Chronic pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation) is likely associated with smoking, alcohol and gene mutation. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term progressive inflammatory disease of the pancreas, which can lead to permanent damage and malfunction of the pancreas.
The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen and is responsible for producing enzymes and hormones to help digest and breakdown food. These enzymes and hormones are released into the small intestine and bloodstream to help further break down food from the stomach. The pancreas also produces insulin to help moderate blood sugar levels. In diabetics the pancreas does not work properly and overproduces insulin because the body does not use it properly, leading to high levels of sugar in the body.
Genetic mutations along with smoking and alcohol lead to chronic pancreatitis
Research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Sciences has found that genetic mutations link smoking and alcohol consumption to chronic pancreatitis. The researchers explained that it begins with acute pancreatitis; they suggest that one-third of patients will have reoccurring acute pancreatitis and another third will go on to develop chronic pancreatitis.
Senior investigator, David Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D., said, “Smoking and drinking are known to be strong risk factors for chronic pancreatitis, but not everyone who smokes or drinks damages their pancreas. Our new study identifies gene variants that when combined with these lifestyle factors make people susceptible to chronic pancreatitis and may be useful to prevent patients from developing it.”
The researchers evaluated gene profiles of over 1,000 individuals with either chronic pancreatitis or reoccurring acute pancreatitis, as well as an equal number of healthy individuals as controls. The researchers focused their study on a gene known as CTRC, which can protect pancreas cells from damage due to an enzyme known as trypsin.
The researchers found that a certain variant of the CRTC gene was a strong risk factor in smoking and alcohol-associated chronic pancreatitis.
Dr. Whitcomb added, “This finding presents us with a window of opportunity to intervene in the diseases process. When people come to the hospital with acute pancreatitis, we could screen for this gene variant and do everything possible to help those who have it quit smoking and drinking alcohol, as well as test new treatments, because they have the greatest risk of progressing to end-stage chronic pancreatitis.”
Symptoms and causes of chronic pancreatitis
A common cause for chronic pancreatitis is excessive alcohol consumption over the course of many years. Rare cases with no known cause are known as idiopathic chronic pancreatitis. In other cases of chronic pancreatitis, problems with the immune system could be to blame. The immune system mistakenly begins to attack the pancreas, leading to chronic inflammation – this is known as an autoimmune disease.
Other causes of chronic pancreatitis are injury to the pancreas, blocked or narrowed ducts in the pancreas, smoking and radiotherapy on the abdomen.
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Symptoms of diabetes – fatigue, excessive thirst, frequent urination
Diagnosis and treatment options for chronic pancreatitis
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way to diagnose chronic pancreatitis, so it’s important for a doctor to evaluate a person’s symptoms as well as history – past acute pancreatitis, history or alcohol. Blood tests may be conducted to check glucose levels and an ultrasound can be done in order to get a better look at the pancreas. Other imaging tests involve a CT scan, magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography scan and an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography scan. Imaging scans to diagnose chronic pancreatitis are useful because they allow for a closer look at the pancreas, which can help to spot inflammation.
Treatment options for chronic pancreatitis include the following:
- Stop drinking alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Changing your diet to include more foods that are easily digested and changing the amount of meals a person has – three large meals may be harder to digest so six smaller ones may be better.
- Treatment for pain as well as depression, which may coincide with chronic pancreatitis.
- Insulin may be a form of treatment if the pancreas becomes damaged and has difficult producing enough or produces too much.
- Surgery to unblock ducts or remove the entire pancreas.
Chronic pancreatitis diet and nutrition
As mentioned, diet is part of the treatment for chronic pancreatitis. Certain foods may have to be eliminated from the diet as they are simply too hard to digest. Some good foods for those with chronic pancreatitis include:
- Vegetable soup
- Foods that are high in B vitamins like dark leafy greens
- Rich antioxidant foods like berries and squash
- Opt for tofu if you require protein (if you need meat stick with lean cuts)
- Increase intake of fluids
Foods to avoid with chronic pancreatitis include:
- Refined foods like pasta, sugar, white bread
- Red meat
- Avoid margarine and trans fat, which can be found in cookies and other manufactured baked goods
- Stimulants like coffee
- Pizza, beans, cheese, fried food, butter and eggs
- Don’t consume large meals – stick with smaller ones that are easier to digest
With the help of your doctor or a dietician, you can consume a diet safe for chronic pancreatitis and not one that aggravates it or leads to more pain. The above guidelines are a good beginning, but always talk to your doctor before switching your diet.