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Men's Health

Gene Raises Risk for Pancreatitis in Men Who Drink

Genetics can play a role in whether you develop certain diseases. Think heart disease. Your risk for this condition is higher if you have a family history of it. A new study suggests that genetics may also up the risk for chronic pancreatitis in some men. Those who have a specific gene face a higher risk for this disorder, particularly if they drink a lot.

Photo of man holding a glass of brandy

The genetic factor

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have chronic pancreatitis. It causes lasting damage to the pancreas. You are more likely to suffer from the disorder if you drink alcohol. But only a small percentage of alcoholics actually develop it. This fact has led experts to wonder if another underlying factor plays a role.

To find out, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a 10-year study with more than 2,000 adults. They discovered a genetic variation on the X chromosome that may make some people more likely to get pancreatitis. Of the study participants, the genetic variant was found in only 26 percent of men without pancreatitis. But almost 50 percent of men with alcoholic pancreatitis had the variation.

"We knew there was an unexpected higher risk of men developing pancreatitis with alcohol consumption, but until now we weren't sure why," says study lead author David Whitcomb, M.D. "The discovery that chronic pancreatitis has a genetic basis solves a major mystery about why some people develop it and others do not."

Some groups more at risk

Researchers found that people who suffer an injury to the pancreas have a higher risk for chronic pancreatitis. The amount these people drink raises that risk even more.

Men tend to develop the disorder more often because they have only one X chromosome, along with a Y chromosome. Women, on the other hand, seem to be protected from the disease. That's because they have two X chromosomes. Both of them must have the variant to increase a woman's risk.

Doctors may be able to use this information to improve care for people with early-stage pancreatitis. Knowing if the patient has this genetic variant may help doctors better manage treatment, preventing the disease from becoming chronic.

This study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - Pancreatitis

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol's Impact on Your Health

January 2013

Setting Limits with Alcohol

Many people enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a beer while watching the game. Having a drink now and then is fine-as long as you don't overdo it. Heavy alcohol use can lead to health conditions such as cancer, chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, and stroke. Alcohol is also associated with mental health issues such as depression and even suicide.

If you want to limit your drinking or your doctor suggests it, try these steps from the National Institutes of Health:

  1. Write down your reasons for cutting back. These might include wanting to improve your health or sleep better. Other reasons may be to maintain your independence or preserve family relations.

  2. Track your drinking habits for at least one week. Write down when and how much you drink every day.

  3. Set a drinking goal. You may decide to cut down to one drink a day or to not drink at all. Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it where you'll see it every day.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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