The pancreas produces chemicals that are crucial for blood sugar regulation and proper digestion. It is an abdominal gland, and is situated in the abdominal cavity, behind the stomach, close to the duodenum with its head pointed toward the small intestine. Both the exocrine and endocrine systems utilize this organ. Our body's endocrine system regulates hormones and other substances through its direct access to the bloodstream, cells, and organs. The exocrine system works via ducts to digest food in the intestinal tract.
Regulates Blood Sugar
Important hormones secreted by the pancreas include insulin and glucagons, which maintain the appropriate levels of sugar throughout the body and are vital for the endocrine system to function correctly. The parts of the pancreas responsible for the production of hormones are called the Islets of Langerhans, which are small clusters of cells separated from the exocrine functions of food digestion.
When unprocessed sugar needs to be converted into the kind of energy that cells use, it travels to the liver; once in the liver, glucagon breaks down the glycogen variety of sugar and releases its components into the blood. Insulin then appears at the site of cells to help them easily absorb the sugar. This is the process that maintains a non-diabetic's blood sugar at healthy levels.
Aids in Proper Digestion
In its second function, the pancreas creates digestive juices as a member of the exocrine system. These fluids must break down nutrients that the stomach's acids weren't effective at metabolizing. Since the pancreas is so close to the small intestine, there are many ducts streaming from its head to carry the enzymes to the duodenum, which is the beginning of the small intestine.
The juices start out alkaline in the pancreas, but when they meet substances bathed in stomach acid in the duodenum, they become acidic. These enzymes include lipase, which digests fat, trypsin, or protein, and one that works on carbohydrates, amylase. The resulting nutrients can be distributed further down the small intestine.
Common Pancreatic Diseases
Diseases associated with the pancreas include diabetes, pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and cystic fibrosis, among many others. Diabetes can also become a problem when the pancreas is not functioning properly. Any interference with insulin or enzyme levels can wreak havoc on a person's health, whether it is due to genes or diet. Many pancreatic diseases can be diagnosed using computerized tomography (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and high-resolution ultrasounds; sometimes surgery may be performed to treat the disease.