Pancreatic enzymes are substances produced in your pancreas that play a vital role in food digestion. If you develop a condition called chronic pancreatitis, reduced or absent production of these enzymes can lead to an enzyme deficiency. Pancreatitis can also trigger the onset of a deficiency in your body’s normal supply of the mineral magnesium.
Your pancreas is a gland located in the area behind your stomach. When you eat, it releases digestive juices, which contain several types of pancreatic enzymes and another substance known as sodium bicarbonate. These juices enter your small intestine and specific enzymes within them break down the proteins, fats and carbohydrates in your food and prepare them for absorption into your bloodstream. Two pancreatic enzymes, called trypsin and chymotrypsin, break down protein, while the enzyme lipase breaks down fat. The pancreatic enzyme amylase breaks down carbohydrates.
Normally, your pancreatic enzymes don’t start working until they pass from your pancreas into your small intestine. However, in people with pancreatitis, these enzymes activate before leaving the pancreas and start attacking pancreatic tissue. Most people with this disorder initially experience painful, rapidly developing attacks that last for short periods of time. In some individuals, these attacks occur repeatedly over time and eventually become chronic, or ongoing, events. Potential causes of short-term, or acute, pancreatitis include genetic predisposition, excessive blood levels of a fat called triglyceride, the presence of mumps or other infections and the use of certain medications. Most people with chronic pancreatitis are alcoholics, although the conditions that trigger acute attacks can also lead to chronic problems.
Pancreatic Enzyme Deficiency
If you have chronic pancreatitis, damage to your pancreas can entirely halt the production of pancreatic enzymes. Doctors refer to this situation as exocrine pancreatic failure. If your body is deficient in pancreatic enzymes, you can have significant problems digesting or absorbing the proteins and fats in your diet. Potential symptoms of these problems include unexpected weight loss and diarrhea that lingers over time. If your pancreas sustains enough damage, it can also stop producing the key hormone called insulin, which you need to control your blood sugar, or blood glucose. People who can’t control their glucose levels will develop the blood glucose disorder called diabetes.
Chronic pancreatitis can trigger a magnesium deficiency by reducing your body’s ability to absorb this mineral from dietary sources, according to a study published in 2000 by researchers at Great Britain’s Imperial College of Medicine. Magnesium deficiency in people with chronic pancreatitis can also occur as a consequence of related cases of alcoholism or diabetes. Potential symptoms of deficiencies of this mineral include sleep disorders, vomiting, nausea, irritability, heartbeat irregularities, restless leg syndrome, mental confusion or agitation, anxiety, seizures and hyperventilation. Consult your doctor for more information on pancreatitis and related deficiencies of magnesium or pancreatic enzymes.
- American Gastroenterological Association: Understanding Pancreatitis; April 23, 2010
- Colorado State University: Exocrine Secretions of the Pancreas; R. Bowen
- Refdoc.fr: Magnesium Deficiency in Patients With Chronic Pancreatitis...; Papazachariou, Martinez-Isla, et al.; 2000
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Pancreatitis; July 2008
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Magnesium