This often forgotten organ plays a vital role in the proper functioning of your digestive tract.
You may be wondering how, specifically, the pancreas affects digestion. Besides producing insulin and glucagons, the pancreas produces a number of substances that aid in the digestion of food. The glands producing these substances have ducts that enter the pancreatic duct, which then enters the duodenum where it mixes with food or chyme just after it leaves the stomach and just before it enters the small intestines.
How the Pancreas Aids Digestion
The digestive functions of the pancreas include the following:
1) Producing proteolytic (protein splitting) enzymes; these include trypsin, chymotrypsin and carboxypolypeptidase which break down whole and partially digested proteins, and ribonuclease and deoxyribonuclease to split RNA and DNA.
2) Produces amylase to break down carbohydrates into disaccharides.
3) Produces lipase to break down neutral fat into fatty acids and glycerol.
4) Produces cholesterol esterase to hydrolyze cholesterol esters.
5) Secrete water and bicarbonate ions to make the pancreatic juice alkaline.
Chyme entering the small intestine is very acidic due to HCl and pepsin from the stomach. The acidic chyme sends neural signals (via the vagus nerve) and hormonal signals (via secretin and cholecystokinin) to the pancreas and large amounts of enzyme filled pancreatic juice are released into the duodenum. The more acidic the chyme is, the more pancreatic juice is released to neutralize it. The alkaline juices prevent the stomach enzymes from eating through the duodenal wall and provide the perfect pH needed by the pancreatic enzymes. Any time the duodenal pH drops below 4.5 secretin is released resulting in release of bicarbonate.
Early Symptoms of Pancreatic (Digestive) Dysfunction
The average person probably does not pay much attention to the pancreas and pancreatic function until there is a potential problem. How can a potential problem be recognized early? Here are some typical digestive symptoms that may be resultant of pancreatic dysfunction:
1) Gas and lower bowel discomfort especially a few hours after a meal.
2) Pain in or around the duodenum, A deficiency of bicarbonate can cause duodenal ulcers.
3) Fermentation, putrefaction, and or foul smelling stools.
Causes of Pancreatic (Digestive) Dysfunction
Now that some of the more common symptoms have been identified, don’t worry if you are experiencing one or some of them. After we analyze some of the common causes of pancreatic dysfunction, then we will review steps you can take to reduce or remedy them.
1) Too many refined foods and too many bad food combinations can all overwork the pancreas and eventually exhaust it.
2) Over-production of hydrochloric acid and pepsinwill make the pancreas overwork and eventually exhaust it.
3) A deficiency of bicarbonate can cause duodenal ulcers.
4) Nerve pressure in mid thoracic spine or cranial dysfunction irritating the vagus nerve can cause dysfunction.
5) Vitamin B deficiency from poor diet or eating refined products such as white sugar, and white flour (they use up vitamin B in their digestion), Vitamin B is necessary for pancreatic enzyme production. These foods also are very acidic and thus overstimulate the pancreas.
6) Hypochlorhydria will lead to a less acidic chyme. This will cause decreased secretin output and thus decreased pancreatic output and perhaps incomplete digestion as a result. The primary cause, the hypochlorhydria in this case, needs correction for the pancreas to be corrected.
7) Deficiency in the diet or malassimilation of zinc can lead to insufficient bicarbonate formation.
8) Taking sodium bicarbonate or antacids can neutralize stomach contents and as in #6 lead to decreased pancreatic output as a secondary condition.
Prevention & Treatment
We have identified common symptoms and reviewed potential causes of pancreatic dysfunction. Now, here is the most important part - what you can do about it. Taking care of your pancreas is quite simple.
1) Avoid white sugar, white flour, and white rice wherever possible.
2) Practice proper food combining.
3) Eat unrefined, unprocessed, low sugar and low animal fat meals; eat more fresh organic foods.
4) Eat foods high in B vitamins and zinc, such as seeds, nuts, green vegetables, and seaweed.
5) Avoid alcohol in excess and smoking cigarettes altogether.
6) Avoid sodium bicarbonate and antacids. If you have gas, use activated charcoal capsules to absorb it.
7) See a good chiropractor who understands the connection between proper digestion and proper nerve, spinal and cranial alignment and function.
8) Take supplemental digestive enzymes to support the enzymatic function of your pancreas.
9) Have regular colon hydrotherapy and periodic cleanse program to keep your large intestine free of blockages, and to help soften and flush out gallstones which can block the gallbladder and pancreatic ducts.
Sources: jonbarron.org, myvits.com