• Ali Cody - Nutritionist

The Pivotal Pancreas!

The two main types of digestion that take place in the body are mechanical and chemical. Mechanical digestion begins in the mouth as the food is chewed. Chemical digestion involves breaking down the food into simpler nutrients that can be used by the cells. Chemical digestion also begins in the mouth when food mixes with saliva. Chemical digestion uses digestive enzymes, which are created in the pancreas. These enzymes breakdown food by hydrolysis, meaning they use water molecules. The liver and the gall bladder are also involved in the chemical digestion process. The liver creates bile to help with fat digestion, handles the end products of digestion, and stores items for the future. The gall bladder collect the bile made by the liver and then stores it until a fatty meal enters the small intestine, upon which the gall bladder contracts and squeezes bile into the intestine to help digest fats.

Read over the italicized text above for a 2nd time. Notice the references to the pancreas, the liver, and the gall bladder. The more we learn about how these organs work the more we can understand how to prevent disease of these organs. I know it is not exciting and that our knee jerk reaction when we have a health problem is to pop a pill, but what if we can actually back up a moment and get to the root of the issue?

Let's start with your pancreas. The pancreas is about 6 inches long and sits across the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. It is an amazing organ that plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body's cells. The pancreas has two main functions: an exocrine function that helps in digestion (by releasing juices into ducts) and an endocrine function where it produces insulin and secretes it into the bloodstream. Everything we eat goes through the pancreas to be processed accordingly. The enzymes (digestive juices) produced by the pancreas are secreted into the small intestine to further break down food after it has left the stomach. Problems with your pancreas can lead to diabetes and cancer.

If you want your pancreas to remain disease free and continue to effectively perform it's vital role then it is vital to eat certain foods and avoid others.

5 WAYS to PREVENT PANCREATIC ISSUES (along with diabetes and many cancers):

1. Limit alcohol consumption. By drinking less or not at all, you can help protect your pancreas from the toxic effects of alcohol and reduce your risk for pancreatitis. A number of studies, including a population-based study in Denmark involving 17,905 people, found that high alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of pancreatitis in both men and women.

2. Eat a low-fat diet. Gallstones, a leading cause of acute pancreatitis, can develop when too much cholesterol accumulates in your bile, the substance made by your liver to help digest fats. To reduce your risk for gallstones, eat a low-fat diet that includes whole grains and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. To help prevent pancreatitis, specific foods to avoid include fatty or fried foods as well as full-fat dairy products. High triglyceride levels, or the amount of fats carried in your blood, can increase your risk for acute pancreatitis. So, it's also important to limit foods high in simple sugars, such as sugary sweets and high-calorie beverages, that could raise your triglyceride levels.

3. Exercise regularly and lose excess weight. People who are overweight are more likely to develop gallstones, putting them at greater risk for acute pancreatitis. Losing extra pounds gradually and maintaining a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help prevent gallstones from forming.

4. Skip crash diets. The caveat to losing weight is to do it gradually. When you go into crash-diet mode, prompting quick weight loss, your liver ramps up cholesterol production in response, which increases your risk for gallstones.

5. Don't smoke. Studies show that smoking cigarettes is linked to acute pancreatitis. Researchers in Sweden followed 84,667 healthy women and men between the ages of 46 and 84 to examine how smoking affected their risk for acute pancreatitis. The study, published in the journal Gut, revealed that people who smoked the equivalent of at least one pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years had more than double the risk for non-gallstone-related acute pancreatitis than non-smokers had. Quitting smoking reduced the smokers' risk for acute pancreatitis to the same level as that of non-smokers.

More information on foods to avoid and why can be found at everydayhealth. As always feel free to email me at with any questions!


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