An Introduction to Alcohol and the Pancreas
It is important to have a healthy pancreas for overall good health. But the heavy use of alcohol is terrible for the pancreas. In fact, alcoholism and the consistent over-consumption of alcohol can prompt an attack of acute pancreatitis. The symptoms of acute pancreatitis include acute abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
People suffering from acute pancreatitis frequently require a trip to the emergency room and a stay in the intensive care unit. Once admitted to the hospital, sufferers in the midst of an acute pancreatitis attack have about a 10% mortality rate. When the symptoms of acute pancreatitis have subsided, the doctor generally sends the patient home with strict orders to quit drinking alcohol.
When released from the hospital the patient generally has two primary questions:
1. What is the easiest way to stop drinking alcohol?
2. Are there going to be ongoing problems with my pancreas?
First of all, when a person has been drinking heavily for a long time it is often difficult for them to stop. Clinical research has found that it is almost impossible for a person to stop drinking without help from a knowledgeable licensed practitioner – or even a team of practitioners.
Secondly, people who have had a first attack of acute pancreatitis consistently end up with chronic pancreatitis. Having chronic pancreatitis is linked to a lower quality of life and a shortened lifespan. Even worse, chronic pancreatitis is often followed by pancreatic cancer.
If a patient who has had an attack of acute pancreatitis is able to stop drinking, then there is a good chance that their pancreas will heal. This will prevent future attacks of pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis affects between 80,000 to 200,000 people in the U.S. each year and the number of people affected is increasing year by year. Gallbladder problems, liver disease and alcohol abuse are major risk factors for pancreatitis and cause approximately 80% of all cases. Not all alcoholics develop pancreatitis, but after a pancreatic attack alcohol in all forms is especially toxic for the pancreas. This includes beer, wine, and hard alcohol.
Doctors believe that it is not safe for a patient to drink ANY amount of alcohol after an attack of acute pancreatitis. In fact, scientific research shows that after an attack of acute pancreatitis the lifespan of the patient is ultimately dependent upon their ability to stop drinking. Patients that continue to drink will develop chronic pancreatitis as a result of the progressive destruction of the pancreatic gland. It is very important for patients to stop drinking.
The Terrifying Effects of Alcohol on the Pancreas
Alcohol induces pancreatitis by creating tiny protein plugs that block small pancreatic ducts. Alcohol also inhibits the secretion of pancreatic juice and decreases the amount of protein, bicarbonate, mineral, and trace elements in the pancreas. Even in small doses, alcohol can cause a spasm in the Sphincter of Oddi. This spasm can lead to the backup of pancreatic enzymes within the pancreas. The backup of pancreatic enzymes causes congestion, inflammation, pain, cysts, and finally the death of pancreatic tissue. Alcohol literally kills the pancreatic cells through causing the pancreas to digest itself with its own pancreatic enzymes.
Additionally, alcohol makes the body highly acidic. When the body is too acidic, acid radicals wreak havoc on the body’s metabolism. This forces deposits of proteins, fats, and calcium into the pancreas and creates pancreatic calcium stones and fatty pancreas. Pancreatic calcium stones and fatty pancreas can completely shut down pancreatic function and disrupt the entire digestive system. It is difficult for the body to digest food without pancreatic enzymes, and without the enzymes the body will not receive the necessary nutrients from any food that is eaten. That is why many alcoholics suffer from deficits of vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and mineral and trace elements.
How to Heal the Pancreas?
In the case of chronic pancreatitis caused by excessive alcohol consumption it is important to:
Decrease the inflammation and swelling of the pancreas
Repair the digestion and absorption processes in the pancreas
Restore the production and elimination of bile and pancreatic juice
Normalize the proper function of the Sphincter of Oddi
Alleviate abdominal pain
Restore minerals, microelements, vitamins, and bicarbonate deficiencies
Return the body and tissue to a normal pH balance
Stop the body’s craving for alcohol
When a person genuinely wishes to quit drinking alcohol, it is imperative to concentrate on the needs of both the body and the mind. The patient must focus on finding a support network of family and friends, avoiding toxic friendships that enable alcohol consumption, and changing to an overall healthier lifestyle. Other useful techniques to aid in kicking an alcohol addiction include intensive psychotherapy, acupuncture, therapeutic hypnotic suggestion, and customized hypnosis CDs that can be used in the privacy of the patient’s home.
It is also imperative to utilize cleansing and detoxification techniques to remove alcohol byproducts from the body. These alcoholic byproducts get caught in a vicious circle as they circulate from the liver to the intestines, and then are reabsorbed into the blood and taken back to the liver.
Another problem to address is dysbacteriosis. Dysbacteriosis occurs when the friendly flora of the intestines have been killed by antibiotics. Patients hospitalized with acute pancreatitis frequently contract dysbacteriosis because of heavy doses of antibiotics. Candida-yeast starts to grow causing severe toxicity for all of the organs of the body, but especially for the sick pancreas. So it becomes necessary to institute a program to restore friendly intestinal flora.
Some cleansing and detoxifying options for the body include using herbs, colon hydrotherapy, and drinking healing mineral water made from the Genuine Karlovy Vary Thermal Spring Salt (available in the U.S.). Though not a common treatment in the U.S., this healing mineral water has been extensively scientifically researched and enjoys widespread use in Europe. Genuine Karlovy Vary Thermal Spring Salt has been used for centuries by generations of European doctors when treating pancreatic diseases. And the Genuine Karlovy Vary thermal spring salt is easy to use at home; simply dissolve a prepackaged bag of the salt into water.
A healing diet becomes especially important after an attack of pancreatitis. Simple recommendations such as “avoid fat and carbohydrates, drink juices, etc” are too generalized to be helpful. European doctors have developed a special therapeutic diet to help pancreatic patients recover. This specialized diet is essential because the different symptoms of the various stages of pancreatitis require different types of food. And depending upon the healing stage that a patient may be at, the foods are prepared in different ways, combined in different ways, and eaten in different ways.
Nutritional supplementation is another holistic approach useful in treating alcoholic pancreatitis. Taking the following nutritional supplements can be helpful: trace elements, vitamins, antioxidants, essential amino acids and fatty acids, probiotics, enzymes, botanicals, etc. Utilizing these supplements can help with alcohol withdrawal and addiction to pain killers, decreasing inflammation, improving digestion and immunity, diminishing stress and anxiety, and restoring the proper overall acid-alkaline balance of the body (and the pancreas in particular).
So while conventional medicine is helpful in the treatment of pancreatitis, a successful overall treatment of pancreatitis requires a team approach. Practitioners of alternative or integrative medicine can be helpful in assisting a patient on the road to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy pancreas.
The information on 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.
Peter Melamed, Ph.D. received his medical education first as a registered nurse and then as a medical doctor in Russia. He took specialized training in anesthesiology, intensive care, and internal medicine. Working as a physician he became interested in holistic healing through his clinical experience with herbs, acupuncture, healing mineral water and internal cleansing. 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.