Does the pancreas really produce much more lipase than required for fat digestion?

JOP. 2005 May 10;6(3):206-15.


Thirty years ago, it was reported that a linear relationship does not exist between the amounts of human pancreatic lipase secreted in chronic pancreatitis and the degree of steatorrhea, which was considered to appear only after more than 90% of the pancreatic secretory capacity had been lost. From these observations, it was generally thought that the lipolytic potential of the pancreas is much higher than required. In recent years, however, it has been noted that: 1) the level of inhibition of digestive lipases and gastrointestinal lipolysis by the lipase inhibitor orlistat were almost linearly correlated with the amount of excreted fat; 2) in minipigs with experimentally-induced pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, the amounts of enteric-coated pancreatic extracts needed for restoring fat digestion to normal levels were estimated to be much higher than those usually administered; 3) human pancreatic lipase specific activity on meal triglycerides is 3 orders of magnitude lower than the very high specific activity usually measured under experimental in vitro conditions which are far from physiological conditions; 4) in patients with reduced human pancreatic lipase secretion, gastric lipase plays a significant role in fat digestion. This last observation might explain the absence of a linear relationship between human pancreatic lipase secretion in chronic pancreatitis and steatorrhea. From the low specific activity displayed by human pancreatic lipase on meal triglycerides, one can better understand why more lipase than expected is needed, why fat digestion lasts for more than a few minutes and, finally, why there is not such an excess secretory capacity for lipase as had been previously thought.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Digestion*
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / drug therapy
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Lipase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Lipase / metabolism*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Lipolysis
  • Pancreas / enzymology*
  • Pancreatitis / enzymology
  • Pancreatitis / physiopathology
  • Steatorrhea / enzymology
  • Steatorrhea / physiopathology
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Dietary Fats
  • Triglycerides
  • Lipase