Do you love your pancreas?
Perhaps you’ve never been asked that question… Ha ha. But seriously, you should love your pancreas. It is an important organ that has many roles in the body! For most people, when you think about the pancreas, you think about blood sugar and maybe diabetes but of course, there’s much more to it!
Digestive Function of the Pancreas:
The pancreas plays a critical role in the digestive process. It secretes several enzymes as well as bicarbonate. The bicarbonate raises the acidic pH of the stomach after HCl (stomach acid) is done breaking food down so that the enzymes can work properly for the further breaking down of fats, proteins and carbohydrates.1 The enzymes include: amylase (to break down carbohydrates), lipase (to break down fats), and protease (to break down proteins). If something is hindering this process, you will be less able to get the nutrition from the food you eat. This can eventually lead to malnutrition at the cellular level, despite eating plenty of calories.
Hormone Function of the Pancreas:
The pancreas also plays a key role in the endocrine system by releasing hormones into the blood and from there, throughout the body. Two key hormones include glucagon and insulin. These work together to keep the blood sugar balanced. The main role of glucagon is to continue the breaking down of glycogen (stored glucose) into glucose so that your body can use it for energy. Insulin’s primary role is to help the glucose become stored for later use. Insulin is important so that excess glucose is not floating in the blood but rather can be stored in the liver or muscles to give energy when needed.2 This is important so that if you miss a meal, you don’t instantly crash because you have some storage capacity from food eaten previously.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers worldwide.3 Most of the research for pancreatic cancer has been done around prevention or alleviating symptoms of the cancer. Although prevention is the ideal, if a person has pancreatic cancer, there are still many nutritional steps that can be taken to support them in their healing process.
A few recommendations for someone who has been diagnosed with any sort of pancreatic disease or disorder… These steps can also help for someone with pancreatitis or other pancreatic issues.
- Eliminate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), especially soda. As little as two servings of soda per week can dramatically increase your risk of pancreatic cancer.4 HFCS promotes an aggressive cancer phenotype.5 In a situation where the pancreas is already functioning at a lower capacity (insulin and glucagon depleted), the added sugars in soda and processed foods that contain HFCS will put an added stress on the pancreas. Reducing these concentrated sugars will allow the pancreas to not have to work as hard.
- Improve your microbiome (gut health).6 This is easy to do by increasing your intake of fresh whole plant foods, especially vegetables. This will help decrease inflammation and thereby reduce pain and discomfort associated with pancreatic cancer.7 Improving the gut flora can also help with the fatigue that often comes with pancreatic cancer. This occurs due to the fact that it improves digestion8 (which can otherwise require a lot of energy) and also because a healthy gut flora actually helps to make many nutrients (that are often lacking in this situation due to pancreatic insufficiency).9
- Support the enzyme action by supplementing with digestive enzymes. (I use a plant-based one called Premier Digest.) For most adults, 2 per meal works great.
- Avoid animal products, especially meat.10 There is a strong association between meat consumption and organ dysfunction.
This is, of course, assuming that there is a foundation for health in place (proper hydration, good sleep, stress reduction, etc.). If you need some more specific guidance for help supporting your pancreas, we’d love to help. Call the clinic to schedule today! 269-204-6525.
1. Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy.; 2008.
2. Stipanuk MH, Caudill MA. Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. Fourth. Elsevier; 2019.
3. Ferlay J, Colombet M, Soerjomataram I, et al. Cancer incidence and mortality patterns in Europe: Estimates for 40 countries and 25 major cancers in 2018. Eur J Cancer. 2018. doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2018.07.005
4. Mueller NT, Odegaard A, Anderson K, et al. Soft drink and juice consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: The singapore chinese health study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0862
5. Port AM, Ruth MR, Istfan NW. Fructose consumption and cancer: Is there a connection? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2012. doi:10.1097/MED.0b013e328357f0cb
6. Karpinski T. The Microbiota and Pancreatic Cancer. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2019;48(3):447-464.
7. Bocci V. The neglected organ: Bacterial flora has a crucial immunostimulatory role. Perspect Biol Med. 1992. doi:10.1353/pbm.1992.0004
8. Oliphant K, Allen-Vercoe E. Macronutrient metabolism by the human gut microbiome: Major fermentation by-products and their impact on host health. Microbiome. 2019. doi:10.1186/s40168-019-0704-8
9. Wang H, Wei CX, Min L, Zhu LY. Good or bad: gut bacteria in human health and diseases. Biotechnol Biotechnol Equip. 2018. doi:10.1080/13102818.2018.1481350
10. Dugum M, Gougol A, Paragomi P, et al. Association of dietary habits with severity of acute pancreatitis. Curr Dev Nutr. 2018. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzy075
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a qualified health care practitioner and is intended for educational purposes only.