The orthodox medical world recognizes malabsorption as an ‘all or nothing’ syndrome that occurs at any age but is most often seen in children. It is due to deficiencies in enzymes or oversensitivity of the immune system. An example of the former is lactose intolerance, where the body does not form the correct enzyme to break down milk sugar. Oversensitivity occurs in conditions such as coeliac disease where the body attacks gluten found predominantly in wheat and most other grains.

I believe that there is a considerable grey area where many individuals may not absorb a variety of nutrients from the bowel usually because of food intolerance creating inflammation in the small intestine.

Any symptoms ranging from mild tiredness and depression through to major malabsorption syn- dromes will cause failure to thrive or grow and decrease learning abilities. Physical illnesses will follow but are generally not the symptoms that bring malabsorption to a parent’s or physician’s attention. Malabsorption may occur because of a failure of the body to produce the right digestive juices. Achlorhydria is an accepted orthodox condition describing an inability of the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid. In fact, diminished production of this acid may have a profound effect on absorption. The alternative medical world is aware of this not uncommon problem and specific tests can be done to establish if low acid concentration is present. Most digestion occurs because of enzymes produced by the pancreas. A deficient pancreatic exocrine function (an exocrine gland is one that produces a substance that does not pass directly into the bloodstream) is another factor well-recognized by complementary practitioners and will also cause malabsorption due to a poor ability to break down the foods.

Any developmental delay or failure to thrive must be reviewed by a paediatrician. Specific blood tests can be obtained to establish which foods or nutrients are not being absorbed.

Replenishment of deficiencies may make a difference if high-strength supplements are given but this may not make a difference if the body is incapable of absorbing. Intravenous administration is rarely required but may be considered.

Genetic deficiencies in enzyme production are unlikely to be treatable but constitutional homeopathic prescribing by an experienced homeopath may make a difference.

Any history of antibiotic use or bowel disturbance may suggest leaky gut syndrome. Specific treatment under the care of an experienced complementary medical practitioner to deal with allergic responses and to correct the imbalance in the bowel is required.

Enquire about non-invasive investigations of hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzyme production

If required or if non-invasive tests are not available, try a hydrochloric acid supplement a few minutes before each meal. If a warm glow occurs, then reduce the amount or strength of the acid supplement.

There are two types of naturopathic pancreatic supplement that may be tried if non-invasive investigations are not available: the first stimulates the pancreas to produce more enzymes and is generally made out of a selection of herbs; the second is usually an extract from the pancreas of an animal and acts directly on foodstuffs. The homeopathic remedy Silica encourages absorption and should be taken at potency 30 twice a day for two weeks. If a response is noted increase the potency to 200 for three nights and repeat monthly if the effect wears off.

Please note that hydrochloric acid and pancreatic supplementation should only be administered to children under medical supervision.