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Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency in chronic pancreatitis: a relevant disorder?

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Vitamin B12 malabsorption was reported earlier to occur in patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, and pancreatic extracts were shown to improve the absorption of vitamin B12. We investigated serum levels of vitamin B12 and serum folate in patients with chronic pancreatitis and different degrees of pancreatic insufficiency.

137 patients (84 males, 53 females, age 34–72 years) with chronic pancreatitis (C.P.) were included in the study. 123 of 137 (89.8%) patients had a pathologic pancreatic function test result, classified into mild (n=24), moderate (n=61) or severe (n=38) insufficiency. The normal range of serum vitamin B12 and folic acid was established in 58 healthy controls and was found to be 190–1020 pg/ml for serum vitamin B12 and 2.4–16.1 ng/ml for folic acid. 7 patients (5.7%) with C.P. had vitamin B12 serum levels below 190 pg/ml; 4 of these had severe and 3 had mild or moderate exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. However there was no overall correlation between the degree of pancreatic insufficiency and vitamin B12 values. Serum levels of Vitamin B12 were 512±48 pg/ml in mild, 493±52 pg/ml in moderate and 428±45 pg/ml in severe exocrine insufficiency. Serum folic acid below 2.4 ng/ml were present in 5 patients (3.6%). Folic acid serum levels were 8.34±0.76 ng/ml in mild, 6.34±0.52 ng/ml in moderate and 7.45±0.53 ng/ml in severe exocrine insufficiency. We conclude that vitamin B12 deficiency is a rare finding in chronic pancreatitis and does not strictly depend on the degree of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. In clinical practice enzyme supplementation in patients with severe pancreatic insufficiency is obviously sufficient for normal vitamin B12 absorption. Folic acid deficiency is also unfrequently found in chronic pancreatitis.

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Glasbrenner, B., Malfertheiner, P., Büchler, M. et al. Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiency in chronic pancreatitis: a relevant disorder?. Klin Wochenschr 69, 168–172 (1991).

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Key words

  • Vitamin B12
  • Folic acid
  • Chronic pancreatitis