Antioxidants Relieve Pain of Chronic Pancreatitis

For patients who suffer frequent sharp abdominal pain from chronic pancreatitis, antioxidants may offer effective pain relief, according to a study recently published in Gastroenterology, the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association Institute.

The initial symptom for 90 percent of those who suffer from chronic pancreatitis, an inflammatory disease, is abdominal pain, which often progresses to maldigestion-the incomplete digestion of food-and diabetes. The damage and pain are thought to be due to organ injury that may be caused by free radicals, highly unstable oxygen atoms. Antioxidants are chemical compounds that many scientists believe can protect cells from the damage caused by oxidation.

To test the pain relief ability of antioxidants, researchers conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 127 chronic pancreatitis patients whose ages ranged from 20 to 41 years. One group received antioxidants, the other a placebo.

After six months, the scientists noted a significant reduction in the abdominal pain experienced by the antioxidant group. That group averaged 7.4 fewer painful days per month of abdominal pain than at the beginning of the study. The placebo group averaged a 3.2-day reduction in painful days per month. 

The researchers also found that the antioxidant group lowered its consumption of analgesic tablets by an average of 10.5 per month, compared to the placebo group’s average of 4.4 fewer tablets per month.

Ultimately, 32 percent of the antioxidant group members were pain-free by the end of the study, versus 13 percent of the placebo group.

Aside from the finding that antioxidants offer effective pain relief for a disease that often frustrates attempts to mitigate the suffering it causes, the study also indicates that injury to the pancreas caused by free radicals may be reversible.

On a more practical level, the ability to control chronic pancreatitis pain may lead to fewer days lost at work and a reduction in the stress caused by severe pain.

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