How You Could Be Unknowingly Harming Your Pancreas

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It seems that liquor is not a friend of your pancreas. A new study found that drinking just one measure of spirits increases the risk of acute pancreatitis.

The winners in this study are wine and beer, which appear not to have the same effect. In the interest of boosting health knowledge and staying on top of the frequent alcohol-related health news, let’s dive in a little deeper.

The Research

The study, published in the “British Journal of Surgery,” found that consuming only one serving of liquor can increase the risk of an acute attack of acute pancreatitis. This is inflammation of the pancreas that occurs suddenly, within hours of consuming alcohol. It can, though, be a life-threatening situation and each year more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized because of it.

The new study is from Sweden and it followed 84,601 people from 46 to 84 years of age for 10 years. For example, if you drink 200 milliliters of spirits (about five standard measures or so) just once, it increases the risk of an acute episode by 52%. That risk continues to rise for every five additional units consumed. However, drinking five glasses of wine or five beers on one occasion did not influence risk of pancreatitis.

The researchers were keen to investigate the effect that different types of alcohol had on acute pancreatitis. They were tempted after noticing that incidence rates declined in Sweden when spirits sales declined, despite increased sales of wine and beer. The key findings were:

  • In 56% of cases, the cause of the acute pancreatitis was alcohol-related or of uncertain or unknown origin, and in 44% it was gallstone-related (previously thought to be the main risk factor)
  •  The average age of the patients with pancreatitis was 64 years
  • Single-occasion alcohol consumption, including wine, beer and spirits, was highest in males and younger patients
  •  High single-occasion spirits consumption was associated with higher levels of diabetes (nine percent) than low alcohol consumption (six percent)
  • People who had never smoked, were more highly educated and regularly ate fruit and vegetables were less likely to drink large quantities of beer and spirits

Basically, what happens is that, when alcohol metabolizes, it induces oxidative stress (the process that antioxidants fight). This, in turn, can lead to damaged pancreatic tissue.

The strange thing is that alcohol itself is not enough to trigger acute pancreatitis. The new study suggests there are ingredients in spirits that are not present in wine and beer — and these unknown constituents could be the ones triggering acute pancreatitis.

They are calling for more research in the area. For now, if you do have issues with your pancreas, it may be time to lay off vodka, gin and the like. Symptoms of pancreatitis include pain (often sudden) in the upper abdomen, pain that gets worse after eating, nausea, swollen abdomen, and fatigue.

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