Amylase and Pancreatic Lipase: Causes & Associated Conditions

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  • 0:03 Breaking Your Food Apart
  • 0:55 The Many Roles of the Pancreas
  • 1:50 Amylase and Lipase in Medicine
  • 3:53 Non-Pancreatic Elevations
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will focus in on two important enzymes produced by the pancreas known as amylase and lipase. We'll discuss what their elevations during blood tests may indicate.

Breaking Your Food Apart

Whether you know it, realize it, or not, many of the packaged foods you eat have been partially broken down for you. This is done for many reasons, such as to improve the taste of the food, increase the caloric density of it or for preservation purposes. Companies use physical means, such as machines that chop up the food, or chemicals, to break down what will one day end up in your stomach.

In the grand scheme of things, there's no real reason to do this since your body is chock full of tricks and methods by which it does the same thing. Your teeth, stomach and intestines physically break up your food, and organs, such as your pancreas, secrete a plethora of their own natural biochemicals that help to even further break down the stuff you enjoy eating.

These biochemicals aren't just used to digest food but are actually used by doctors to gauge the health of your organs - in the case of this lesson, the pancreas' health.

The Many Roles of the Pancreas

Your pancreas is really famous for producing a hormone known as insulin. This is the thing that drives glucose from your blood and into your cells, where the glucose is used as a fuel for energetic reactions. Without insulin, the glucose just stays in the blood, which is a dangerous proposition.

But the pancreas also produces enzymes, proteins used to speed up biochemical reactions. The three main groups of enzymes your pancreas produces are known as:

  • Protease, an enzyme responsible for breaking down proteins
  • Amylase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates
  • Lipase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down fat

Therefore, your pancreas is your PAL when it comes down to helping you digest all three of the major nutrient sources, with the three letters of PAL there to remind you of the three groups of enzymes your PAL, the pancreas, produces to help you digest your food.

Amylase and Lipase in Medicine

Two of these enzymes, amylase and lipase, are also used by clinicians in order to help diagnose medical problems mainly related to the pancreas.

That is to say, if the pancreas is damaged for any reason, then the levels of these enzymes will rise to abnormal levels in the blood as an indicator of injury.

One big reason as to why the pancreas may be damaged and therefore levels of amylase and lipase may rise is pancreatitis, or the inflammation of the pancreas. The suffix -itis refers to the inflammation of something - in this case, the pancreas.

The things that may cause pancreatitis are vast. They range from alcohol abuse to certain medicines to physical trauma from an accident to infectious causes. Think about it - if you hit your arm really hard or put a dangerous substance on it or it got infected, then the arm will hurt and become very red and very swollen. The exact same process will occur in the pancreas if it is hurt in any way.

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