Malabsorption Syndromes

Malabsorption syndrome is what occurs anytime your body lacks the digestive enzymes to absorb certain vitamins and minerals from food sources. Causes of malabsorption range from organ damage to autoimmune disorder. Untreated, malabsorption syndrome causes severe vitamin depletion, the most common of which is vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 malabsorption syndrome causes

Unless you follow a vegan diet, you probably consume plenty of vitamin B12 on a regular basis. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) occurs in all animal-based foods- meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. But that doesn’t mean you are necessarily benefiting from vitamin B12 in your diet. For many, malabsorption syndrome prevents efficient breaking down of this essential nutrient, resulting in severe vitamin B12 deficiency, or pernicious anemia.

This is important, because even though pernicious anemia is no longer considered a fatal disease, it can still cause irreparable harm. In rare instances, malabsorption syndrome has caused death among infants suffering from long-term vitamin B12 deficiency.

Causes of vitamin B12 malabsorption syndrome may vary; often, it occurs because of an autoimmune reaction to intrinsic factor, a digestive enzyme your body uses to grab cobalamin from food, shunt it through the small intestines, and distribute it to your bloodstream. Instead, pernicious anemia inhibits your ability to produce or utilize intrinsic factor, resulting in a gradual depletion of vitamin B12 stores.

Other times, vitamin B12 malabsorption syndrome is caused by damage to the digestive tract. Illnesses like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, pancreatitis, and even migraines can prevent you from producing intrinsic factor as well, causing vitamin B12 deficiency.

If you’ve had GI surgery (gastric bypass, ileostomy), then you are also at high risk for malabsorption syndrome, as the removal of the ileum from the small intestines interferes with vitamin B12 absorption.

Vitamin B12 malabsorption syndrome symptoms

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for so many important biochemical functions; understandably, depletion of cobalamin causes a host of severe ailments.

Symptoms of low vitamin B12 include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Avnxiety
  • Painful tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • Muscular pain
  • Feebleness
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Eye twitches
  • Bad coordination
  • Poor physical balance


Treatment options

Since malabsorption syndrome prevents you from digesting vitamins and minerals from food sources, the same can also be said regarding dietary supplements- your body can’t utilize vitamin pills.

Instead, your doctor will prescribe a series of vitamin B12 injections or sublingual tablets, to be taken on a regular basis, probably for life.

Additionally, many patients of malabsorption syndrome find relief in taking extra vitamin B12, in addition to the B12 shots. Certain nonedible vitamin B12 supplements are available without prescription that provide extra energy and increased mental focus without the need for sharp needles or endless pills.