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Belly Fat Can Lead to a Sudden Attack of Pancreatitis: Study

TUESDAY, March 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Obesity is not only tied to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, researchers now say it's also linked to a painful condition known as acute pancreatitis.

"We were able to demonstrate that fat within the belly is rapidly degraded during acute [sudden-onset] pancreatitis, but not during diverticulitis [another condition that causes abdominal pain]," said researcher Vijay Singh. He's a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

The catalyst for that degradation is an enzyme called PNLIP, he said. It can spur creation of fatty acids, which Singh said can cause vital body systems -- including circulation, kidney and lung function -- to fail.

Pancreatitis is inflammation in the pancreas, a gland that is located in the upper abdomen. The pancreas produces enzymes that help digestion and hormones that help regulate the way your body processes sugar (glucose), according to the Mayo Clinic.

The increased belly fat found in obese people can worsen acute pancreatitis, Singh said.

In addition, the researchers found that unsaturated fats, such as the oleic acid in olive oil -- which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers safer for human consumption -- also increases the risk of organ failure.

"Our findings open the door to new therapeutic targets to treat pancreatitis and thereby prevent organ failure," Singh said in a Mayo Clinic news release. "By inhibiting PNLIP, we may be able to prevent severe pancreatitis, avoid prolonged hospitalizations and save lives."

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on pancreatitis.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, March 9, 2020

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