The pancreas is an organ located behind the lower part of your stomach and has functions that include digestion assistance and hormone production. Caffeine's effect on the pancreas is clear. In the past, it was believed caffeine was bad for the pancreas, but new research states otherwise.
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Caffeine and Your Pancreas
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in many popular foods and drinks like coffee, tea and chocolate. The American Cancer Society states that older studies linked caffeine and the pancreas together with claims that coffee increased risk of pancreatic cancer, although recent studies haven't confirmed this.
"Caffeine is not bad for the pancreas," says Tracey Childs, MD, board certified in general and colorectal surgery and chief of surgery at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Caffeine got a bad rep in the 1980s with one study showing that coffee consumption increased the risk of pancreatic cancer. This was debunked by many other subsequent studies showing no association."
One September 2015 study published in the British Journal of Cancer did debunk that claim after it found that there was no association between total coffee intake (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) and pancreatic cancer.
On the other hand, "There is some unconfirmed suggestion that caffeine may improve symptomatology and outcome with pancreatitis, but not enough to make it a recommendation," Dr. Childs adds. More research, especially on human participants, needs to be done to verify if caffeine can actually benefit the pancreas.
Foods and Drinks to Avoid
Caffeine doesn't need to be avoided, unless otherwise stated by your doctor, but there are other beverages you should limit to prevent pancreas complications. "Most definitely, patients with pancreatitis should avoid alcohol and drinks which can exacerbate the condition or tax an already stressed organ system," Dr. Childs says.
A January 2017 review published in Alcohol Research noted some interesting findings in the body of research on alcohol and your pancreas. Studies have:
- Historically associated 60 to 90 percent of chronic pancreatitis cases with alcohol use, but some newer studies have shown a lower percentage.
- Shown that heavy drinkers (more than 20 drinks per week) had a 40 percent increased risk of pancreatic disease.
- Shown that drinkers who consumed more than three drinks per day had around a 20 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
The pancreas can get aggravated by certain foods as well. "High fat and fried foods as well as simple sugars can increase the fat in the bloodstream, which may increase the risk of pancreatitis," Dr. Childs says. She lists foods that fit in this category as:
- Red meats.
- Organ meats.
- Food fried in oil or fats, such as french fries.
- Potato or tortilla chips.
- Mayonnaise and salad dressings.
- Margarine and butter.
- Full-fat dairy products.
- Pastries and doughnuts.
The American Cancer Society backs up Dr. Childs, stating that sugary drinks, diets with red and processed meats (like sausage and bacon) and high saturated fat intake may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Staying well hydrated is another important factor if you have pancreatitis because dehydration can cause it to flare up, the National Pancreas Foundation says. Nothing can keep you more hydrated than water itself, but sports drinks or electrolyte-filled drinks can prevent dehydration as well.
Common complications of the pancreas include pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, according to the Foundation says. There are different types of pancreatitis:
- Acute pancreatitis. Inflammation of the pancreas that comes on suddenly and causes severe upper abdominal pain. The most common reason is gallstones, chronic alcohol consumption, trauma, medications, infections or hormone abnormalities.
- Chronic pancreatitis. When pancreatic inflammation becomes long-standing. It can be confused for acute pancreatitis, but as the disease becomes more chronic, individuals can develop malnutrition and weight loss. Chronic alcohol consumption and conditions like cystic fibrosis are likely causes.
- Hereditary pancreatitis. Inherited abnormality of the pancreas, with the most common being cystic fibrosis. Genetic testing can be done in order to determine if you are predisposed to it.
The Foundation states that pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of death in men and fifth in women. It's a challenging cancer to treat because it is resistant to many of the standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Read more: Foods to Avoid With Pancreatic Cancer
- National Pancreas Foundation: “Common Disorders of the Pancreas”
- American Cancer Society: “Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors”
- Tracey Childs, MD, MPH, FACS, board certified, general and colorectal surgery; chief of surgery, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, California
- British Journal of Cancer: “A Prospective Study of Coffee Intake and Pancreatic Cancer: Results From the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study”
- Alcohol Research: “Uniting Epidemiology and Experimental Disease Models for Alcohol-Related Pancreatic Disease”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.