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Controlling Pancreatitis With a Careful Diet

People may find that controlling pancreatitis with a high-vegetable low-fat diet is a good approach.
Young woman in grey clothes is holding hands on belly. Brunette girl is feeling bad and sick. Sudden onset of diarrhea, stomach ache, pancreatitis, appendicitis attack. Bad junk food concept.

We usually think of high blood lipid levels as increasing our chances of cardiovascular problems. However, very high triglycerides also raise the risk for pancreatitis (Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, Jan. 2020). One reader discovered a natural approach to controlling pancreatitis.

Trouble With Statin Drugs to Lower Cholesterol:

Q. My genetics made my cholesterol levels high, so I took statins off and on for many years. They lowered my lipids, but I suffered extremely painful side effects including muscle and joint inflammation.

Even worse, I had periodic bouts of pancreatitis. When that happened, causing nausea and abdominal pain, my doctor took me off statins until my cholesterol numbers shot up again. Then I’d take a different brand of statin with the same side effects. I suffered this roller coaster ride for many years.

A severe bout of pancreatitis changed my life. For two months, I was on liquids only and digestive enzymes. Then I had another two months of soft foods, continuing with enzyme pills.

I was concerned about getting adequate nutrition, so I researched pancreatitis diets. I started preparing fresh fruit slushies and fresh-steamed veggie slushies, combined with ground flax seeds and fat free chicken broth.

A New Approach to Food:

Gradually, I was able eat again, but I took a dramatically different approach to food. I basically stick with a Mediterranean diet, and eat absolutely no beef or pork, no alcohol, extremely low fat, salt and sugar. No fried foods, no processed foods, and nothing white (bread, rice, pasta, or potatoes). I focus on high-fiber whole foods. Water is my drink of choice.

I now live with a damaged pancreas. If I eat the wrong thing, the nausea and pain can last up to three miserable days. Not worth it.

I also walk three brisk miles each morning and laugh a lot. With all this, I lost 45 pounds and have kept it off. My cholesterol counts have consistently stayed below 200, glucose below 100, and inflammation CRP is now down from 6.0 to 0.2. Also, I don’t need any more drugs, except for my thyroid. My doctor is astonished at my lab results.

What Can Be Done for Controlling Pancreatitis?

A. Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of the gland that produces insulin. A case control study found that people taking atorvastatin, for example, were more likely to suffer acute pancreatitis (Medicine, Feb. 2016).

In another study, people who consumed more fat and cholesterol from meat and eggs were more susceptible to pancreatitis (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Feb. 2017). In contrast, those who ate fiber-rich diets were less prone to this problem (Nutrients, Sep. 2019). 

A Swedish study found that middle-aged people who eat more vegetables have a lower risk of acute pancreatitis (Gut, Aug. 2013). However, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco wipe out that advantage (European Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 2018).

Although pancreatitis has been reported as a side effect of statin-type cholesterol-lowering medications, some clinicians have suggested that statins might be protective (Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Sep. 2018).  Evidence from Japan does not appear to support that conclusion, however (Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, online Dec. 30, 2019).  We think your dietary approach sounds very sensible.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Florentin M et al, "Recent developments in pharmacotherapy for hypertriglyceridemia: What's the current state of the art?" Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, Jan. 2020. DOI: 10.1080/14656566.2019.1691523
  • Lai SW et al, "Atorvastatin use associated with acute pancreatitis: A case-control study in Taiwan." Medicine, Feb. 2016. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000002545
  • Setiawan VW et al, "Dietary factors reduce risk of acute pancreatitis in a large multiethnic cohort." Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Feb. 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.cgh.2016.08.038
  • Ribichini E et al, "Role of fibre in nutritional management of pancreatic diseases." Nutrients, Sep. 2019. doi: 10.3390/nu11092219
  • Oskarsson V et al, "Vegetables, fruit and risk of non-gallstone-related acute pancreatitis: A population-based prospective cohort study." Gut, Aug. 2013. DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2012-302521
  • Oskarsson V et al, "Overall diet quality and risk of recurrence and progression of non-gallstone-related acute pancreatitis: A prospective cohort study." European Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 2018. DOI: 10.1007/s00394-017-1526-8
  • Lee PJ et al, "Association of statins with decreased acute pancreatitis severity: A propensity score analysis." Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Sep. 2018. DOI: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000000956
  • Hakuta R et al, "Regular statin use and incidence of postendoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography pancreatitis." Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, online Dec. 30, 2019. DOI: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000001312
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An extremely low fat diet can lead to problems of absorption of fat soluble vitamins.

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