A few years ago, I saw two young patients in their 40s who came down with pancreatitis. Fortunately they recovered easily.
But why did they get it?
Usually the cause of pancreatitis is excessive drinking, cancer, or a blocked gall stone. These two had none of that.
But there’s another cause that affects just about anyone, including my patients.
They might have had a diet too low in fish oils. This study explains why:
The researchers followed 39,267 men and 32,191 women between the ages of 45-84 for 13 years. During that time, they counted up how much fish oil they were getting in their diets.
Of this large group, 209 men and 111 women developed pancreatitis for no apparent reason just like my patients. What the researchers found was the people eating fish two to three times a week were 10% less likely to get pancreatitis than those who ate fish once a week.
So how could fish oil prevent pancreatitis?
It has to do with the “itis” in pancreatitis. Any time you see “itis” at the end of a word, it means inflammation. Fish oil contains a lot of the anti-inflammatory oil, EPA. EPA is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory substances in the body. It is good for virtually any kind of inflammation. So it seems reasonable that it would decrease the risk of pancreatitis.
But like with any natural substance, dose is critical. It could easily be that if the patients were taking higher doses, for example the kind of doses found in fish oil supplements, the results would have been much better.
So does this mean that if my patients start eating fish or taking fish oil supplements that they will prevent another pancreatitis scare?
Not necessarily. That’s because statistically speaking there is only a 1 in 10 chance that it will prevent a recurrence.
But consider this: if you are the 1 in 10, it’s 100% for you.
Also, fish oil is great for you for all kinds of other reasons. I have written all about this in the past, and you can access all those reports in the archives. So even if it didn’t prevent a return of your pancreatitis, it is worth taking.
Oskarsson, V., N. Orsini, O. Sadr-Azodi, and A. Wolk. “Fish consumption and risk of non-gallstone-related acute pancreatitis: a prospective cohort study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 January;101(1):72-8.