If you have recently been diagnosed with this disease, whether acute or chronic, you may be looking for helpful pancreatitis diet tips and information. Usually doctors will tell you what your diagnosis is and perhaps give you a few pointers along with some prescription medications, but most often it is not enough information to go on. Anyone looking to better understand the disease itself and how to treat it should begin with common known causes before exploring dietary tips.
What Exactly Is the Pancreas?
In order to better understand pancreatitis you should first know that the pancreas is a gland located next to the duodenum and directly behind the stomach. Its primary function is twofold. First it secretes digestive enzymes which are utilized to digest proteins, carbs and fats. Its second function is in releasing insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream. These two substances are hormones necessary in glucose metabolism in which the body regulates how foods are converted to energy or stored as fat.
A Broad Definition of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis refers to a disease which results in the pancreas becoming inflamed. Before getting to the ultimate causes and treatments, it is important to understand that there are actually two forms of the disease, acute and chronic pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis will manifest quite suddenly while chronic pancreatitis will usually be accompanied by constant debilitating pain. Either type can be life threatening requiring hospitalization and/or surgery in extreme cases.
Symptoms of Pancreatitis
Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis include pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, a swollen or tender abdomen, increased heart rate and even fever. Sometimes the pain in your abdomen will radiate toward the back as well. The symptoms of chronic pancreatitis are much the same as the acute form, however they tend to be much more debilitating because they are relentless over a longer period of time. Chronic pancreatitis may come in bouts and it may come on suddenly without cessation.
Common Causes of Pancreatitis
There are two main causes of either type of pancreatitis, excessive alcohol use and gallstones. However, some medications can also result in pancreatitis as well as triglyceride disorders, trauma to the abdomen, infections and surgery. In a small segment of people suffering from pancreatitis, fewer than 15%, the ultimate cause remains unknown. Prolonged alcohol abuse is felt to be the leading cause with gallstones coming in second. Other lifestyle choices may also be risk factors including smoking, caffeine and eating diets overly rich in fats.
How Is Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
There are a number of ways in which a doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of pancreatitis. Some are less invasive than others. Usually a pancreatic function test is given first in which the levels of digestive enzymes are analyzed. Next, a doctor may which to perform a glucose tolerance test to measure whether or not the cells in the pancreas which manufacture insulin are damaged in any way. Other options, with increasing invasiveness, include ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). If your physician suggests one or more of these diagnostic procedures, it may be helpful to look them up so you have a better understanding of what is involved.
How Is Pancreatitis Treated?
Most often acute pancreatitis is treated in-hospital with IV fluids along with medications to control the pain. While in the hospital, the patient is closely monitored because the disease can cause damage to other organs such as the heart, kidneys and lungs. Some patients require treatment in the Intensive Care Unit while others require surgery to remove any tissue that has been damaged as the result of a secondary infection. Unfortunately, chronic pancreatitis is often quite difficult to treat. Treatment will usually include medications to help control the pain along with pancreatic enzymes or insulin which are not being produced due to the disease. It is imperative to immediately stop consuming alcohol, reduce intake of fats and it is further encouraged that you quit smoking if you are a smoker.
Dietary Tips After Being Diagnosed With Pancreatitis
It can’t be said enough that if you consume alcohol you should stop immediately. Also, it is further recommended that you eat a diet that is low in fats. Reduce or eliminate altogether your consumption of caffeine and eat foods which contain digestive enzymes to help replenish what your body is either temporarily or permanently not manufacturing. These foods would include papaya, pineapple, vegetable juice and once your pancreas and stomach inflammation is under control you could add sprouts and raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. Steer clear of simple sugars and add complex carbohydrates in their place. Keep in mind that a reduced production of insulin can lead to other conditions as well. Consider the role it plays in diabetes!
Dietary Enzymes and Supplements
There are a number of supplements on the market that many people have found beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of pancreatitis. Of course at the head of the class is Bromelain which is the dietary enzyme in pineapple. However, if your pancreas and stomach are inflamed you may also want to consider aloe vera! Aloe soothes the lining of the pancreas and stomach while reducing inflammation and promoting healing. Another helpful supplement is amylase, the enzyme found in papayas. You should also understand that it is never recommended to take any supplements or dietary aids without first consulting with your primary health professional. Some supplements may interfere with any medications you may have been prescribed.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it cannot be emphasized enough that you should avoid alcohol at all costs once a diagnosis of pancreatitis has been made. Take the time to learn all you can about pancreatitis as it can turn severe quite quickly. Once the severity of the disease is reduced, eat a diet rich in digestive enzymes and low in fat while avoiding caffeine and simple sugars. By learning to control it by dietary means, you will be doing your part in helping your doctor to treat you. After all, medicine can only go so far. It really is up to you to take an active role in your own treatment plan.