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What Are the Common Causes of Low Amylase Levels?

By Franklin Jeffrey
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The pancreas, and to a lesser extent, the salivary glands, produce an enzyme called amylase. This enzyme plays a critical function in digestion, breaking down carbohydrates and complex starches into forms of sugar that the body can more easily use for energy. There are fewer causes for low amylase levels than for high amylase levels. Among the conditions that can result in low amylase are cystic fibrosis, liver disease, fat intolerance, damage to the pancreas, excess consumption of carbohydrates and pancreatic cysts.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the ability of some of the body's cells to transfer water and electrolytes. The sticky, thick mucus that collects in the lungs also accumulates in the pancreas, blocking the ducts and interfering with the pancreas' ability to release amylase. A pancreas damaged by injury or disease and malignant or benign cysts that obstruct the organ's ducts can result in low amylase levels as well. Amylase is also contained in the liver, and cirrhosis of the liver or hepatitis can cause lower levels of amylase.

Two causes of lower than normal amylase levels can, at least to some degree, be controlled by diet. Fat intolerance is the inability of the body to break down oils and fats. Not all patients are intolerant of the same fats; some cannot break down milk fats, others cannot process fatty meats, and still others cannot tolerate cooking oils. Many people who cannot eat fat, and some who can, take in an excess of carbohydrates; because amylase is needed to break down carbohydrates, loading up on carbohydrates can overwhelm the system, resulting in low amylase levels.

In addition to processing carbohydrates, another function of amylase is to break down pus, or white blood cells, so that the body can eliminate them. This results in a condition called macroamylasia, which occurs when amylase clumps form in the blood. The kidneys cannot process these over-sized clumps, so the amylase levels in the urine decrease while blood amylase levels increase. Low amylase levels increase the risk of such abscesses, which do not respond to antibiotics, as they contain no bacteria.

Doctors may order amylase tests on both the patient's urine and blood; it is possible for levels to be high or low in both, or one may be elevated and the other depressed. The amount of amylase in each sample helps identify potential causes. In many cases, however, low amylase levels in the blood are not reason for alarm, and no definite cause can be found.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997175 — On Nov 25, 2016

To Turquoise- Thank you! My dog has had chronic problems with weight loss/inability to maintain weight despite eating a ton. She has had a problem with chronic tapeworms, but even after that was treated, continues to have issues with weight. She shows no signs other than being too skinny, no matter how much she eats. I have suspected parasites but things keep coming back negative. However, her blood tests showed abnormally low amylase, which vets didn't really think very important!

She's been tested for a million things, including Pancreatic enzyme deficiency (EPI)- all negative. I am getting her tested for parasites again today.

Thanks for this!!

By anon995034 — On Mar 26, 2016

Is there any problem for me if my amylase serum level is 20 U/L?

By turquoise — On Sep 18, 2012

My dog used to have low amylase levels when she was dealing with a parasitic infection. It was actually the first thing that the vet noticed when she got blood tests. He then decided to test her for parasites and it came back positive.

Apparently, the parasite she had affected her intestinal system badly and not enough amylase was being produced as a result. She was on antibiotics for a while though and as soon as the infection cleared up, her amylase levels went back to normal.

I just thought I would mention this here in case any pet owners are looking at their pet's blood results and wondering what's up with the amylase.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 17, 2012

@ysmina-- I have no idea but it must have something to do with carbohydrates or insulin.

Carbohydrate consumption definitely has an effect on amylase levels. The reason I mentioned insulin is because after amylase breaks down starch and carbohydrates into glucose, it's the insulin's job to take glucose and change it into ATP, the form of energy our body can use.

But only a doctor can answer your question.

By ysmina — On Sep 16, 2012

Why would amylase levels be low in someone who has diabetes?

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