Amylase is an important digestive enzyme, responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrate and starch into simpler and usable sugar forms. Based on the structure, there are three types of amylase, namely, alpha amylase (α-amylase), beta amylase (β-amylase), and gamma amylase (γ-amylase). In the human body, amylase is secreted by the salivary glands and the pancreas. Chemically, all types of amylase enzymes are glycoside hydrolases that act on glycosidic bonds.
Role of Amylase: A Brief Information
As we all are aware, digestion of food starts in the mouth itself. This is nothing, but the amylase present in the saliva breaking down carbohydrates after food is being masticated in the mouth. In short, this pancreas enzyme aids in providing quick energy to the body cells and tissues. The remaining carbohydrates are digested by amylase in the stomach and intestine. Thus, digestion of carbs present in the food is solely dependent on the action of amylase. In addition to this, amylase is also crucial for catalyzing dead white blood cells (WBCs). With so many crucial functions, it is obvious that maintaining normal amylase levels in the blood is essential for the body.
Amylase Test: Who are the Candidates?
An amylase test refers to determining the amount of amylase enzymes in the blood or urine. A blood work is usually conducted for patients with severe abdominal pain, so as to detect pancreas problems (acute or chronic pancreatistis). Also, people who are suspected to have salivary gland problems, gallstones, and pancreatic duct blockage are candidates for a blood amylase test. Prior to collecting a blood sample for the test, the candidate is advised to refrain from alcohol and specific medications (e.g. opiates, aspirin, contraceptive pills, etc.), which directly or indirectly affect the amylase levels in the blood. Other than this precaution, no specific preparation is required for the amylase test.
The normal amylase levels in the blood is 25 to 160 U/L (units/liter). Nevertheless, this normal range may differ slightly from one laboratory to another, based on the testing methods adopted for measuring amylase. To be precise, more than 20 protocols are there for testing amylase. Considering this, there is no exact value for low, normal, or high amylase levels. So, it is best to consult the doctor about the test results and what do they mean. Besides the blood work, the physician may also conduct urine amylase test and lipase test to rule out suspected health conditions.
Low Amylase Levels
Low level of amylase in the body is mostly resulted due to consumption of high amounts of carbohydrates. This is the case with amylase deficiency in people with fat intolerance. As mentioned earlier, amylase catalyzes starch and complex carbohydrates. So, the higher the amount of these nutrients in the body, the more is the requirement of amylase. Eventually, the level of amylase falls down from the normal recommended level, thus manifesting amylase deficiency symptoms.
As amylase enzyme is deficient in the body, the dead WBCs are not digested, which in turn leads to formation of abscesses. Contrary to the skin abscesses caused by infections, amylase linked abscesses contain only pus without microbes. Low level of amylase is also related to other skin problems such as inflammation, allergic reactions, eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. It may also trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases. Severe cases of amylase deficiency are detected in patients having chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatic cancer, kidney disease, and hepatitis.
High Amylase Levels
Elevated amylase levels or hyperamylasemia may be an indication of acute pancreatitis condition. Based on the severity, the amylase level may be as high as 4 - 6 times the upper normal value. Such a condition is observed within 12 hours after injury to the pancreas and will subside with correct treatments. In another case, if the amylase level in the blood is elevated with normal or low urine amylase level, then it may signify a kidney related complication. Other probable reasons for hyperamylasemia are gastroenteritis, severe ulcer, gallbladder problems, intestinal blockage, and abnormal pregnancy.
Pancreatitis is diagnosed, if high blood amylase level is accompanied with elevated lipase level. Based on the amylase level in blood (low or high according to the testing method), the physician may prescribe appropriate medication for combating the ailment. Once medications are administered, routine amylase test is conducted in order to monitor whether the medicine is showing any effect or not.