Know the Facts

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is a glandular organ that is vital for digestion and sugar control. It is located high up in the abdomen and lies across your body, behind your stomach, and in front of the spine. It is about 6 inches long and shaped like a flat pear.

It is composed of three sections: the wide end of the pancreas on the right side of the body is called the head; the middle section is called the body; and the thin end on the left side of the body is called the tail.

The pancreas has two very different and important roles, the digestive and endocrine functions.

Digestive Functions

The digestive glands of the pancreas produce enzymes that help to break down food. When food enters the stomach, pancreatic exocrine cells release digestive enzymes into a system of ducts, which lead to the main pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct empties the pancreatic juices containing enzymes and bicarbonate into the first portion of the small intestine called the duodenum. Here, the enzymes aid in the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in foods.

Endocrine Functions

The second function of the pancreas is the endocrine function, which involves the production of hormones. The two key hormones produced by the pancreas are insulin and glucagon, which are released into the bloodstream. Together they regulate the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. Insulin serves to lower blood sugar levels after a meal while glucagon raises blood sugar levels in between meals.

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