The pancreas is a large organ approximately six inches long and is a key part of the digestive and endocrine systems. It is located deep within the upper abdomen, surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver and spleen.
This organ is shaped like a pear, broad at one end and narrow at the other end. It is divided in three sections – the broad end of the pancreas is called the head, the midsection is called the body and the narrow end is called the tail. If pancreas health is compromised a number of serious disorders can occur within the body.
The pancreas performs two important functions within the body.
Secreting its enzymes into the duodenum helps to prevent the protein-digesting enzyme known as trypsin from eating the protein-based pancreas or its duct. Pancreatic digestive juices and enzymes are released through a small duct attached to the duodenum to mix with the food. The exocrine pancreas also produces enzymes that break down carbohydrates (amylase) and fats (lipase) as well as sodium bicarbonate which helps to neutralize the stomach acids in food.
Diagnosing a Pancreatic Disorder
Pancreatic Disorders can be discerned by their symptoms. Symptoms of pancreas problems can resemble unrelated ailments so it is a good idea to be checked out by a medical professional if you feel that something is wrong. A doctor can perform some basic tests to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms, and then diagnose whether a pancreatic disorder is to blame.
Signs & Symptoms of a Pancreatic Disorder
Types of Pancreatic Disorders & Diseases
Symptoms of pancreas problems can be caused by many different factors. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis before beginning any type of treatment in order to make sure you are treating the correct underlying condition.
Acute pancreatitis refers to sudden-onset inflammation of the pancreas. This disorder is caused when the pancreas becomes inflamed as a result of enzymes not leaving the pancreas. It leads to burning and irritation, and the enzymes may also eat into the abdominal cavity.
Common causes include infection, excessive alcohol intake, and gallstones blocking the bile tubes. Other contributing factors may also include drugs, physical damage to the pancreas, mumps or pancreatic cancer.
Chronic pancreatitis refers to recurring episodes of inflammation. When inflammation persists, it destroys part of the pancreas and reduces its ability to function. Common symptoms include digestive upsets and fatty, foul-smelling stools. Alcoholics are at increased risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.
Pancreatic cancer infects the cells of the duct and spreads into the body of the pancreas. Blood vessels and nerves which are near to the pancreas may also become involved in the spread of the cancerous cells. Risk factors include cigarette smoking, chronic pancreatitis and advanced age (over 65 years old). If left untreated, pancreatic cancer can spread to all the abdominal organs as well as other parts of the body.
Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas stops producing insulin or the body is unable to use the insulin it produces. Both result in glucose, the body's fuel, not being absorbed by the cells and building up in the bloodstream. Insulin is needed to be present and working for this absorption into the cells to occur. There are two types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes is insulin dependent and diabetics must inject themselves with insulin daily to control blood sugar levels. In type 2 diabetes, the body produces its own insulin, but the cells are unable to respond to it properly. This form of diabetes is associated with obesity and in some cases pregnancy. Complications of high blood sugar levels can result in kidney damage, eye damage, nerve damage and increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
Pancreatic Exhaustion and Failure
Unhealthy diets have a lot to do with pancreatic problems. Eating too many sugars such as candies, cookies, cakes, pastas and even breads, can cause an overload of sugar in the body. As the body breaks down these sugars it does it in such a rapid pace, it creates blood sugar imbalances, that can lead to diseases like diabetes. This rapid rise and fall process of high to low blood sugar levels due to diabetes, leads to the deterioration of the pancreas and eventually pancreatic exhaustion, which can be prevented by eating a proper diet.
Because the pancreas’s main job is to regulate blood sugar, it is common for the pancreas to become exhausted for those who have diabetes. Once the pancreas has exhausted itself by working so hard to break down sugars, it will stop producing insulin hormones altogether, making it impossible for the body to break down sugar at all.
An enlarged pancreas can happen for a number of reasons, simply it means that the pancreas is above the average size; however, it’s the reason why it may be bigger than normal is where the questions lies. Like other organs in the body, the pancreas can develop diseases such as Pancreatitis, acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic pseudocyst, Cystadenoma, abscess, and pancreatic cancer which are all causes for an enlarged pancreas.
Alternatively, tumors, diabetes and enzyme deficiency, also cause an enlargement in the pancreas. The symptoms of an enlarged pancreas are nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, fever, rapid pulse, pain in the upper abdomen and jaundice. Sometimes an enlarged pancreas may bring about no symptoms at all, making it impossible for early detection.
Pancreas Problems & Disorders in Children & Babies
Digestive enzymes are made in the pancreas. Most times, digestive enzyme problems are caused by pancreatic insufficiency, which means, the pancreas doesn’t make digestive enzymes, or they get blocked on their way to the stomach. When a baby is born he/she may lack these enzymes and can cause symptoms, such as problems gaining weight and foul smelling stools. As a baby grows into toddler age the enzyme problem may go away on its own and therefore no more testing is required.
Children can also acquire pancreatic issues during their adolescent years; one of the most common causes for these pancreatic problems is cystic fibrosis. The symptoms of Cystic fibrosis are, malabsorption, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, and anemia in children. Just like in babies the onset of childhood pancreatic problems starts with digestive enzyme issues. Although pancreatic problems in children are rare, it stunts growth, and proper thriving, along with many other issues due to malabsorption.
Help for Healing Pancreatic Disorders
Treatment for pancreatic disorders depends on the cause. These are serious disorders and intensive medical treatment and care is required. Lifestyle changes including adjustments to diet and elimination of alcohol and smoking are also required.
Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and lifelong medication such as insulin may be necessary to treat individual disorders of the pancreas.
Natural Remedies for the Pancreas
Natural and holistic remedies can be highly effective when used in combination with other conventional treatments. These remedies manage to address the symptoms of pancreas problems as well as the individual’s overall health and wellbeing. Herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle, yet effective without the harmful side effects of conventional medicine.
Herbs such as Galega officinalis maintain pancreatic health and healthy insulin levels while Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry) is traditionally recommended to promote healthy blood sugar levels as well as healthy insulin production. Gymnema sylvestre is a well-known and highly respected Ayurvedic remedy which is also known as the 'sugar killer' as it is said to remove the taste for sweet foods.
Another powerful herb is Ginkgo biloba which has a beneficial effect on peripheral and cerebral circulation and can therefore help to promote pancreas health as well as healthy body tissue and circulation. Remember to find a remedy that suits your individual needs obtain all herbal and homeopathic remedies from a reputable source.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Pancreas
Adopting a few good habits will help to ensure a healthy pancreas, changing your diet is one of the most helpful ways to maintain proper functioning of the pancreas. Foods such as fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, veggies, beans, and fruit, can help to protect against pancreas diseases and disorders. Eating raw and unprocessed foods can also be helpful in maintaining a healthy pancreas. It is also important to limit meat consumption and to choose foods low in fat.
Most importantly along with changing your diet, you also must eliminate some foods and habits that may hinder pancreas health. Getting a massage and detoxification of the body will help your pancreas. Proper massage and a natural detoxification regimen are both great ways to help the body rid itself of harmful toxins. On top of that, you must eliminate sugars, tobacco, and alcohol from the body which all aid in deterioration of the pancreas.