The pancreas produces digestive enzymes to help break down food. 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 to 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 oily bowel movements (stools) that are pale in colour, frothy, loose and difficult to flush; and weight loss.
To help prevent these symptoms, your doctor may prescribe pancreatic enzymes, sometimes with acid-suppressing medicine. The dose will be based on, and adjusted to, your symptoms and dietary intake. It may take time to get this balance right.
Taking enzyme supplements
- Take enzyme capsules with water and the first mouthful of food to ensure adequate mixing. With larger meals, you may need to also take them halfway through the meal.
- Always take enzymes when consuming any food or drink that contains fat or protein. Slightly higher doses may be needed with high-fat meals, 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 enzymes as prescribed. Do not change the dose without talking to your doctor or dietitian first.