What Is Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a large gland responsible for releasing enzymes into the duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine) to aid in the digestion of food. The pancreas is also responsible for secreting hormones involved in regulating blood sugar.
In people with pancreatitis, digestive enzymes become activated before being released from the pancreas. The enzymes turn against the tissues that produce them, which in turn causes damage to the pancreas. Pancreatitis also prohibits the body from absorbing all the nutrients it needs.
Pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic. In the case of acute pancreatitis, inflammation occurs suddenly and can be life-threatening.
Alternative Medicine for Pancreatitis:
Although there are no natural remedies known to treat pancreatitis, the following natural substances and alternative therapies may help protect against pancreatitis-related pain or pancreatic damage:
1) Antioxidant Supplements
A number of studies suggest that treatment with antioxidant supplements (such as selenium, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E) may improve quality of life and reduce pain in patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis. Antioxidants help fight off free radicals, chemical byproducts thought to play a role in the development of pancreatitis.
It should be noted that, in a systematic review published in 2009, researchers analyzed 22 clinical trials and concluded that the data do not support a benefit of antioxidant therapy in the management of pancreatitis.
In an animal study released in 2008, researchers found that electroacupuncture (a form of acupuncture in which needles are attached to a device that produces continuous electric impulses, and then placed at certain points on the patient's body) relieved pancreatic damage in rats with acute pancreatitis. However, there is a lack of human-based research to support the use of acupuncture in treatment of pancreatitis. What's more, one study published in 2005 reports a very rare case of acute pancreatitis induced by acupuncture (most likely due to abdominal trauma).
Related: Acupuncture: What You Need to Know.
Although they haven't been specifically studied in treatment of pancreatitis, other alternative therapies (including meditation and breathing exercises) may help ease the stress of coping with pancreatitis pain.
3) Chinese Herbal Medicine
A 2007 research review found that herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine may help block the progression of severe acute pancreatitis, as well as promote healing of internal organs damaged as a result of the body's inflammatory response to acute pancreatitis.
Despite this review's findings, individuals with acute pancreatitis should not pursue treatment with herbal medicine until more studies confirm this treatment option's safety and effectiveness.
Although Chinese herbs may hold promise in the treatment of pancreatitis, it's crucial to consult your doctor if you're considering the use of herbal medicine. It's also important to work with a qualified herbalist rather than attempting to self-treat your condition.
Causes of Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can be caused by a number of factors, including:
Symptoms of Pancreatitis
Symptoms of acute pancreatitis may include:
- a swollen, tender abdomen
- upper abdominal pain that radiates to your back
- abdominal pain that worsens after eating
- nausea or vomiting
- a rapid pulse
Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:
- upper abdominal pain
- nausea or vomiting
- weight loss
- oily stools
Treatment for Pancreatitis
Since pancreatitis can lead to major complications (including respiratory problems, diabetes, infection, kidney failure, malnutrition, and pancreatic cancer), it's important to seek medical attention if you experience pancreatitis symptoms.
The following may help reduce your risk of pancreatitis:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- limiting your alcohol consumption
- following a balanced diet
- getting regular exercise
Bhardwaj P, Garg PK, Maulik SK, Saraya A, Tandon RK, Acharya SK. "A randomized controlled trial of antioxidant supplementation for pain relief in patients with chronic pancreatitis." Gastroenterology. 2009 136(1):149-159.e2.
Kirk GR, White JS, McKie L, Stevenson M, Young I, Clements WD, Rowlands BJ. "Combined antioxidant therapy reduces pain and improves quality of life in chronic pancreatitis." J Gastrointest Surg. 2006 10(4):499-503.
Li J, Shi XF, Zhou LY, Xue DB. "Experimental study on electroacupuncture for strengthening gastrointestinal motility in the rat with acute pancreatitis." Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2008 28(5):365-8.
Mohseni Salehi Monfared SS, Vahidi H, Abdolghaffari AH, Nikfar S, Abdollahi M. "Antioxidant therapy in the management of acute, chronic and post-ERCP pancreatitis: a systematic review." World J Gastroenterol. 2009 28;15(36):4481-90.
Uhm MS, Kim YS, Suh SC, Kim I, Ryu SH, Lee JW, Moon JS. "Acute pancreatitis induced by traditional acupuncture therapy." Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005 17(6):675-7.
Zhang XP, Shi Y, Zhang L. "Progress in the study of therapeutic effects of traditional Chinese medicine and extracts in treating severe acute pancreatitis." JOP. 2007 8(6):704-14.