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Caffeine & Chronic Pancreatitis

By Mary McNally

Caffeine is a stimulant found in liquids such as tea, coffee, soda and energy drinks. It is also found in chocolate, kola nuts and some drugs. It acts on the central nervous system, improving alertness and focus. The pancreas produces enzymes needed to digest fats and other food components. Chronic pancreatitis is characterized by repeated bouts of inflammation and scarring of the pancreas, which can lead to permanent pancreatic damage and even death.

Symptoms

Chronic pancreatitis is often caused by alcohol abuse or pancreatic duct blockages, autoimmune problems, genetic factors or high triglycerides and is also a complication of cystic fibrosis. Symptoms include upper abdominal and back pain that may worsen with eating or drinking alcohol, noticeable weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other stool abnormalities. Chronic pancreatitis can damage the area of the pancreas that controls insulin production and can lead to diabetes and death if not treated properly.

Treatment

Treatment of chronic pancreatitis may include drugs to decrease pain and nasal suction to remove the stomach contents. Ingestion of liquids and food by mouth may be stopped and fluids and nutrients given by IV to allow pancreatic inflammation to subside. An oral diet is slowly reintroduced to include small, low-fat meals and liquids to keep the body hydrated. Alcohol and caffeine are severely limited or eliminated altogether.

Caffeine

Caffeine affects the body's metabolism not only through the central nervous system but also by stimulating the pancreas. This can irritate an already inflamed and scarred pancreas, increasing the pain of chronic pancreatitis and impairing pancreatic functioning. It is critical to stay hydrated while treating chronic pancreatitis and acting to prevent more acute pancreatic attacks. Caffeine is also a diuretic, which speeds up fluid loss in the body and can cause dehydration.

Cutting Back

The Mayo Clinic recommends cutting back on caffeine intake by reading food labels and calculating how much caffeine you are ingesting. Decrease your intake of caffeine gradually to prevent headaches and irritability, which can make recovering from chronic pancreatitis even more stressful. Brew coffee and tea for a shorter amount of time, or switch to decaffeinated coffee or herbal teas. Check over-the-counter drug information to ensure pain relief drugs do not contain caffeine.

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