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How Does Cystic Fibrosis Cause Maldigestion and Malabsorption?

Of the many illnesses that can strike at a person’s digestive system, cystic fibrosis (CF) is one of the most difficult. This disease affects tens of thousands of people around the world, and because of its congenital nature, those who suffer from it have to deal with its effects all their lives. Because it affects several systems in the body, the issues linked to CF typically require extensive changes to a patient’s lifestyle; between the malabsorption of nutrients, breathing trouble, and frequent respiratory infections, this illness can quickly take a toll on those who fail to adapt to its symptoms. But, why do these symptoms occur, and how does cystic fibrosis cause maldigestion and malabsorption? To find out, keep reading as the people at ENU – makers of a nutritional shake for cystic fibrosis patients – explain this debilitating disease.

What Causes Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease, meaning that it’s passed from parent to child. If both mother and father carry a defective CF gene, then there is a 1 in 4 chance that their child will suffer from cystic fibrosis; there is also a 50% chance that their child is a carrier of the mutated gene but does not have the disease.

In those who do have cystic fibrosis, the symptoms of the disease are caused through some kind of mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, which is responsible for creating a particular protein in cells. Normally, this CFTR protein moves chloride from inside the cell to the surface of the cell membrane, where it is used to draw water to the cell’s surface. This water helps thin the mucus in various areas of the body, including the lungs and digestive system.

However, those with CF either lack this protein entirely or have a defective version of it that does not move chloride as effectively as it should. Because this results in a lack of chloride outside the cell membrane, water is not drawn to the cells, causing the patient’s mucus to become sticky and viscous; this thick mucus is the underlying cause of a person’s cystic fibrosis symptoms.

Why Cystic Fibrosis Patients Experience Maldigestion and Malabsorption

Because the thick mucus found in CF patients doesn’t move and flow the way it would in a healthy person, this substance clogs up key pathways in the lungs and pancreas. In the lungs, mucus can partially or completely block the airway, making it more difficult to breathe and potentially causing respiratory failure. Also, because it’s sticky and tends to stay in place, this mucus often traps contaminants, such as bacteria and other germs, in the airway, leading to frequent respiratory infections in those with CF.

To understand the impact of CF on the digestive system, it helps to understand the role of the pancreas. When food leaves the stomach and enters the intestines, it’s generally a pulpy, acidic mass that is mostly – but not completely – digested. At that point, the pancreas releases a natural antacid that neutralizes any remaining stomach acid and enzymes that finish breaking the food down into small enough bits that it can be absorbed by the intestinal walls. This makes the pancreas essential to the digestion and absorption of the nutrients we consume.

In those with cystic fibrosis, however, mucus blocks the ducts that release these enzymes, so much of the food a person with CF eats cannot be fully digested or absorbed by the body and is instead passed in the stool with most of its nutritional content still intact. This is the cause of the maldigestion and malabsorption that those with CF experience.

Fighting Maldigestion and Malabsorption in Cystic Fibrosis Patients

The most common treatment for the digestive symptoms of cystic fibrosis is the use of supplemental pancreatic enzymes that improve digestion and make it easier to absorb nutrients. These supplements are generally taken anytime the patient eats, often in conjunction with multivitamins. In addition, medications are often used to thin the mucus in the airways, and airway clearance techniques can help get rid of the mucus altogether.

However, even with treatment, the symptoms of cystic fibrosis cannot be completely eliminated. Pancreatic enzymes may allow for the absorption of more nutrients, but those with CF still have to eat far more calories than most people just to stay at a healthy weight. Because the malabsorption that comes with CF affects fats more than any other nutrient, CF patients often need high-fat diets to boost their calorie intake and allow for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Nutritional shakes from ENU offer an ideal array of nutrients to help patients with maldigestion or malabsorption issues caused by cystic fibrosis. Each carton from ENU contains 340 calories – more than 10% of what most CF patients need per day – along with a healthful mix of real food ingredients that provides 17 grams of protein from whey and soy, complex carbs from sources like brown rice and quinoa, and (most importantly for CF patients) heart-healthy fats in the form of sunflower and coconut oils. ENU shakes also offer a blend of 24 key vitamins and minerals, including the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Nutritional Shakes to Help with Maldigestion and Malabsorption Caused by Cystic Fibrosis

If you or a loved one suffers from cystic fibrosis, let ENU make meal planning easier by providing crucial fats, vitamins, and other nutrients in one tasty, portable product. Just drink an ENU meal replacement shake after a meal or as a snack to get more of what your body needs with minimal added effort. Learn more about these healthy, convenient shakes today by visiting ENU online or calling (855) 266-6733.