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Pancreatic juice is a fluid secreted by the pancreas, an organ located in close proximity to the digestive tract with ducts draining into the small intestine. Like other organs associated with digestion, the pancreas plays a role in breaking down food so it can be metabolized by the body. Pancreatic juice is only one of the fluids secreted by this organ; the pancreas is also responsible for making insulin, as well as other hormones.
There are two components to pancreatic juice. The first is a solution of bicarbonate and water emitted by the epithelial cells that line the pancreatic ducts. This alkaline solution is designed to help neutralize stomach acid so that digestive enzymes can work more effectively. The other component is a grouping of enzymes designed to process carbohydrates, protein, and fats. In many cases, the pancreas actually releases precursors to these enzymes and the enzymes themselves develop in the intestinal tract in response to other compounds.
Pancreatic juice is released into the small intestine, where it acts on food as it moves through. As the food is metabolized, usable compounds are absorbed by the intestine, while waste products are allowed to move along the digestive tract, where they will eventually be expressed by the body. The digestive process is designed to be as efficient as possible although in people with medical problems involving the digestion, a tell-tale sign often involves breakdowns in metabolism.
The pancreas work in harmony with the duodenum. As fats, proteins, and other compounds are sensed by the duodenum, it releases hormones to trigger activity in the pancreas. These hormones can increase or decrease secretions and are designed to time releases of pancreatic juice, insulin, and other compounds to coincide with metabolic needs. If this process is interrupted, people may start to have trouble digesting certain foods.
In some individuals, pancreatic disease necessitates a removal of the pancreas for medical reasons. These people must make dietary adjustments and take medications to compensate for the lack of pancreatic juice, insulin, and other compounds produced in this organ. The medications have to be taken for life and patients must be alert to early signs of complications, indicating that their medications are not in balance or that they are not timing their doses properly. Doctors and nutritionists help patients who require pancreas removal to develop and periodically update a treatment plan to stay as healthy as possible.