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Going Against Convention is Benefiting Pancreatitis Patients


If you were asked what your heart does, you would likely be able to answer the question. Furthermore, the same would likely be true for your stomach, your lungs and even your bladder. But what if someone were to ask you about your pancreas? Well we did, and we got a lot of blank stares.

According to Dr. Victor Marchione, the pancreas is an organ in that body that produces enzymes that help with digestion and regulate how the body processes sugar. “It is found in the abdomen, tucked behind the stomach, and is long and flat in appearance. Much like any organ or tissue in the body, it can be affected by disease and abnormalities. Pancreatitis is a condition where inflammation has overtaken it, leading the pancreas to not function as it should.”

While there are potentially a number of cause for pancreatitis such as alcoholism and gallstones, often the root cause is never found. Fortunately, a new study finds that eating sooner in cases of mild pancreatitis may speed up recover. But why is this significant?

“When to feed patients hospitalized with acute pancreatitis has been controversial for decades,” write Valerie M. Vaughn, MD, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues in an article published online May 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “Although studies of patients with sepsis suggest benefit from early feeding, compelling data to make the same argument in those with pancreatitis have been lacking.”

The study we are referring to analyzed nearly 1,000 people who were hospitalized with pancreatitis, and it question the long-held belief was that these patients should avoid eating solid food for days, as it may aggravate their condition, but instead, the participants of the study were given food by mouth or feeding tube within 49 hours of admission. Surprisingly, fewer symptoms of nausea, pain, and vomiting were observed, with faster recovery times and less time spent in the hospital overall.

“Food does more than just provide nutrition. It stimulates the gut and protects your body from harmful bacteria that might enter through the bowels. Historically, we’ve been taught that if the pancreas was inflamed, eating would cause it to release more digestive enzymes and may worsen the situation—so whatever you do, don’t feed patients.

Now, our thinking has moved all the way toward letting them eat immediately. Our thought process over the years has really changed, and we hope this study will lead to consideration of early feeding for more patients,” said study author Dr. Valerie Vaughn.

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