The pancreas produces digestive enzymes to help break down the food you eat into basic nutrients that your body can use.
When you have pancreatic cancer, or have had pancreatic surgery, your body may not be able to make enough of these digestive enzymes. This affects the body’s ability to digest food, particularly fat and protein, and absorb vital nutrients. This is often referred to as pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI).
Signs of PEI include:
- abdominal pain
- bloating and excessive wind
- diarrhoea or fatty bowel movements (stools) that are pale in colour, frothy, loose and difficult to flush
- weight loss.
Your doctor may prescribe pancreatic enzymes to help prevent these symptoms. Pancreatic enzymes are available in varying strengths. The dose will be based on, and adjusted to your individual symptoms and dietary intake. It may take time to get this balance right.
Often people who take pancreatic enzymes will also be prescribed acid-suppressing medicine. This medicine helps the pancreatic enzymes work properly.
Learn more about:
Taking enzyme supplements
- Take supplements at the same time as food and drink to ensure adequate mixing.
- Always take supplements with food and drink that contains fat or protein.
- Slightly higher doses of enzymes may be needed if eating a high-fat meal, e.g. fried foods and pizza.
- You don’t need to take enzymes for simple carbohydrates that digest easily, e.g. fruit, fruit juice, black tea and coffee.
- Always take the dose as prescribed. Do not change the dose without talking to your doctor first.
Taking nutritional supplements
- If you are not able to eat a balanced diet, or are experiencing unintentional weight loss, your doctor or dietitian may suggest that you take nourishing fluids and/or nutritional supplements.
- Nutritional supplements such as Sustagen® Hospital Formula, Ensure® and Resource® contain energy, protein and other nutrients in a concentrated source.
- Take nutritional supplements in addition to eating your usual meals, i.e. as snacks between meals. They are available as ready-made drinks or in powdered form to be mixed with milk or water.
- Glucose powder supplements can also provide energy, but shouldn’t be used as a meal replacement as they don’t provide protein, vitamins or minerals. Glucose supplements may not be recommended if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.
- Ask a dietitian where to buy the most appropriate supplement for you, and to advise you on the type and quantity.