Pancreatitis: My Story
Updated: Sep 4, 2020
I spent my entire life avoiding diabetes. Not because I love depriving myself of yummy sweets and carbs, but because diabetes runs deep in my lineage. Almost everyone on my mothers’ side is suffering from this illness and its debilitating effects.
I always exercised, watched my portions, limited carbs, and kept my sweets intake to only chocolate. I suffered from B-12 and iron deficiency, so I took my vitamins and increased my vegetable and red meat intake to compensate. Little did I know that this diet would cause other issues.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation or infection of the pancreas when digestive enzymes start to digest the pancreas itself.
In March, the week before the Covid-19 shut down, I was in extreme pain, had a slight fever, felt nauseous, and had oily stool. I thought I may have reacted to something I ate. I went to the doctor who told me to go to the hospital immediately.
They quickly gave me pain medication and took me in for a sonogram. The doctor came in the room and asked me if I drink alcohol. I told her about my one or two glasses of wine with dinner. She had an extremely confused look on her face; “that would not cause this.” She proceeded to explain that pancreatitis usually occurs in long term alcoholics, if there are gallstones present, have an immune disorder, or a hereditary marker. I told her about my fathers’ pancreatic cancer. She then made me feel better by telling me this could have just been a freak occurrence. Told me to rest for a couple of weeks, lay off oils, grease, and stick to a liquid diet. I could eat carbs but limit them to prevent the pain. The key was to drink plenty of clear liquids to flush out the pancreas.
Two weeks later I followed up with my primary doctor who was just as confused as the ER doctor. Told me “well maybe this is a freak thing. If it happens again come back and we can talk about what to do next.” My blood work came back completely perfect. No diabetes, no anemia, no high white blood cells. I shrugged the whole thing off as just a freak occurrence.
I usually keep a decent diet so after I healed it was back to normal. The weekend of July 4 we had a couple of friends over and decided to bbq and make strawberry margaritas. I ate a hamburger, deviled eggs, potato salad, and snacked on chips a dip throughout the day. I drank two margaritas, a Mikes Lemonade, and a glass of wine over an 8-9-hour period. This was a lot for me, but I figured I had been so good all year…I could be bad for one day. Bad idea.
At the end of the night, we decided to roast marshmallows. I love smores. But I had nausea and I could not bring myself up to eat one. I was exhausted and sick. I thought I just needed some sleep.
I woke up the next morning with the same stomach pain I had back in March. My stool was again oily, and I felt a strong need to vomit. I was having another bout of pancreatitis. I also noticed that I had been losing some weight. I couldn’t understand why and since I usually do not weigh myself I shrugged it off to spending more time at home instead of the office, and the decreased appetite because I was not going to the gym as much. When I weighed myself, I realized I lost 13 pounds in four months. This didn’t make any sense to me.
Chronic pancreatitis usually occurs from alcoholism, autoimmune conditions like lupus, and if familial (family history of pancreas complications). The symptoms are unexplained weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, oily stool, and clay-colored stools.
There is no cure for chronic pancreatitis and if left untreated can lead to malnutrition, breathing problems, infection, kidney problems, diabetes, and pancreatic cancer. Every time a flare-up occurs, the chance increases.
The pancreatic diet is quite different from what health and fitness gurus would recommend. It’s low protein, high carbs, high fruit sugars, and lots of vegetables. No oils, no fats, no dairy.
The oils are the hardest part for me since I love olive oil for cooking and dressing. I learned I can use coconut oil and a rationed amount of a tablespoon of olive oil a day. The goal is to prevent the flare-ups that damage the pancreas.
Diets are a huge business today, and I believe there needs to be more education and even regulation surrounding the information out there. For instance, if I had taken on the popular keto or Atkins diets, I may have been in much worse shape right now. While it works great for losing weight in obese individuals, it can be deadly for people with a predisposition to heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis. A high carb diet is great for anemic individuals but detrimental to those with a predisposition to obesity. I would love for the day that the medical community decides to work on the prevention of disease and illness, rather than just diagnosing and treating symptoms.
I would love to hear from anyone that has suffered through this. Tips and suggestions are welcomed!