The pancreas, a hand-sized gland located behind the stomach, plays a vital role in your body’s digestive processes. When it’s functioning properly, it creates enzymes that help break down fats, sugars, and starches, and produces hormones that work with your digestive system to aid in processing glucose.
Pancreatic health is important for your overall well-being, but people suffering from pancreatitis may find the gland does more harm than good. While surgical intervention—and even removal of the pancreas entirely—are options, most people try to manage pancreatitis with medication and lifestyle changes.
What is Pancreatitis?
Inflammation can cause a host of ailments throughout the body. When it affects the pancreas, it’s called pancreatitis. Usually, pancreatitis isn’t life-threatening, though in extreme cases, it can be. Several factors can cause or contribute to pancreatitis. Some of them are attributable to lifestyle choices, while others may be genetic:
- Lifestyle Risk Factors: Some habits may contribute to pancreatitis, including excessive alcohol consumption, eating fatty foods, processed foods, or full-fat dairy products. Desserts and other sugary foods can also contribute to pancreatitis.
- Genetic Risk Factors: Some people are born with a predisposition for pancreatitis, including those who have metabolic disorders, gallstones, autoimmune diseases, or cystic fibrosis.
In addition to risk factors that include genetics and lifestyle choices, pancreatitis can be triggered by trauma, surgery, or certain medications.
Pancreatitis is categorized in two different ways: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis may appear suddenly and last only a short time, while chronic pancreatitis can affect you for the long term.
- Acute Pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis exhibits a sudden inflammation that might be severe enough to require a hospital stay and even surgery. Most who suffer from a flare-up of acute pancreatitis will recover after receiving treatment, but they usually remain susceptible to chronic pancreatitis.
- Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term ailment that often results after a bout of acute pancreatitis. Although the inflammation may subside, the pancreas will be affected by the damage caused by inflammation. This damage can include calcification, fibrosis, and ductal problems.
Those suffering from acute or chronic pancreatitis will experience a painful variety of symptoms.
Acute Pancreatitis Symptoms
Although the pancreas is situated in the abdomen, symptoms of pancreatitis will affect the entire body. These symptoms can be extremely painful and disruptive to your everyday life.
- Abdominal Pain: An onset of acute pancreatitis is often accompanied by severe pain in the upper abdominal area, and sometimes the back. Your abdomen may become swollen and tender.
- Nausea: A sudden onset of nausea and vomiting frequently accompanies abdominal pain associated with acute pancreatitis.
- Fever: Fever and chills can be a sign of acute pancreatitis when other symptoms and risk factors are present.
- Increased Heart Rate: A rapid heartbeat can result from a lowering of the blood pressure caused by acute pancreatitis.
Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis
Some chronic pancreatitis symptoms resemble those of an acute pancreatitis flare-up. For example, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting can be present in both cases. Chronic pancreatitis sufferers might also experience additional symptoms:
- Weight Loss: Losing weight when you’re not trying to can be a sign of chronic pancreatitis, especially if accompanied by abdominal pain and pancreatitis risk factors.
- Change in Stool: Dramatic change in your stool, in the form of diarrhea or loose, oily bowel movements, can indicate pancreatic inflammation.
How Gut Health and Your Microbiome Impacts Pancreatitis
Maintaining a healthy gut and balancing your microbiome play a key role in managing pancreatitis. The pancreas produces up to two liters of enzyme-rich liquid per day. These enzymes enter the small intestine and aid in breaking down the foods and drinks you’ve consumed.
When the pancreas is inflamed, these enzymes are released before they make it to the small intestine, and the pancreas essentially starts to digest itself. This causes two significant problems: First, the enzymes harm the pancreas. Second, the small intestine doesn’t receive the enzymes it needs.
The gut microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms. When you experience an imbalance in your microbiome, bad bacteria can migrate to the pancreas and jeopardize its ability to function properly.
A balanced microbiome supports the work of a healthy pancreas, so diet is crucial in managing pancreatitis or steering clear of it altogether. Pancreas-friendly habits include:
- Cutting out alcohol
- Reducing the consumption of sugary foods and drinks
- Replacing a diet heavy in fatty or processed foods with lean meats and vegetables
In addition to your food and drink choices, probiotics can improve gut health and the microbiome.
Improving Gut Health with Probiotics
Good gut health means a balanced microbiome. When your gut microbiome becomes imbalanced, it can be difficult for your body to re-balance the good and bad bacteria without help. Probiotics can help your gut restore the balance it needs to support pancreatic health.
Probiotics like our Gut Prep and Gut Recovery aid the gut on more than one front, and they can help you maintain or restore the ecosystem in your gastrointestinal tract. The gut is the mechanism through which your entire body receives nourishment, so prioritizing its health is essential to your overall quality of life.