Pancreatitis

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Pancreatitis: What is it?
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, the large gland located behind the stomach, becomes inflamed. This gland serves the body in two important ways. First, it produces insulin and glucagon, two hormones that regulate carbohydrate metabolism. In this way, the pancreas functions to help normalize the body's blood sugar levels. Second, not only does the pancreas secrete hormones; it also produces digestive enzymes. An enzyme is a substance that accelerates biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes, then, aid in digestion by increasing the rate at which the body breaks down food. When pancreatitis occurs, it's largely due to digestive enzymes attacking and digesting the pancreas, which produced them in the first place.

Pancreatitis: Acute or Chronic?
Pancreatitis varies in severity. Although the symptoms exhibited may be similar, the effects on the body differ in extremes. It presents itself in two ways:

Acute Pancreatitis. Inflammation that generally lasts a few days and ends, most often, in complete recovery. Continued acute attacks can lead to a chronic condition.

Chronic Pancreatitis. Occurs when inflammation of the pancreas is severe or recurring. Chronic cases are much more serious than acute because they signal permanent damage to the pancreas and may create further complications such as diabetes and vitamin deficiencies. B12, a vitamin essential for the formation of red blood cells, nerve health and fat and carbohydrate metabolism, may reach dangerously low levels with such deficiencies.

Pancreatitis: Symptoms & Possible Causes
Pancreatitis manifests the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the upper abdomen area (with acute pancreatitis, the pain begins suddenly; with chronic pancreatitis, the pain is generally constant).
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Swollen and tender abdomen.
  • Dehydration.
  • Low blood pressure, which may cause fainting.
  • In the case of chronic pancreatitis, feces may become yellow with a foul odor.
Pancreatitis is most commonly caused by gallstones lodged in pancreatic ducts or by alcohol abuse. According to statistics, nine out of ten cases of chronic pancreatitis occur because of alcoholism. Pancreatitis can also be caused by certain medications (acetaminophen, sulfonamides, or thiazide and furosemide diuretics, for instance); by a severe injury to the abdomen, such as a blow or surgery; by viral infections like mumps or hepatitis; or by genetic abnormalities in pancreatic ducts.

Pancreatitis: Medical Intervention & Suggested Supplementation
Pancreatitis, during an acute attack, generally offers complete recovery. However, during an attack, the patient may receive pain medications and intravenous fluids. It's important to refrain from food during acute episodes, since eating increases the amount of digestive enzymes the pancreas will manufacture. Fasting offers time for the pancreas to slow down and begin healing.

Pancreatitis may also signal the need for surgery. If, for instance, gallstones are not eliminated from the body naturally, a physician will use endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography to remove the stones. Typically, surgical removal of the gallbladder is required. Pancreatitis, especially in chronic cases, is a good indication of alcohol abuse. Therefore, it's recommended that the drinking of alcohol end permanently. Continued drinking may cause irreversible damage, including scarring and a decrease in the production of enzymes and hormones.

Pancreatitis, by affecting the rate at which insulin is secreted, causes problems with the body's blood sugar levels because, without correct levels of insulin, the body cannot metabolize carbohydrates adequately. Chromium picolinate is recommended as an important mineral in stabilizing and maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Pancreatin and proteolytic enzymes (enzymes that help break down proteins) prove beneficial since they work to decrease inflammation and aid in digestion. Finally, a raw pancreas supplement offers support to the inflamed gland by neutralizing the body's attack against the pancreas, giving it time to heal properly. As with all supplements, follow the directions on the bottle's label.

Pancreatitis may lead to further problems. Along with diabetes and nutritional deficiencies, it can lead to the development of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate, rating number four in cancer deaths within the United States. It is important, therefore, that a person suffering from pancreatitis work to improve the health of the pancreas. In doing so, further bouts of pancreatitis and the risk of pancreatic cancer may be prevented.

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    Material referenced in Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide with Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D. as Editor in Chief, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999. And Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd Edition, by James F. Balch, M.D., with Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C., New York: Avery Publishing, 1997.


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