The aims of this study were to evaluate the amount of gastric lipase secreted by the stomach in normal adults and to elucidate a possible adaptative secretion of this enzyme in response to pancreatic insufficiency secondary to alcoholic chronic pancreatitis. Forty-one subjects underwent a gastric intubation. Pentagastrin (6 micrograms.kg-1.h-1 IV) significantly increased gastric lipase concentration and output. Stimulated gastric lipase output in seven normal subjects was 12,598 +/- 2036 U/h (by using tributyrin as substrate). Outputs where higher (P less than 0.02) in 17 patients with pancreatic insufficiency who were not drinking alcohol, but were not significantly different in nine patients who continued to drink (20,413 +/- 1778 U/h and 21,953 +/- 4973 U/h, respectively). On the other hand, high gastric lipase outputs were found in eight patients with duodenal ulcers and no evidence of pancreatic dysfunction (23,180 +/- 262 U/h). The time required to reach maximal lipase output (peak output) following pentagastrin stimulation was the same in all groups (approximately 38 minutes) except for the group of patients with pancreatic insufficiency who did not drink alcohol, in whom it was significantly reduced (approximately 26.5 minutes). Secretory patterns of gastric lipase and pepsin were closely comparable. Gastric lipase secretion could be increased in several clinical conditions and particularly in patients with pancreatic insufficiency caused by alcoholic chronic pancreatitis who have been abstinent for a long time.