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Fat Absorption and Pancreatic Insufficiency: A Naturopathic Perspective

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on August 30, 2023

When we delve into the intricacies of digestive health, the pancreas plays an indispensable role, especially in fat absorption. An often overlooked condition, pancreatic insufficiency, can lead to impaired fat absorption, malnutrition, and a range of other health issues. From a naturopathic standpoint, understanding the underlying causes and using herbal interventions can be instrumental in supporting overall digestive health.

Understanding Pancreatic Insufficiency

The pancreas is an essential organ in our digestive system, responsible for producing digestive enzymes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. When the pancreas doesn't produce enough of these enzymes, we encounter what's known as pancreatic insufficiency. Without these essential enzymes, especially lipase (which breaks down fats), our body can't absorb fats effectively. This can lead to steatorrhea (fatty, foul-smelling stools), weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies. (1)

Why Does it Matter?

Fats are crucial for our overall well-being. They are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and provide the essential fatty acids needed for numerous bodily functions, including brain health and hormonal balance. Thus, compromised fat absorption can impact overall vitality and wellness.

Herbs That Support Pancreatic Function

Naturopathy often turns to the plant kingdom for solutions. Here are three herbs known to promote normal pancreatic function:

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine, fenugreek seeds can help improve digestive symptoms related to pancreatic insufficiency. They contain soluble fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugars, aiding in blood sugar regulation—a key function of the pancreas. (2)

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)

Often considered a weed in many gardens, dandelion is a powerhouse of health benefits. The root, in particular, has been used to support liver and pancreatic health. It stimulates bile production, which aids in fat digestion and absorption. (3)

Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre)

Known as the "sugar destroyer," gymnema has been used in traditional medicine to support pancreatic function and regulate blood sugar levels. Some preliminary studies suggest it may enhance the activity of pancreatic cells, promoting the natural production of insulin. (4)

Pancreatic Sufficiency is a Key to Optimal Health

Pancreatic insufficiency, while under-recognized, can have a significant impact on one's health. A holistic approach, emphasizing both understanding the condition and using natural interventions, can be effective in promoting optimal digestive health. Always remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatments or supplements.


  1. Ghodeif AO, Azer SA. Pancreatic Insufficiency. 2023 Jan 16. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 32310386.
  2. Shabil M, Bushi G, Bodige PK, Maradi PS, Patra BP, Padhi BK, Khubchandani J. Effect of Fenugreek on Hyperglycemia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Medicina (Kaunas). 2023 Jan 27;59(2):248. doi: 10.3390/medicina59020248. PMID: 36837450; PMCID: PMC9962665.
  3. Wirngo FE, Lambert MN, Jeppesen PB. The Physiological Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) in Type 2 Diabetes. Rev Diabet Stud. 2016 Summer-Fall;13(2-3):113-131. doi: 10.1900/RDS.2016.13.113. Epub 2016 Aug 10. PMID: 28012278; PMCID: PMC5553762.
  4. Muzaffar H, Qamar I, Bashir M, Jabeen F, Irfan S, Anwar H. Gymnema Sylvestre Supplementation Restores Normoglycemia, Corrects Dyslipidemia, and Transcriptionally Modulates Pancreatic and Hepatic Gene Expression in Alloxan-Induced Hyperglycemic Rats. Metabolites. 2023 Apr 4;13(4):516. doi: 10.3390/metabo13040516. PMID: 37110174; PMCID: PMC10142569.

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