What are pancreatic supplements?
There are many pancreatic supplements on the market to improve pancreatic function.
These are created as an alternative for — or complement to — more major mainstream approaches for treating pancreatic issues, like surgery, radiation therapy, and others.
Most pancreatic supplements contain digestive enzymes. These aid the pancreas when it’s working insufficiently and not producing enough of its own natural enzymes to help with digestion.
Many illnesses of the pancreas may cause it to function improperly. Other health issues might also interfere with the number of digestive enzymes the pancreas (or gallbladder, liver, or other organ) naturally produces.
Taking pancreatic supplements could help such issues. These may include:
- exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
- cystic fibrosis
- type 1 diabetes
- narrow/blocked pancreatic duct
- post-pancreatectomy (or Whipple procedure)
- pancreatic cancer
- duodenal tumors
How do I know if I should take supplements?
If you have any of the above pancreas-related health issues, you may have a need for pancreatic supplements. You should be working with your healthcare provider on how best to treat, heal from, and prevent the disease.
You may also benefit from enzymes if you experience the following symptoms:
- cramping, especially after meals
- bowel irregularity
- frequent bowel movements
- weight loss
- orange, yellow, or light-colored stools
- flatulence (frequent and foul-smelling)
- greasy, oily, fatty loose stools
These symptoms are signs your pancreas is functioning below normal, and that digestive enzymes may be lacking. They’re also a sign that your food isn’t digesting correctly.
If this is the case, pancreatic supplements containing digestive enzymes may help and you may want to discuss them with your doctor. Your doctor can order enzyme tests to determine your need.
Pancreatic enzyme supplement choices
There are several types of pancreatic supplements you can purchase.
They differ based on which digestive enzymes each supplement contains. Types of digestive enzymes found in pancreatic supplements are broken down into the following groups.
- Amylase. This class of digestive enzyme is needed to help break down carbohydrates and sugars. The main symptom of amylase deficiency is diarrhea due to undigested starches caught in the lower intestine. Types of amylases include α-amylase, ß-amylase, and ү-amylase.
- Lipase. This digestive enzyme category is pivotal to digestion of oils and fats. Deficiency could cause fatty, oily, or greasy stools, or even deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins in the diet. Examples of lipases include pancreatic lipase, gastric lipase, or hepatic lipase.
- Protease. These digestive enzymes are necessary for the breakdown of proteins. When you don’t produce enough, you may have a higher risk of developing allergies or getting bacterial intestinal infections. Types of protease include cysteine proteases, serine proteases, and glutamic proteases.
How should I take pancreatic supplements?
Talk with your healthcare provider about your health and any symptoms signaling that your pancreas may need help.
If it’s determined that you need more focused support, they may recommend more rigorous pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) for you. This will involve the use of pancreatic supplements containing digestive enzymes at higher doses, and more often.
The dose you should take will vary from person to person. Start with the lowest or most basic dose on your supplement label and directions. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking higher doses to see if you really need it.
Make sure to take supplements at the beginning of meals and snacks, and not at the end. Otherwise, they won’t work very well. If taking more than one type of enzyme, space them out. Start by taking one at the beginning, and then continue taking them throughout the duration of the meal or snack.
Follow supplement directions. Enzymes typically come in the form of a pill or capsule, and are swallowed whole with the help of a cold (not hot) liquid. Don’t chew or grind up tablets unless instructed to do so by your healthcare professional. If you have a hard time swallowing, open the capsule and disperse powder contents over your food, and then eat immediately.
Avoid letting pancreatic supplements sit in your mouth for a long period of time. The enzymes they contain may have an irritable effect on the mucus membranes in your mouth. This can lead to sores on the mouth, lips, or tongue.
For the same reason, avoid taking any pancreatic supplements on an empty stomach. Always take them with a small amount of food.
What should I eat with pancreatic supplements?
Digestive enzymes are typically taken with all meals and snacks.
However, you can avoid taking enzyme supplements if you incorporate foods into your meals that improve your own natural digestive enzymes. These foods include:
- bread or plain baked goods
- fat-free sweets like mints, Jelly Babies, or gummies
Foods that contain a little soluble fiber are recommended to enhance digestion of enzymes. This includes applesauce, gelatin, or a pureed fruit or vegetable.
Some foods and other consumable items may interfere with absorption of enzymes. Make sure not to take your enzymes with high amounts of these foods:
- dairy products such as milk, cream, ice cream, custard, and yogurt
- hot beverages or soups such as tea or coffee (hot temperatures destroy enzymes)
- antacids containing calcium or magnesium (like Rolaids or Tums)
If you have a health problem that affects the pancreas, talk to your healthcare team about pancreatic supplements. These supplements contain many kinds of digestive enzymes.
If you experience certain digestive symptoms, these supplements may be a huge benefit to you. They could be a replacement for, or a complement to, your main treatments.
There are many types of digestive enzymes to choose from to benefit your digestive system. It’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any. They’ll help you determine if you need to take them and what your dosing should be.