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How Does Alcohol Cause Pancreatitis

Does alcohol cause hiccups?

While the link between heavy alcohol use and liver disease is well known, heavy alcohol use is a common cause of many other conditions. One such condition is pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. While there are several common causes of pancreatitis, long-term alcohol abuse has been found to be a common cause. In fact, heavy alcohol is the single most common cause of chronic pancreatitis. [1]

What is Pancreatitis?

The pancreas is an organ which manufactures the hormone insulin and key enzymes that assist in the digestion of food. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing bleeding and tissue death in and around the pancreas. This damage reduces the ability of the pancreas to function properly, making it difficult for the body to absorb all the nutrients it requires from food.

Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and severely, and is most often caused by infection or gallstones, while chronic pancreatitis is a long term illness most often caused by heavy alcohol abuse. [1]

Acute pancreatitis often gets better on its own or after dietary changes, but chronic pancreatitis can result in long-term damage which can cause malnutrition or diabetes.

Pancreatitis Symptoms

Common symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • Sharp pain and / or tenderness in upper abdomen.
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing and / or pulse.
  • Oily stools
  • Weight loss

Common Causes of Pancreatitis

There are many possible causes of pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis is most commonly caused by gallstones, while chronic pancreatitis is most commonly caused by alcohol abuse. [1][2] Other common causes include:

  • Infection with hepatitis, rubells, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, or mumps.
  • Pancreatic cancer, defects, or tissue damage that restricts blood flow to the pancreas.
  • High triglyceride levels.
  • Drugs such as azathioprine, sulfonamides, corticosteroids, NSAIDs, and certain atibiotics.

Alcohol and Pancreas Damage

It’s well known that alcohol damages the liver, but few drinkers realize that alcohol has a similar effect on the pancreas. When the liver breaks down alcohol, a highly toxic substance called acetaldehyde is produced. Acetaldehyde is not just one of the primary causes of hangovers, but can also wreak havoc on the pancreas. [2]

When one consumes alcohol often over a long period of time, damage to the pancreas caused by acetaldehyde accumulates leading to inflammation and a swelling of tissues and blood vessels. This inflammation is known as pancreatitis, and can eventually cause the pancreas to secrete its digestive enzymes internally rather than sending them to the small intestine as would normally occur.

While Dihydromyricetin has never been studied with respect to pancreatitis, one primary effect it has is to improve the ability of the liver to metabolize alcohol and acetaldehyde. [3][4][5] In theory, it could help reduce the risk of developing pancreatitis by reducing the amount of acetaldehyde available to cause damage.

Preventing Pancreatitis

Because there are so many different causes for pancreatitis, it can be difficult to completely lower your risk. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle has been correlated with a lower risk for pancreatitis, as has not frequently drinking to excess.

Cited Studies

  1. Conditions: Pancreatitis
  2. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
  3. Influence of Hovenia dulcis DHM on alcohol concentration in blood and activity of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) of animals after drinking
  4. Pharmacological potential of ampelopsin (DHM) in Rattan tea
  5. Protection Against Acetaldehyde Toxicity in the Rat

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