Located in the middle of abdomen, pancreas is a flat pear-shaped organ surrounded by small intestine, liver and gall bladder. It is unique in that the gland has both an exocrine and endocrine functions. It releases digestive enzymes as well as hormones, which play a vital role in digestion, absorption, metabolism and storage of nutrients in the body. The digestive juices are secreted by pancreatic acini, whereas the hormones are released by Islets of Langerhans.
The exocrine cells of this gland produce digestive enzymes that help with digestion and absorption. After the food is ingested, the gland releases digestive juices through a duct present in the first part of small intestine – duodenum. Digestive juices contain high amounts of enzymes that break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates into simpler substances. The pancreas produces 1,000 – 1,500 mL of digestive juices per day. These enzymes are present in their latent state. They get activated once they reach the lumen of duodenum. The secretion of digestive enzymes is controlled by digestive hormones and nervous system.
Various digestive enzymes are released to act on different types of foods. Trypsin, chymotrypsin, carboxypolypeptidase and elastase help in digestion of proteins, while amylase is a carbohydrate digestive enzyme. Enzymes like pancreatic lipase, cholesterol esterase and phospholipase help in fat digestion. The pancreatic enzymes do not act in isolation; they work synergistically with digestive enzymes from other structures in gastrointestinal tract to complete the role of digestion of food.
The endocrine or systemic function of pancreas is to facilitate storage of broken down nutrients by release of hormones. The endocrine part of the gland secretes two important hormones- insulin and glucagon, which work together to regulate blood sugar levels. These hormones are secreted by Islets of Langerhans- which are actually a cluster of cells, with each ‘islet’ containing 3,000 to 4,000 cells.
15 to 20 percent of insulin is stored in the gland. The function of insulin is to regulate the glucose levels in the body. When the concentration of glucose rises in your body, insulin is released. Insulin lowers the amount of blood sugar, and increases the amount of glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrate) in the liver. Insulin also converts the excess carbohydrates into fat and protein. The function of glucagon is reverse to that of insulin. Between meals, it maintains blood sugar levels by breaking down the stored glycogen in the liver.
Improper functioning of insulin or inadequate release of insulin hormone results in systemic condition called diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus type 1 is an endocrine disorder characterized by little or no circulating insulin. Type 2 diabetes mellitus occurs when there is low insulin levels in the body. Improper functioning of endocrine pancreas can also cause various metabolic disorders.
To maintain the optimal functioning of pancreas, it is important to consume a healthy balanced meal that comprises of carbs, fats and proteins. Refined, sugary foods should be avoided and natural foods should be included in the diet. Pancreas Capsules are available in stores to improve the function of our pancreas.
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