Hepatitis C and Impact on the Pancreas
Last updated: February 2022
What does the pancreas do?
Many people do not know what the pancreas does. This is both because it is a 6-10 inch fish-shaped gland buried deep inside the abdomen between the stomach and the spine, and because it is not often discussed the way some other organs and body parts are discussed.
However, the pancreas is incredibly critical to the digestion process. This is because its primary function comes in two parts, both related to digestion. First, the pancreas releases very powerful digestive enzymes directly into the small intestine, which aids the way the body digests food. These enzymes include trypsin and chymotrypsin to digest the proteins, amylase to digest carbohydrates, and lipase to digest fats and turn them into cholesterol and fatty acids. This is necessary for the proper breaking down of the food so the body can sort out the vitamins, nutrients, liquids, and waste and send them through the body properly so that each of those items is separated correctly.
Secondly, the pancreas releases hormones called insulin and glucagon into the blood. These help the body to control how the food is used for energy. This energy is used for everything from fueling the body’s functions and giving the body energy to move and exercise to allowing the body to handle stress.
How does hepatitis C affect the pancreas?
Hepatitis C often impacts the body by impeding the liver from being able to properly do its job. The liver provides bile to the body which helps with the breaking down of food. When the body is struggling to properly break down the food, it then stresses the other organs and forces them to work harder than they should, in order for the body to continue to function. This puts extra stress on the pancreas, which can cause the focus to be more on the breaking down process of digestion, leaving it with less focus for the other important function: producing and releasing insulin.
Without the proper insulin balance, the body becomes unable to efficiently use the broken down food for energy. This can leave the body feeling exhausted, weak, or even unable to function, both physically and while handling the physical responses of stress. When this occurs for a significant period of time, a person can become diabetic.
Depending on the severity of the problem, a doctor may prescribe insulin shots or other medical treatment to help the body by providing insulin that will compensate for the body’s inability to create it on its own. This is called type 2 diabetes.
With proper treatment of hepatitis C, it may be possible for the body’s liver to begin to produce bile correctly again, which will alleviate the stress on the pancreas, and this may lead to a resolution of the insulin deficiency. Although, this is specific to each individual patient.
If you are concerned about this or are experiencing symptoms of diabetes, you may wish to speak with your doctor about these concerns.
How can I protect my pancreas from hepatitis C damage?
Early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C is certainly helpful, as it allows doctors to provide care to the body and all of its impacted organs, as well as beginning treatment quickly to rid the body of the hepatitis C virus. In addition, you can change your diet to better aid your body in its digestive process, adding foods that digest easily and removing items that can be stressful on the body.
Avoid alcohol and junk food
Things to avoid include alcohol and junk food. Alcohol is generally a poor decision for anyone diagnosed with hepatitis, both because it causes the hepatitis virus to replicate faster, and because it can impact the efficacy of hepatitis medications. Junk food as a food category is called that because the food items within it are generally without nutritional benefits. This means that the food lacks vitamins and nutrients but likely instead is made of fats, empty calories, sugars, and different types of food additives, preservatives, and chemicals. While your body is struggling to break down even the healthiest of foods, junk food provides a great amount of work for the body to process with little to no nutritional benefit.
Consider avoiding gluten
Some choose to avoid wheat or anything with gluten as well as limiting the consumption of tap water. This is because it can be difficult to know whether the ingredients in these items are safe for your body. This is because many wheat products are now made with GMO grains, which can have a higher content of gluten and/or contain additional pesticides or preservatives that you are unaware you are consuming. Tap water varies greatly, based on where you live and the type of water system you are drinking from. Some places may have tap water with chlorine, fluoride, or other chemicals that you may not know you are digesting. If you are uncertain about the quality of your tap water, you can contact your local water provider and/or purchase distilled or bottled water in refillable containers.
As for recommended guidelines, these are often the foods found in the produce aisle of your grocery store or in most of the aisles of your local farmer’s market. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide many nutrients for your body, as well as providing juice to hydrate. These are often easier to break down than processed foods because they lack preservatives or filler products. Whole grains are also great because they allow the body to take in nutrients that have not been processed. These can be found in anything from breads to oatmeal, or from cereals to crackers.
If you need help finding pancreas-healthy food that fits your dietary preferences or budget, speak with your doctor or ask your local grocer for assistance.1-4