How Does the Pancreas Work?
The pancreas is a long, flat, prism-shaped gland about 6 inches long that lies in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. It extends from the curvature of the duodenum, behind the stomach towards the spleen. It weighs approximately 90 grams.
The pancreas has two major functions: it acts as both an “endocrine” and “exocrine” organ. Endocrine organs release hormones into the bloodstream, and do their job elsewhere in the body. Exocrine glands, on the other hand, secrete hormones into ducts, where they work outside of the bloodstream. The pancreas’ major endocrine function is to produce insulin and glucagon, which controls your blood glucose level. Abnormalities of this particular pancreatic function can result in diabetes, or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
The other job of the pancreas (the exocrine function) is to produce hormones that aid in the digestion of carbohydrates, fat and protein. The major digestive enzymes of the exocrine pancreas are amylase, lipase and proteases. Amylase is secreted by both the pancreas and the salivary gland. Amylase is responsible for carbohydrate digestion, breaking down starch and glycogen. Lipase is responsible for digestion of fat, and works by breaking down triglycerides into fatty acids. Protein digestion is accomplished by various proteases produced by the pancreas, resulting in the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.
The pancreas, although small, has a big job. You can help the pancreas so its job better by eating antioxidant-rich, low-fat foods, and by avoiding smoking and too much alcohol.