The Relation Between Malnutrition and the Exocrine Pancreas: A Systematic Review

Rosalie H. Bartels*, Deborah A. van den Brink, Robert H. Bandsma, Michael Boele van Hensbroek, Merit M. Tabber, Wieger P. Voskuijl

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Objective: The relation between malnutrition and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) has been described previously, but it is unclear if malnutrition leads to EPI or vice versa. We systematically synthesized current evidence evaluating the association between malnutrition and EPI in children.

    Methods: Pubmed, Embase, and Cochrane databases were searched from inception until February 2017. We included cohort or case-controlled studies in children reporting on prevalence or incidence of EPI and malnutrition. Data generation was performed independently by 2 authors. Quality was assessed by using quality assessment tools from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

    Results: Nineteen studies were divided into 2 groups: 10 studies showing EPI leading to malnutrition, and 9 studies showing malnutrition leading to EPI. Because of heterogeneity in design, definitions, and outcome measures, pooling of results was impossible. Quality was good in 4 of 19 studies. Pancreatic insufficiency was linked to decreased nutritional status in 8 of 10 articles, although this link was not specified properly in most articles. In malnourished children, improvement was seen in pancreatic function in 7 of 9 articles after nutritional rehabilitation. The link between the 2 was not further specified. Heterogeneity exists with respect to definitions, outcome measures, and study design.

    Conclusions: There is sufficient evidence for an association between EPI and malnutrition. We could not confirm whether there is a correlation or causality between EPI or malnutrition. It was therefore not possible to draw firm conclusions from this systematic review on underlying pathophysiological mechanisms between EPI and malnutrition. More observational clinical trials are crucially needed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)193-203
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1-Feb-2018


    • exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
    • global child health
    • pancreatic function
    • severe malnutrition

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