the physiological mechanisms that guarantee proper digestion and absorption of nutrients (macro- and micronutrients), leading to a wide variety of symptoms and nutritional consequences. Malabsorption can be caused by many diseases of the small intestine, as well as by diseases of the pancreas, liver, biliary tract, and stomach. This article provides an overview of pathophysiologic mechanisms that lead to symptoms or complications of maldigestion (defined as the defective intraluminal hydrolysis of nutrients) or malabsorption (defined as defective mucosal absorption), as well as its clinical consequences, including both gastrointestinal symptoms and extraintestinal manifestations and/or laboratory abnormalities. The normal uptake of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals by the gastrointestinal tract (GI) requires several steps, each of which can be compromised in disease. This article will first describe the mechanisms that lead to poor assimilation of nutrients, and secondly discuss the symptoms and nutritional consequences of each specific disorder. The clinician must be aware that many malabsorptive disorders are manifested by subtle disorders, even without gastrointestinal symptoms (for example, anemia, osteoporosis, or infertility in celiac disease), so the index of suspicion must be high to recognize the underlying diseases in time.

Keywords: malabsorption; maldigestion; micronutrients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / diagnosis
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infertility / diagnosis
  • Infertility / etiology
  • Infertility / prevention & control
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiopathology*
  • Intestine, Large / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestine, Large / physiopathology*
  • Intestine, Small / diagnostic imaging
  • Intestine, Small / physiopathology*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / complications
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / therapy
  • Nutrients / metabolism*
  • Osteoporosis / diagnosis
  • Osteoporosis / etiology
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control