To understand the pancreatic enzyme test, you need to know something about the pancreas. The pancreas has two roles in the body, endocrine and exocrine. An essential pancreatic function is the production of hormones like insulin. Hormone production is the endocrine function of the pancreas.
The exocrine function of the pancreas relates to its role in digestion. Pancreatic enzymes, such as proteases, lipases, and amylases, are involved in different aspects of your digestion. Proteases break down proteins into small components. Lipases work in conjunction with bile to break down and emulsify fats. Amylases break down carbohydrates into sugars. The pancreas produces between six to eight cups of pancreatic fluid a day, which enters the small intestine and facilitates digestion.
The pancreas sits behind the stomach. It can be challenging to diagnose pancreatic dysfunction because it’s in the center of the body. It’s not an organ that you can visualize by using a scope like you can with the stomach or bowels. One way we can determine pancreatic function is through enzyme testing.
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Pancreatic enzymes can be measured in the blood, but only a few can be measured in the stool. The pancreatic elastase enzyme, P-E1, is one that can be tested in the stool because it goes through the digestive system without breaking down. We measure P-E1 to see whether the pancreas is producing enough enzymes. If the pancreas isn’t producing as many enzymes as expected, it’s called exocrine insufficiency. The P-E1 test is very relevant for anyone who has a lot of digestive problems. If the P-E1 enzyme is too low, for example, we start looking for symptoms like bloating, gas, thin stools, poor stool formation, cramping, stools that float, and greasy stools. This list of digestive symptoms can all arise from poor pancreatic function. A stool test will give clinicians, like me, a great insight into how this vital digestive organ is working.
If you are not producing enough pancreatic digestive enzymes, you can notice a remarkable difference from taking enzyme supplements. If you make a diet change, and take supplements for a while, this can often help to bring the pancreas back up to speed again, get it in good shape. If your pancreas is not working well, you must give up drinking alcohol entirely until the pancreas is working better. I recommend the same for pop or anything that contains a lot of sugar.