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How to keep your pancreas healthy?


DR. RAGHAVENDRA BABU, Senior Consultant – Gastrointestinal & HPB Surgical Oncology


What is pancreas and where is it located?

Even though overlooked by many people, Pancreas is an important organ as a part of the digestive system of our body helping in digesting the food we eat by producing digestive enzymes to break down the food we eat in the intestine and also producing hormones to help in regulating our blood sugars.

It is located behind and in between the stomach and small intestines. It is spongy to touch and shaped like a fish, measuring about 15 cm in length in adults. Its head part is located in the junction of the stomach and small intestine and this is where it releases pancreatic juices for digestion. The neck, body and tail are located in the central abdomen.

What are the functions of Pancreas and what makes it so important?

The pancreas produces certain chemicals called enzymes that help in the digestion of the foods we eat. These enzymes like trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, and lipase help in breaking down proteins, carbohydrates and fats that we eat into their elemental forms, so that they can be absorbed. Without this digestion, all the nutrients are not absorbed. The pancreatic juice drains into the intestine through a common opening both for the pancreatic duct and the bile duct.

The pancreas is also an important organ in regulating blood sugars. It produces many hormones which are released into the blood like insulin, glucagon and others which maintain blood sugar levels and also help in building of body cells and proteins. This is vital in maintaining the function of key organs like the brain, liver and kidneys.

What are the various diseases of Pancreas?

The common diseases of pancreas include pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Here the enzymes of the pancreas can digest part of the pancreas itself and also the surrounding fatty omentum in the abdomen. It is most commonly caused by alcohol and gallstones. It can also be caused by certain medications, genetic predisposition or dietary habits.

Pancreatic cancer is most commonly an adenocarcinoma from the enzyme-producing and ductal cells. Rarely, cancer can arise from the endocrine cells and called as neuroendocrine tumors. Smoking and alcohol are the two most common risk factors for cancer in pancreas. Pancreatitis itself can also be a risk factor.

Pancreas can be affected by other diseases like cysts, stones or precancerous conditions like IPMN.

What are the foods and lifestyle habits that can damage Pancreas?

  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Use of refined products like sugars, maida (refined flour), processed meats.
  • Consumption of excessive fatty foods and junk food
  • Food coloring, food additives and preservatives
  • Lack of physical activity and exercise
  • Smoking along with alcohol is a deadly cocktail which increases the risk for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancers exponentially.

How to keep Pancreas healthy?

  1. Avoid excessive use of alcohol: If you are a patient of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, completely avoid use of alcohol. Alcohol is an important cause of pancreatic problems and it is best avoided by everyone.
  2. Quit smoking and other tobacco products
  3. Follow a healthy diet:
    • Limit the use of fatty foods and use healthy fats from vegetables and fish
    • Avoid junk foods like burgers and fries from fast food outlets
    • Use more healthy cooking habits like boiling, steaming and baking.
    • Avoid red meats and processed meats
    • Use high-protein foods like eggs, lentils, nuts, fish and chicken.
    • Have foods with anti-oxidants like fruits, green vegetables, berries, whole grains and green tea
  4. Follow a healthy lifestyle:

    • Do about half an hour of exercise per day
    • Try to lose weight if you are obese
    • Drink at least 2 to 2.5 litres of water per day
    • If you already have a pancreatic disease, eat a small quantity but frequent (6 times/day) meals – This can help in better digestion in case of a diseased pancreas.