Nutritional factors, especially the protein and fat content of the diet, may change pancreatic morphology after ethanol induced injury. This study was performed to delineate the combined effects of a low fat diet and longterm ethanol ingestion on the rat pancreas. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were maintained with five different diets for 12 weeks and the pancreas removed on the day they were killed. Rats fed a very low fat diet without ethanol (5% of total calories as lipid) developed malnutrition, pancreatic steatosis, and reduction in zymogen granules content. Animals fed a 35% lipid diet with ethanol also developed pancreatic steatosis but changes in zymogen granules content were not detected. Both malnutrition and longterm ethanol consumption increased pancreatic cholesterol ester content, and their effects were additive. Pancreatic steatosis was accompanied with hypercholesterolaemia. Amylase, lipase, and cholesterol esterase content were reduced in malnourished rats; but longterm ethanol ingestion, regardless of the nutritional state, increased lipase content and decreased amylase. It is suggested that high serum cholesterol concentrations and increased pancreatic lipase activity could cause accumulation of cholesterol esters in acinar cells. Fat accumulation in the pancreas has been reported as the earliest histopathological feature in alcoholic patients and may be responsible for cytotoxic effects on the acinar cells at the level of the cell membrane. Although it is difficult to extrapolate results in this animal study to the human situation, the results presented in this work might explain the higher incidence of pancreatitis is malnourished populations as well as in alcoholic subjects that is reported in dietary surveys.
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