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What is Pancreatin?

By K. Willis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pancreatin is a substance most commonly extracted from the pancreas of pigs and cows and used to treat conditions involving low pancreatic enzyme levels. Pancreatin contains the vital digestive enzymes lipase, amylase and protease. Pancreatin often is confused with pancrelipase, which, although it has a similar function, contains larger amounts of lipase enzymes than pancreatin. Enzyme therapy in the form of pancreatin is used to treat deficiencies of digestive enzymes caused by cystic fibrosis, inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatic cancer, surgical pancreatic removal and other conditions that might cause a deficiency in the secretion of pancreatic enzymes.

Lipase enzymes catalyze the digestion of fats, including triglycerides and phospholipids, breaking them down into fatty acid and glycerol molecules. There are two types of amylase enzymes: alpha-amylases and beta-amylases. Alpha-amylases are naturally occurring in animals and are manufactured in the exocrine cells of the pancreas. Beta-amylases are found in yeasts, bacteria and plant seeds. The function of both types of amylases is to hydrolyzes, or beak down starches and glycogen into simple sugars such as glucose.

Protease enzymes, such as pepsin, are responsible for catalyzing the hydrolysis of proteins into peptides and amino acids. Hydrolysis is the deconstruction of chemical compounds in water. The enzymes contained in pancreatin act as catalysts, supplementing those already present in the body. The catalyst enzymes increase the rate at which a reaction occurs.

Pancreatin is available in tablet, capsule and powdered forms. It is most commonly recommended to be taken with food. Patients should not start taking pancreatic without first consulting a health professional, nor should existing users switch brands without consulting with their health professional. Pancreatin supplements can be swallowed with plenty of water but should never be held in the mouth longer than necessary because they can cause irritation. Pancreatin should not be taken with hot liquids, because heat prevents the enzymes from working correctly.

There are some common adverse reactions to pancreatin, and they affect less than one in 10 people who take this substance. Side effects that might occur are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and irritation of the mouth. Less common reactions include rectal irritation, pain or difficulty when urinating, swollen and painful joints or increased urination. If a patient suffers from these or any other adverse reactions while taking pancreatin, it is important that he or she seeks the advice of a health professional as soon as possible.

Patients also can suffer allergic reactions to pancreatin, ranging from mild to severe. Mild reactions involve hives and skin irritation. Serious reactions can include anaphylactic reactions, which involve difficulty breathing and swelling of the tongue, lips and throat. For serious reactions, emergency medical aid should be sought immediately.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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