written by: Diana Cooper
• edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski
• updated: 2/20/2010
Learn about the pancreas and what can cause it to become inflamed. Learn about acute and chronic pancreatitis symptoms and know what Chinese herbs for pancreatitis are commonly used to treat the problem.
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The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach. It is both an endocrine gland (which produces hormones, including insulin and glucagon) and an exocrine gland (which secretes pancreatic juice containing enzymes that help digest protein, carbohydrates, and fat).
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that is most commonly caused by excessive alcohol intake and gallstones. Certain drugs (including corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - NSAIDs), some infections (such as hepatitis and the mumps), high levels of triglycerides, and injury to the abdomen are other causes of pancreatitis. African Americans are more at risk of getting it than Caucasians.
Acute pancreatitis symptoms include abdominal and back pain, tenderness across the upper abdomen (often minimal), fever, nausea, and vomiting. Chronic pancreatitis symptoms include recurrent episodes of severe upper abdominal and back pain, low-grade fever, vomiting, weight loss, and stools that are frequent, frothy, and foul smelling.
Chinese herbs for pancreatitis have much promise in being an effective treatment but more research is needed. Before using any of the following herbs, it is important to consult with a qualified herbalist.
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Licorice root has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It is used more than any other herb in Chinese medicine, with over 5,000 herbal formulas using it to "harmonize" other herbs. Glycyrrhizin, a main constituent in licorice, has been shown by studies to reduce inflammation and may be helpful in treating and preventing pancreatitis. Glycyrrhizin, however, can have serious side effects, including raising blood pressure. People with high blood pressure should avoid taking licorice root or be closely monitored by a health care provider.
Dan shen has been used for many years as a traditional Chinese medicine remedy to help treat acute pancreatitis. In one study, people with severe acute pancreatitis had high blood levels of three cytokines (proinflammatory substances that are believed to be responsible for acute episodes). After seven days of receiving dan shen, all three cytokines were greatly decreased.
Asian ginseng (also called panax ginseng) has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Ginsenosides, constituents of ginseng, are believed to have anti-inflammatory effects and may help manage inflammatory diseases like pancreatitis.
In addition to treating problems like nausea and vomiting, ginger root has also been used for a long time to treat health problems due to inflammation.
Cinnamon bark, peony root, calamus, bupleurum, pinelliae tuber, and jujube are other Chinese herbs for pancreatitis that may be beneficial.