What vitamins are good for the pancreas?

Natural treatment for pancreas problems

Editor’s note: The information in this article is presented for educational, informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the diagnosis, treatment, and advice of a qualified licensed professional. About the Author Peter Melamed, Lic.Ac., RN, Ph.D., received his medical education first as a registered nurse and was then trained as a medical doctor in Russia. Subsequently he took specialized training in anesthesiology, intensive care, and internal medicine. In 1969, Peter Melamed, MD was awarded a Ph.D. in medical science. He took further training in acupuncture, herbal medicine, and internal detoxification at universities in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Perm, and Odessa. He was granted a license to practice acupuncture in Russia in 1978, and from that time he combined conventional Western medical treatment with herbs, acupuncture, and other non-drug healing therapies. In 1975, Melamed established Biotherapy in Russia as a natural holistic approach to healing. Biotherapy combines the wisdom of traditional Russian folk medicine, ancient Oriental medical therapies, and European and American naturopathy with cutting-edge Western technology. After immigrating to the USA in 1991, in order to continue his passion for assisting people in the healing process, Melamed immediately passed the state examination and was granted the RN license. While working as an RN, he studied at the Academy of Chinese Culture and Health Sciences in Oakland, CA, to prepare for his license to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine in this country. After passing many examinations, he obtained licenses to practice both in the state of California and in New York. He has also been certified by the National Board of Acupuncture. He is also a member of the California Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CAAOM).Peter Melamed succeeded in starting up a private practice in 1996 at Biotherapy Alternative Medicine Clinic in San Francisco. The clinic specializes in non-drug, holistic approach for healing stress, prostate disorders, and difficult cases of chronic disease, as well as pain, arthritis, immune system disorders, hepatitis C, and preventive medicine. Peter Melamed has written numerous articles published around the world, and frequently lectures on various holistic topics around the Bay Area. His latest book “Healthy Pancreas, Healthy You” is available here
antique chinese herb crusher or cutter image by Lijuan Guo from Fotolia.com

Your pancreas is an important organ and gland located in your upper abdomen. Your pancreas, notes Montana State University, performs several important functions, including the production of digestive juices to help break down macronutrients, the regulation of your blood sugar levels and the production of chemicals that neutralize your stomach acids. Certain herbal remedies may help support the functioning of your pancreas or help treat pancreas-related disorders. However, always be judicious in your use of herbal medicines, and always talk with your family doctor before using this natural treatment method.

Pancreas Problems

There are numerous pancreas-related health problems, although three in particular are well-known, including pancreatic cancer, pancreatic insufficiency, and both acute and chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatic cancer is a life-threatening illness. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that, in over 80 percent of patients, your pancreatic cancer has metastasized, or spread to other parts of your body, by the time you are diagnosed. Pancreatic insufficiency is a condition in which your pancreas no longer produces sufficient levels of insulin, while pancreatitis is inflammation of your pancreas.

Helpful Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies may be used in treating various pancreatic conditions, although the effectiveness of herbs for pancreatic cancer and pancreatic insufficiency is unknown. However, herbal remedies have long been used in treating pancreatitis. Phyllis A. Balch, a certified nutritional consultant, nutrition researcher and author of “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” states that helpful herbal remedies in strengthening and stimulating your pancreatic function include gentian, goldenseal, echinacea and cedar berries. Dandelion and olive leaf may also help treat your pancreatitis or improve your pancreatic health. Licorice root has been used to support all glandular functions, including the functions of your pancreas.

Highlighted Botanical

Dandelion root may be a helpful adjunct therapy in the treatment of your pancreatic problems and may support the health and function of your pancreas. Dandelion root may help stimulate bile production, notes Balch, and it helps cleanse your blood and liver, which in turn decreases the burden on your pancreas. Other organs that may benefit from the use of this herbal medicine include your kidneys, spleen and stomach. Discuss proper dosage of this herb and other herb-related issues with your primary care provider before ingesting it.

Considerations

Pancreatic problems may be serious. In some cases, pancreas-related problems may even cause death in some individuals. Do not use herbal remedies in place of other health measures suggested by your health care practitioner. Herbs should only be used as adjunct therapies in the treatment of your pancreatic conditions. Because certain herbs may trigger side effects and drug interactions, it is always prudent to consult a health care professional who has been trained in herbal medicine before using herbs.

Diet can definitely aid in reviving and protecting our pancreas. Some research has been conducted on herbs and their value in aiding the pancreas to full recovery

and the list of herbs and foods that are listed below may aid in restoring and protecting the pancreas. You should, however, consult with your doctor and under no circumstances stop replace your medications with them.

  1. Lemons – Sour fruit such as lemons, promotes the release of vital digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Limes and kiwi fruit are also valuable for the smooth running of the pancreas.
  2. Calendula – or Pot Marigold, has been used as a healing herb for centuries. Due to its anti-viral, anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-genotoxic compounds, it is highly effective in fighting cancer. Studies have shown that calendula could probably stop tumor cells from increasing between 70-100%. This indicates that calendula has important cytotoxic tumor properties and can activate lymphocyte commencement.
  3. Licorice Root – is considered an excellent remedy for various disorders of the pancreas. The Chinese have used licorice for thousands of years in their traditional medicine. Licorice is laden with anti-inflammatory properties which reduce the pain and swelling which is linked to pancreatitis.
  4. Goldenseal – is a popular herb and therefore not easy to find in the wild. It is one of the most beneficial herbs on the planet due to its therapeutic and medicinal properties. It can actually lower blood sugar levels and aid the pancreas in its general function as well as motivating beta cells contained inside the pancreas, which is of extreme benefit to diabetics. Goldenseal also has anti-bacterial, laxative, antiseptic, tonic, muscle stimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
  5. Horsetail – This herb is abundant in silica which aids the body in healing and restores damaged tissue which has deteriorated due to inflammation of the pancreas. In a study of the effects of horsetail on diabetic rats, it was discovered that after only five weeks of therapy, horsetail was shown to have noteworthy anti-diabetic properties and it also aided in the regeneration of the pancreas.
  6. Haritaki – is a natural remedy in India from the fruit of the Terminalia Chebula plant and is still not well-known in general. Research has shown that it has beneficial effects on the pancreas as well as formidable cancer fighting properties. Haritaki is thought to be able to prevent the growth of cancerous tumors in the pancreas as it is believed to cause apoptosis (natural death of cancerous cells). There are no noticeable side effects either. Taking haritaki extract orally lowers blood sugar levels by 43.2% – a valuable aid to diabetics.
  7. Oregano – This culinary herb is rich in natural phenolic anti-oxidants making it valuable in treating oxidation caused by diabetes. Studies on pigs have shown that oregano can slow down pancreatic amylase. Oregano is believed to have robust anti-hyperglycemic properties that can handle hyperglycemia and/or long term complications arising from diabetes.
  8. Dandelion – This familiar weed is an effective remedy against pancreatic cancer cells, in particular to those which are unaffected by other cancer treatments. Studies have shown that extract of dandelion root caused cancer cells to die, while not affecting normal cells. Dandelion tea is excellent for flushing toxins out of the intestines and also aids in restoring damaged pancreatic tissues.
  9. Cedar Berries – These berries are found in the southwest of America and are a fruit similar to grapes, in that they possess strong health promoting nutrients which are extra useful to the body. The seeds and pods are used and have been found beneficial in improving the digestive and pancreatic functions. Cedar berries regulate the normal operation of the pancreas which also causes blood sugar levels to become stable.
  10. Gentian – a beautiful blue flower and it is an herb that helps to produce a healthy pancreas. The roots of gentian motivate the gall bladder, mucous membranes of the stomach and the pancreas to boost the production of pancreatic enzymes, stomach acid, bile and other juices that create a healthy digestive system.
  11. Olive Leaves – contain nutrients that detoxify the blood and improve circulation. Taking olive leaf extract will prevent free radicals from instigating damage that leads to disease and lowers blood pressure. Taken regularly this extract will result in a stronger liver, thyroid and pancreas.Oleuropein is the active property in olive leaves which is an anti-inflammatory composite found in the pancreas. The consumption of extra amounts of oleuropein helps to lessen the pain and swelling caused by pancreatitis. Olive leaves also contain oleic acid which aids in destroying free radicals which can cause cellular harm to the pancreas. Studies have shown that these leaves can hold back the growth of cancer cells and taken regularly, will reduce the risk of breast cancer as well as pancreatic cancer.
  12. Garlic – Garlic not only aids the pancreas but it also decreases the amount of sugar in the blood while stimulating the pancreas to manufacture ample levels of insulin. You should eat one to two slightly crushed cloves of garlic per day, as well as adding it to your food. Garlic tea can be drunk as an alternative and a few sprigs of parsley will sweeten your breath.

Pancreas is a small organ often ignored until something goes wrong with it. Although small, it is vital for digestion and the endocrine process through the body. So, do your best to take good care of it and feel free to consult our doctors and general surgeons for any issue that may troubles you.

Why the Pancreas is Vital for Health

by Ashley Grano

What is the pancreas?

When most people think of the systems of the body that help regulate digestion and hormones, the pancreas is likely not the first organ that comes to mind. However, the pancreas plays a major role in both of these areas of health. The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes that help break down foods in the intestine, as well as producing hormones that support and regulate blood sugar levels, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As a result, this singular organ serves as two glands in one, a digestive exocrine gland as well as a hormone-producing endocrine gland, reports EndocrineWeb.

Why is pancreatic health so important?

Healthy digestion is vital for the absorption of vitamins and nutrients in food, and properly balanced glucose levels are vital for well-being throughout the body. These levels are especially important for maintaining proper functioning of the liver, kidneys, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the brain, according to Healthline. While it is possible to live without a pancreas, developing diabetes is common. The condition then often becomes difficult to manage, as the body becomes completely reliant on artificial insulin and digestive enzymes for survival, according to Medical News Today.

Types of pancreas disorders

Unfortunately, the complex and difficult-to-reach pancreas is susceptible to multiple disorders, including acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, hereditary pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer, says the National Pancreas Foundation.

Acute pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition, comes on suddenly, and is usually associated with severe upper abdominal pain that can last several days. Fortunately, full recovery is common. Chronic pancreatitis, on the other hand, develops gradually and can lead to health complications such as diabetes.

Pancreatic cancer is known as the fourth most common type of cancer-related death in men, and the fifth leading cause in women. There are over 37,000 new cases per year in the United States. Pancreatic cancer is not only often symptom-less in its early stages (making early diagnosis difficult), but it is also resistant to many common treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, according to the National Pancreas Foundation.

What are signs and symptoms of pancreas problems?

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include upper abdominal pain that radiates into the back, swelling and tenderness in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, fever, and elevated heart rate, reports WebMD. Chronic pancreatitis symptoms may also include upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, as well as excessive thirst and fatigue, shortness of breath and unexplained weight loss, according to Healthline.

Early warning signs of pancreatic cancer include unintentional weight loss, ongoing loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice related symptoms), dark-colored urine or light-colored stools, says WebMD.

How are pancreas problems diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will usually start with a full history of symptoms, including a physical. Given the location of the pancreas, there are several ways to test and diagnose pancreatic problems, including blood tests, CT scan, ultrasound, and MRI, according to WebMD. Blood tests check for abnormally elevated levels of pancreatic enzymes, and various imaging tests can check for inflammation and blockages in the pancreatic duct or bile duct.

What causes pancreas disorders?

According to the National Pancreas Foundation, the leading cause of both acute and chronic pancreatitis in the United States is chronic alcohol consumption. Other causes can include cystic fibrosis, hereditary disorders of the pancreas, certain medications, autoimmune disease, infections, trauma, metabolic disorders and surgery, says WebMD.

While the exact causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, some factors increase the risk. These include smoking, obesity, exposure to certain chemicals, family history, and gender, with men at an increased risk, according to the American Cancer Society. People with diabetes are also at an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

How to naturally support pancreatic health

While some risk factors that can lead to pancreatic disorders cannot be avoided, following a healthy lifestyle can help support overall well-being plus lower the risk, suggests Healthline.

  • Eat a balanced, low-fat diet, with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise. Regular physical activity can help avoid development of conditions that can trigger pancreatitis. However, avoid any rapid weight loss, which can strain the liver.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, as alcohol is known to increase the risk of both acute and chronic pancreatitis in addition to pancreatic cancer.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Have an annual physical. Since pancreatic cancer is very difficult to detect, catching it early with a screening can be life-saving.

The pancreas is an essential organ of the body. Knowing the symptoms of its malfunction helps in many cases to detect early a problem that can be serious. We will explore this organ and the herbs to strengthen the pancreas.

The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. Its function is to produce gastric juices and hormones. The first ones help to break down food; while the latter collaborate in the control of blood sugar levels.

What diseases affect the Pancreas?

Pancreatic diseases are not frequent. In general, they appear during old age or at the stage of fetal development. The most commons are:

  • Pancreatitis: is the inflammation of the pancreas. When the condition is severe, the symptoms, although very painful, are not very clear, since they can be confused with those of peritonitis or those of an intestinal obstruction.

80% of cases of pancreatitis are due to the presence of gallstones and poor eating habits, such as high fat intake and excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Pancreatic cancer: Does not cause symptoms immediately. When the symptoms appear, they are usually vague or imperceptible. They include a yellowing of the skin and eyes, pain in the abdomen and back, weight loss and fatigue. Some risk factors for its development are smoking, suffering from diabetes for a long time, having chronic pancreatitis or some inherited disorders.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This is a genetic disorder in which a thick mucous secretion can obstruct the pancreatic ducts. It mainly affects the lungs, the pancreas, the liver, the intestines and the sexual organs.

THE PANCREAS AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DIABETES

In addition to playing a crucial role in digestion, the pancreas is central to the production of insulin, a substance that lowers blood sugar levels by converting glucose from carbohydrates and sugars into fuel for the body. This allows the body to store food energy for future use.

That is why the malfunctioning of this gland is also related to the development of diabetes. In type I diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas do not produce insulin due to a reaction of the body’s immune system against them; while in type 2 diabetes, the pancreas loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals.

SIGNS INDICATING A PROBLEM WITH THE PANCREAS

  • Pain: The discomfort appears in the upper part of the abdomen and behind the stomach, just on the left side, and can radiate up behind the back or below the left shoulder blade. It often appears as a burning sensation that can be triggered after eating, and it is more severe if foods with a high fat content are consumed. The pain is also more intense when lying on your back, since the pancreas is compressed.
  • Fever: When the enzymes attack the pancreas, they produce inflammation and, as a consequence, it is common for the body temperature to increase.
  • Nausea and vomiting: If the pancreas is inflamed, the digestive system is altered and food is not digested well, so it is common to feel upset stomach, nausea and vomiting.
  • Headache: It is also normal to feel tired, irritable, with difficulty concentrating and suffering from sudden headaches.
  • Weight loss: When the food is poorly synthesized, the necessary nutrients are not obtained, so the patient begins to lose weight despite eating.
  • Tachycardia: The person has an accelerated heart rate, gets tired easily and tends to breathe faster.

FOOD DIET FOR THE PANCREAS

Those who suffer from pancreatic diseases, such as those who wish to preserve a healthy pancreas, should consider:

  • Limit the consumption of sugar, fatty foods and refined flours, since they contain components that damage the pancreas.
  • Reduce the intake of red meat.
  • Avoid alcohol: If you drink excessively, the effect on the pancreas is immediate.
  • Eat foods rich in fibers, especially whole grains.
  • Incorporate more vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which are rich in alkaline compounds ideal for the pancreas and avoid cancer. They can be consumed whole or in the form of juice (can be mixed with carrot juice to improve flavor).
  • The contribution of proteins is also essential to prevent pancreatic diseases. Incorporate them preferably through legumes, fish and lean meats.

TIPS TO PREVENT PANCREAS DISEASES

  • Control the consumption of certain medications.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Avoid overweight and obesity.
  • Keep blood sugar levels under control.

Natural Nutrients for the Pancreas

Onion and garlic are good sources of nutrients for a healthy pancreas.

Herbs to Strengthen the Pancreas

  • Turmeric: This plant reduces inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Fenugreek: If you have diabetes, this herb can help your body regulate blood sugar levels better.
  • Chamomile: It has a substance that suppresses the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.

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Pancreatitis

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

It is important to get conventional medical treatment for pancreatitis as soon as possible. A severe attack can be life threatening if left untreated. Most alternative therapies have not yet been studied for use specifically in pancreatitis, although some evidence indicates that antioxidants may have beneficial effects. Several therapies, though, may reduce the risk of developing pancreatitis or ease some of the symptoms when used in conjunction with conventional care. You should never treat pancreatitis without your doctor’s supervision.

Numerous studies have explored the role of antioxidants to help rid the body of harmful cells called free radicals. Low antioxidant levels in the blood (including reduced amounts of vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and carotenoids) may lead to chronic pancreatitis due to the destructive effects of increased free radicals. Antioxidant deficiency and the risk of developing pancreatitis may be particularly linked in areas of the world with low dietary intake of antioxidants. In addition, the cooking and processing of foods may destroy antioxidants. Alcohol-induced pancreatitis is linked to low levels of antioxidants as well. There is also some evidence that antioxidant supplements may eliminate or minimize oxidative stress and help alleviate pain from chronic pancreatitis.

Nutrition and Supplements

People who are susceptible to pancreatitis should avoid alcohol consumption.

Some evidence suggests that increasing your intake of antioxidants (found in fruits and green vegetables) may help protect against pancreatitis or alleviate symptoms of the condition. Health care providers may recommend increasing your intake of antioxidants to help rid the body of free radicals. Low levels of antioxidants in the blood may make someone more likely to develop pancreatitis. Alcohol-induced pancreatitis is linked to low levels of antioxidants as well.

Following these nutritional tips may help reduce risks and symptoms:

  • Eliminate all suspected food allergens, including dairy (milk, cheese, eggs, and ice cream), wheat (gluten), soy, corn, preservatives, and chemical food additives. Your health care provider may want to test you for food allergies.
  • Eat foods high in B-vitamins and iron, such as whole grains (if no allergy), dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale), and sea vegetables.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes), and vegetables (such as squash and bell pepper).
  • Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
  • Eat fewer red meats and more lean meats, cold-water fish, tofu (soy, if no allergy) or beans for protein.
  • Use healthy oils for cooking, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
  • Reduce significantly or eliminate trans-fatty acids, found in commercially-baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, and donuts. Also avoid French fries, onion rings, processed foods, and margarine.
  • Avoid coffee and other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
  • Exercise moderately for 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.

You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:

  • A multivitamin daily, containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, D, the B-complex vitamins, and trace minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, 1 to 2 capsules or 1 to 2 tbsp. of oil daily, to help reduce inflammation and improve immunity. Omega-3 fatty acids can have a blood-thinning effect and may increase the effect of blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), 100 to 200 mg at bedtime, for antioxidant and immune activity. CoQ10 might help the blood clot. By helping the blood clot, CoQ10 might decrease the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Vitamin C, 1 to 6 mg daily, as an antioxidant. Vitamin C may interfere with vitamin B12, so take doses at least 2 hours apart. Lower the dose if diarrhea develops.
  • Probiotic supplement (containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and other beneficial bacteria), 5 to 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day, for maintenance of gastrointestinal and immune health. Some probiotic supplements require refrigeration. Check the label. Some clinicians will not give probiotics to severely immune-compromised patients. Speak with your physician.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid, 25 to 50 mg twice daily, for antioxidant support. Taking alpha-lipoic acid in the presence of a Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency can cause serious health issues. Alpha-lipoic acid may also interact with certain chemotherapy drugs.

Herbs

Herbs are generally available as standardized, dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures/liquid extracts (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Mix liquid extracts with favorite beverage. Dose for teas is 1 to 2 heaping tsp/cup water steeped for 10 to 15 minutes (roots need longer). Although herbs should never be used alone to treat pancreatitis, some herbs may be helpful along with conventional medical treatment. Tell your physician about any herb or complementary therapy you may be considering. Many herbs can interfere with certain medications. Speak with your physician.

  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis) standardized extract, 250 to 500 mg daily. Use caffeine-free products. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb. Green tea has powerful antioxidant properties. Green tea can potentially worsen anemia and glaucoma.
  • Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) standardized extract, 400 mg daily, for antioxidant protection. Holy basil can have a blood-thinning effect, and may increase the effect of blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin(Coumadin) and aspirin.
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) standardized extract, 150 to 300 mg, 1 to 3 times daily, for immune support. Rhodiola is an “adaptogen” and helps the body adapt to various stresses.
  • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) standardized extract, 20 mg, 3 times a day, for inflammation and immune stimulation. Cat’s claw can interact with many medications and can have deleterious effects on patients with leukemia and Parkinson disease. As an immune stimulant, there is some concern that cat’s claw may worsen autoimmune disease.
  • Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), 150 to 300 mg, 2 to 3 times daily, for inflammation and immunity. You may also take a tincture of this mushroom extract, 30 to 60 drops, 2 to 3 times a day. High doses of Reishi can have a blood-thinning effect, and may increase the effect of blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin. Reishi may lower blood pressure, so you should use extra caution if you take blood pressure medication.
  • Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) powder, 3 to 6 grams daily in favorite beverage for antioxidant support. Emblica is a traditional Ayurvedic medicinal plant used to treat pancreatic disorders. It is a powerful antioxidant and one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C. Animal studies suggest that this herb can be used to prevent pancreatitis. Indian gooseberry may increase the risk of bleeding, especially among people who take blood-thinning medications. Speak with your doctor.
  • Grape seed extract (Vinis vinifera) standardized extract, 100 to 300 mg daily for antioxidant support. Grape seed extract can have a blood-thinning effect, and may increase the effect of blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin, as well as other drug interactions. Speak with your doctor.

Individual case reports suggest that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be effective for preventing and treating pancreatitis. To determine the right regimen, consult a skilled herbalist or licensed and certified practitioner of TCM, and keep all of your health care providers informed of any supplements, herbs, and medications you are taking.

You may be given:

  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
  • Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
  • Peony root (Paeonia officinalis)
  • Cinnamon Chinese bark (Cinnamomum verum)

Acupuncture

Studies evaluating acupuncture as a treatment for pancreatitis show mixed results. Some case reports say that acupuncture helped relieve pain from pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. But a review of several studies was inconclusive.

What Pancreas Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals Are Legit?

How can I strengthen my pancreas?

The same way you can strengthen your muscles. If you simply eat the muscles of cows, your own biceps will be bulging!

Obviously that’s a joke. Yet there are supplements for pancreas and liver which are known as natural glandular products. Their primary ingredient is the ground up organ tissue of bovine (cow), porcine (pig), and ovine (sheep).

Nutricology Pancreas Natural Glandular Pork is sold in vegan capsules (ironically) and each contains 425 mg of freeze-dried pig pancreas tissue. They say you can rotate it with their glandular beef and lamb sources.

The Nutricology supplements were formulated by the late Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez. He was known for holding controversial views on pancreatic cancer, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

You can even buy raw pancreas supplements. The brands Solaray, Natural Sources, and Swanson Vitamins all sell them.

Are they safe? Natural Sources says their raw tissue comes from animals grazed on land free of pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and chemical additives.

That’s good and all, but how do those characteristics protect the animals from bacterial and viral infections?

Aside from pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella, for the cattle-derived sources, safety questions about mad cow disease may come to mind.

Technically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the scariest part is that it’s not caused by a bacteria or virus, but rather an unusual transmissible agent called a prion. It’s a type of an infection that’s not well understood. So logically, you would want to take every precaution for protection. (1)

Raw or not, before you buy these or minerals and vitamins that are good for the pancreas (allegedly), you first need to understand the basics about how this organ works and what it needs to perform best.

While the focus here is human health, much of the following is relevant to pet owners. Pancreas supplements for dogs are aggressively promoted by some as a home remedy or cure for pancreatitis, or to cleanse the organ, with little or no evidence cited. Since they too are mammals, much of their biology is similar. At least for this organ.

What does the pancreas do?

There are two main functions:

1. Supply enzymes

The job for most of the cells in the pancreas is to produce digestive enzymes. These assist with breaking down proteins, fats, and carbs.

The pancreas doesn’t digest those foods. Rather, it supplies these enzymes to the small intestine, where the digestion takes place.

By OpenStax College via Wikipedia

The enzymes flow from the cells and minor ducts into what’s called the main pancreatic duct. This continues to the duodenum of the small intestine.

2. Blood sugar regulation

There are small clusters of insulin-producing cells (islets) throughout the pancreas. These produce hormones which are needed for regulating blood sugar; insulin and glucagon.

What causes it to not work right?

There’s no one-size-fits-all pancreatic problem or treatment. As with other organs, there are many different types of malfunctions which can occur. Let’s review the most common causes.

Type 1 diabetes is the form of the disease not caused by obesity or lifestyle. Rather, it’s an autoimmune disease, where the body incorrectly identifies the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as being foreign and destroys them. While this can occur in adulthood, most often it’s early in life, when one is a toddler or young child.

It’s irreversible, so there are no medications, supplements or vitamins that will bring back those destroyed cells.

Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by lifestyle choices over the years, does put extra stress on the pancreas. More insulin needs to be produced, just to have the same effect as lower amounts do in healthy and thinner individuals. The data suggests that type 2 diabetics are at a two or three-fold increased risk of getting pancreatitis. (2)

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. This can be acute (temporary) or a chronic state. Risk factors for pancreatitis include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • High-protein diets
  • High-fat diets
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Native American ancestry
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Older age
  • Exposure to asparaginase

Asparaginase is used as a medication during acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Even without cancer, everyone is exposed since it’s used in food manufacturing to decrease formation of acrylamide, which is a carcinogen created during high-temperatures (e.g. roasting, frying, grilling). (3)

Many of these risk factors for pancreatitis also correlate with an increased risk of getting pancreatic cancer. (4) (5)

What is good for the pancreas?

The best natural remedies for pancreas are lifestyle and dietary modifications. Avoiding alcohol, no smoking of tobacco or marijuana, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing intake of protein and fats will put less stress on the organ.

Those things should be first and foremost on your to-do list. Plus, with the exception of protein intake, all of those other changes will also benefit your liver.

Aside from being good for you, they’re also free, so you have no excuse not to do them.

In fact, many of those choices will actually save you money.

After those, the science becomes murkier as to what helps promote the health of your pancreas. Or your dog’s for that matter.

The science behind each supplement

Pancreatin

Also called pancrelipase or simply pancreatic enzymes, these are a mixture of amylase, lipase, and protease. They work by supporting the digestion of foods in people who don’t naturally make enough pancreatic enzymes.

By far, these have the most proof of working, at least when in the form of a prescribed medication.

Known as Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT), it’s considered “the mainstay of treatment” for nutrient malabsorption when the organ doesn’t work right. (6)

They are on the World Health Organization’s list of Essential Medicines and have been used since at least the 1800s in some form. (7)

As a medication, the FDA has only approved 6 pancreatic enzyme products (PEPs) as being safe, effective, and having consistent active ingredients. Those are:

  • Creon
  • Zenpep
  • Pancreaze
  • Ultresa
  • Viokace
  • Pertzye

Among these, Viokace is the only one without an enteric coating. The others are coated, which helps protect them from being destroyed by the stomach’s acid. This is important since they’re needed past the stomach, in the small intestine.

All of these are available by prescription only. Enzyme replacement therapy is regularly used in patients with cystic fibrosis and other diseases which impair the organ. (8)

There are over-the-counter dietary supplements which contain amylase, lipase, and protease. They’re marketed as pancreas supplements or non-descriptively, as part of a probiotic formula. They’re not intended for the treatment of any disease and because the FDA does not regulate them, their potencies (or lack thereof) are unpredictable and may not be as advertised.

Pancreas glandular tissue

These are supplements of ground and freeze-dried pancreas tissue. It can be sourced from cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. There are two theories behind their purported benefits:

1. Like-tissue theory

Some people believe that providing like-tissue will support your own tissue of the same kind. Unfortunately this is largely a myth.

Hyaluronic acid and collagen supplements are two of the most common examples. They are bought in hopes of beautifying the skin and lubricating the joints, since after all, those areas naturally contain hyaluronic acid and collagen.

The problem is those compounds are made of proteins, just like pancreatic tissue.

When we eat proteins, we don’t absorb them whole. Our body breaks them down to their constituent amino acids before absorption.

So even though it may have served as pancreatic cells in the pig or cow, once inside your body, it’s going to become amino acids which are comparable to what you get from regular food sources.

Plus, even if they were absorbed intact (and they definitely aren’t) keep in mind they are from a different species!

2. Natural enzyme source

Raw pancreas glandular supplements are believed to be a natural source of the enzymes amylase, lipase, and protease.

While it’s true there may be some that survive and remain intact, the amount of enzymatic content may be trivial when compared to the mass of the dead pancreatic cells (protein) in the supplement.

Even if there was a high amount of enzymes, since they’re in a natural state and not enteric coated, it’s unknown if the enzymes survive on their journey through the stomach acid.

Generally, animal gland supplements are not a good or reliable source of pancreatic enzymes.

Chromium

Chromium is a trace mineral for humans. The main type found in our bodies is in the form of trivalent chromium (Cr3+). Some research suggests it may support the action of insulin.

This started with animal research in the 1960’s, where it was found to correct glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

It’s believed this happens because it makes cells more sensitive to the insulin they come in contact with.

Basically, it might boost the performance of insulin.

Since the pancreas is responsible for producing insulin and it may not be producing enough, the theory is that anything to bolster how well its insulin works may be a healthy supplement.

So far, there is only preliminary evidence that chromium supplements might be useful for type 2 diabetics.

When it comes to assisting or healing the pancreas, not much data exists.

A few years ago the Journal of Diabetes Research published a study reporting that chromium picolinate supplementation in a rat model of type 2 diabetes produced benefits for the pancreas.

With a dose of 50 µg per kg of body weight, their pancreatic cell structures were more complete (more dark areas) and fewer inflammatory signs were seen. The improvement in the 25 µg/kg group was less pronounced, while the higher 100 µg/kg dose was even better.

While this and other research is intriguing, there’s inadequate human data for it helping type 2 diabetics, let alone non-diabetic individuals. (9) (10) (11)

Calcium

Some claim that calcium is a good supplement for the pancreas but this must be a mix-up, because science suggests the opposite – too much spells trouble.

It is true that normal function of the organ requires calcium, specifically in the acinar cells. When we eat food, it can spike their calcium concentration temporarily, which is healthy. However when we have high levels of calcium there continuously, it can have an adverse reaction on their performance. (12)

High sustained calcium levels has been found to correlate with acute pancreatitis. (13)

While calcium is an essential mineral in the human diet, excess amounts and high spikes from taking concentrated tablets, capsules, and chewables may be bad for your pancreas.

Magnesium

In addition to calcium, magnesium is among the minerals for pancreatitis and supporting the organ’s health that gets mentioned.

Much of that mindset is based on a 20 year old study out of Imperial College in London. They reported 10 out of 13 patients with chronic pancreatitis had a magnesium deficiency. (14)

This a chicken and egg question.

Did the magnesium deficiency cause or contribute to the pancreatitis? Or did the pancreatitis cause the deficiency, due to decreased absorption of nutrients from food?

Earlier in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was reported that there was no impairment of the pancreas function in animal models of magnesium deficiency.

That throws cold water on this support remedy.

However they did mention that alcoholics may benefit, because they tend to magnesium deficient regardless, and that could exasperate their acute or chronic pancreatitis. (15)

The most recent and relevant study was out of Germany in 2013 and they found that it reduced the severity of pancreatitis in animals. (16)

The verdict is still out on this mineral and how it may help the pancreas. Since it’s used in over 300 biological processes (enzymes) throughout the body, and that an estimated 48% of Americans get too little magnesium in their diet, it’s probably not a bad supplement to take regardless. (17)

B vitamins

In a German study of a 137 patients, it was found that vitamin B12 deficiency is rare in chronic pancreatitis. (18)

Vitamins B3 and B5 have been suggested as being important for the digestion of fats and carbs. It’s true that these, as well as all eight of the B vitamins, are involved in the conversion processes of food to fuel (glucose).

There is no evidence that excess amounts are good or bad for the pancreas. Nor is there reason to suspect that deficiency of B vitamins is prevalent in people with pancreatic problems.

Given that the B vitamins are water soluble, they’re hard to overdose on (unlike vitamin A and E). Considering this and the fact that they are essential for health in a number of ways, taking a good vitamin B complex might not be a bad idea regardless.

Vitamin C

In a Chinese clinical study, 84 acute pancreatitis patients were divided into two treatment groups:

  • 10g (10,000 mg) daily dosage of intravenous vitamin C
  • 1g (1,000 mg) of C given the same way

Those getting the high dose were found to have a healthier response based on several biological parameters.

“The potential mechanisms include promotion of antioxidizing ability of acute pancreatitis patients, blocking of lipid peroxidation in the plasma and improvement of cellular immune function.”

That’s a direct quote and while intriguing, it doesn’t necessarily tell us how that would compare to other potent antioxidants. Perhaps they too may offer similar pancreas healing benefits? (19)

There have been a number of observational studies based on collected data which suggest that above average vitamin C intake may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. As far as it reducing the risk of pancreatitis, increasing pancreas performance, or cleansing, there’s not data to suggest those things. (20)

Anti-inflammatories

This is a very broad category of supplements. In theory, any antioxidant that works in vivo (in the body) will decrease inflammation, by the reduction of oxidative stress.

High amounts of oxidative stress occur during acute and chronic pancreatitis. Therefore it’s one – but certainly not the only – contributor of the inflammation that accompanies this disease. (21)

When it comes to choosing a natural anti-inflammatory for the pancreas, there’s not much data as to which work the best specifically for this organ. For general anti-inflammatory benefits, one of the most researched would be curcumin supplements.

Which are the best?

Based on research, the best supplements for pancreas health contain pancreatin, which consists of the digestive enzymes amylase, lipase, and protease. Ideally, this should be in a measured form rather than raw beef or pork glandular tissue.

There is only preliminary evidence to support chromium, magnesium, B vitamins, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). While not individually studied, a broad spectrum of antioxidants should support anti-inflammatory activity throughout the body, including the pancreas.

Please note that dietary supplements should not be used to treat, cure, or prevent any disease, including that of pancreas. If you have abnormal function of this organ, you should consult your doctor before using any supplement.

As a supplement to support general health, by helping with the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbs, on Amazon a good choice is the enteric coated KAL Ultra Pancreatin.

There are also pancreatic enzyme supplements for dogs and cats. Check out the porcine sourced enzyme powder by Pan-tenex.

Finding where to buy supplements for pancreas health in-store will be an uphill battle. They are very niche products. For vitamin and health stores that do carry them, you may only have one or two brands to choose from and who knows how long those enzymes have been on that shelf.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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What is pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs within the pancreas, a large and important organ located behind the stomach and connected to the first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum.

The pancreas has two main functions: supplying enzymes that help to digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the small intestine, and secreting hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism of sugar. Under normal circumstances, the pancreatic enzymes that digest food become activated when they leave the pancreas and reach the duodenum; however, under abnormal circumstances such as pancreatitis they can become activated inside the pancreas and start “digesting” the gland itself, causing tissue injury and inflammation.

Pancreatitis can be an acute condition, appearing suddenly and lasting only a few days or it can become chronic, developing gradually and persisting over many years. Mild attacks of acute pancreatitis often improve on their own or after simple dietary changes, but more severe cases may require immediate medical attention to avoid fatal complications. Recurrent attacks or ongoing, long-term inflammation can cause permanent destruction of the organ along with a multitude of medical problems.

What are pancreatitis symptoms?

The most common pancreatitis symptom is abdominal pain, occurring either in discrete episodes that last hours to days, or continuously for months or even years.

Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly, usually with mild to severe pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back and occasionally to the chest. Pain often worsens when drinking alcohol or eating. In addition to pain, other pancreatitis symptoms include nausea and vomiting, fever, and a swollen, tense abdomen. Some individuals with chronic pancreatitis may experience little to no discomfort; however, most people have intermittent bouts of abdominal pain that can be severe, even constant. Diarrhea may also occur with greasy stools (steatorrhea) as digesting fat becomes difficult. Since pain is frequently brought on by eating and drinking, appetite may decrease with accompanying weight loss and potential dehydration.

A number of complications can occur from severe or repeated bouts of pancreatitis. As pancreatic tissue is damaged, it becomes more susceptible to bacterial infection by organisms that originate in the small intestine and spread into ducts or the pancreas itself. This can lead to high fevers, abscess formation, septic shock and ultimately organ failure if the infection is not contained or controlled in time. A pancreatic pseudocyst can form as a result of fluid and tissue debris collecting within the pancreas or in an obstructed duct. If large enough, these may also become infected, bleed, or cause pain as they press on neighboring structures, and require surgical drainage.

Chronic pancreatitis can produce the same complications as an acute process in addition to damaging blood vessels that surround the pancreas, which can lead to potentially fatal bleeding. Other potential long-term problems include malnutrition, weight loss, long-term addiction to pain medications and pancreatic cancer, as a result of chronic inflammation and cellular change. Diabetes may also be a late complication as pancreatic function declines.

What are the causes of pancreatitis?

Most of the pancreas is composed of cells that produce digestive enzymes. These cells are arranged in clusters that are connected to a series of small ducts. Pancreatic enzymes and juices flow from the cells and minor ducts into the main pancreatic duct, leading to the duodenum. The pancreas also contains small “islands” of hormone-producing cells called the islets of Langerhans, which secrete insulin and glucagon, along with somatostatin – hormones that primarily regulate blood sugar metabolism.

A combination of environmental and genetic factors likely plays a role in the development of most cases of pancreatitis. Nevertheless, long-term alcohol abuse remains one of the leading causes. Alcohol triggers the release of pancreatic enzymes sooner than normal as well as increasing the permeability of the smaller ducts within the pancreas, causing digestive juices to leak into healthy tissue and damaging it in the process. Excessive levels of alcohol also can cause small stones or protein plugs to form within the ducts, blocking passage of these enzymes out of the pancreas and into the intestine. It is not clear in every instance just how alcohol affects the pancreas and there certainly seems to be a genetic link in that not all alcoholics get pancreatitis, but alcohol is certainly a dominating factor.

Gallstones are also a leading cause of acute pancreatitis. They form when a chemical imbalance causes bile from the liver to solidify. Gallstones are sometimes small enough to migrate from the gallbladder, where bile is stored, to the common bile duct, which merges with the pancreatic duct near the entrance to the small intestine. As stones block the pancreatic duct, they cause pancreatic enzymes to activate and create the digestive process that injures healthy tissue.

Other factors that can contribute to pancreatitis include increased levels of fats called triglycerides (hyperlipidemia) in the blood as well as high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia); and certain medications, including corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, blood pressure lowering drugs (thiazides), antibiotics such as tetracyclines and sulfonamides, along with immune-suppressive drugs. Abdominal surgery, structural abnormalities of the duct system within the pancreas and gall bladder and abdominal trauma, which can compress the pancreas against the spine, can also make one more susceptible to pancreatitis. Finally, viral infections, including mumps, hepatitis and infectious mono; bacterial infections, and pancreatic cancer (which may obstruct the flow of pancreatic enzymes due to tumor growth) can all be contributors. Cystic fibrosis and a hereditary form of pancreatitis are examples of inherited diseases that are linked to an increased risk of pancreatic damage.

What is the conventional treatment?

Mild cases of acute pancreatitis generally improve in a week or less. Moderate to severe cases take longer and typically require hospitalization with the goal of resting the digestive tract and pancreas, allowing digestive enzymes to subside, and controlling pain. This is done by not eating or drinking for at least a few days, receiving intravenous fluids and pain medications, and usually having a feeding tube passed into and beyond the stomach, small intestine and pancreas to ensure proper nutrition without activating digestive enzymes. If gallstones block the pancreatic duct, a procedure to remove the stones may need to be performed or your doctor may ultimately recommend that the gallbladder be surgically removed, especially if gallstones continue to pose problems. Complications may require more intensive treatment and observation within the hospital.

The main goals of conventional treatment for chronic pancreatitis are to help stop alcohol and drug abuse and improve digestive health as well as focusing on adequate pain relief and nutritional support. This may include taking pancreatic enzyme supplements to aid digestion, which help by increasing levels of digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestine so that the pancreas doesn’t have to work as hard.

For severe, chronic pain from pancreatitis that can’t be controlled, conventional treatment options include surgery to remove damaged tissue or procedures to block pain signals or deaden the nerves transmitting the pain. Regarding alcohol dependency, simply stopping alcohol consumption may be the most important step in relieving pain during the early stages of the disease. However, as pancreatitis becomes more chronic, continued use of alcohol greatly increases the risk of complications and death, and should be avoided at all costs.

What therapies does Dr. Weil recommend for pancreatitis?

Although pancreatitis isn’t always preventable, you can take steps to help reduce your risk. A low-fat diet usually is recommended to help avoid pancreatitis, and eating several small meals may be preferable to three larger ones. Keeping well hydrated is also important since, with this condition, dehydration can lead to pain. It’s a good idea to carry bottled water with you and to drink frequently throughout the day. Once you’re thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.

Avoiding excessive alcohol (and finding integrative solutions to treat dependence) is a priority as is stopping smoking, since tobacco use is also linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis, especially when combined with alcohol consumption.

As far as pancreatitis diet tips, when pain flares up, you may be better off avoiding food or sticking to clear liquids such as broth; apple, cranberry or grape juice; or gelatin. In general, it is a good idea to stick to foods that are low in protein, avoid anything that is highly spiced and try to avoid any food that triggers pain.

Dr. Weil recommends using anti-inflammatory herbs, especially turmeric and ginger based products. Follow dosage recommendations on the labels or inserts. You might also try traditional Chinese medicine with acupuncture for pain control, improved digestion and relaxation.

As is true with other chronic diseases, living with pancreatitis can cause emotional ups and downs. Here are some other tips for dealing with those challenges:

  • Maintain normal daily activities as best you can.
  • Stay connected with friends and family.
  • Continue to pursue hobbies that you enjoy and are able to do.
  • Consider joining a support group, especially one for people with chronic pain.

Keep in mind that your physical health can impact directly on mental health. Denial, anger and frustration are common with chronic illnesses. At times, you may need more tools to deal with your emotions. Professionals such as therapists or behavioral psychologists may be able to put things in perspective.

They can also teach coping skills for pancreatitis, including relaxation techniques that may be quite helpful. Dr. Weil suggests experimenting with mind-body techniques such as hypnosis or guided imagery. With proper training, these methods can help one quickly enter deep states of relaxation and can be an alternative remedy for controlling pain, nausea, and stress-induced cravings.

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