With the holidays and a new year upon is, most of us will find ourselves faced with a double-edged sword. While it is certainly a joyous and festive time of year, one spent with family, friends and loved ones, on the inverse we also find ourselves in a time of excess. Holiday parties and family get-togethers can often lead to excessive drinking and eating, which, is perhaps the most appropriate time to consider the parts of our body that may be affected by this.
While many ailments are hereditary or may be caused by factors outside of our control, pancreatitis is one of the few that is usually a direct result of our actions.
Heavy drinking, high levels of fat in the blood, and even certain medications can increase the risk of developing pancreatic problems. And while there are many things in your life you can live without, sadly, your pancreas isn’t one of them.
Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people develop acute pancreatitis, a serious and painful inflammation of the pancreas. Left untreated, pancreatitis can worsen and become life threatening in extreme cases.
So what causes pancreatitis?
Anytime the pancreas becomes inflamed, there are normally two common causes: gallstones and chronic alcohol consumption. In the case of the latter, which is more prevalent this time of year, the condition can develop as quickly as a few hours or up to two days after heavy drinking. Other causes include high levels of fat and calcium in the blood, abdominal injury, hormonal abnormalities and even viral infections.
So now that we know what causes pancreatitis, how can you prevent it?
Cut back on alcohol consumption: While admittedly difficult, especially around this time of year, cutting back or stopping all together your alcohol consumption can help protect your pancreas from its toxic effects.
Low-fat diet: Gallstones are a leading cause of acute pancreatitis, and develop when too much cholesterol accumulates in bile, which is the substance made by the liver to help digest fats. Thus, by reducing your risk of gallstones, you also reduce your risk of pancreatitis.
Exercise and weight loss: Coupled with the last point, it has been proven that people who are overweight and don’t exercise are at a higher risk of gallstones, which also puts them at risk of pancreatitis. By shedding those excess pounds and implementing a regular exercise routine, you will find you not only will feel better but can help prevent serious illness down the road.
Quit smoking: One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, when keeping in mind pancreatic health, the act becomes that much more meaningful. Studies have linked smoking cigarettes to acute pancreatitis, among the many other health issues that smoking impacts.