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Facts About the Human Pancreas

Posted by Joanna Culley on

You may have heard the name of this organ before, but still, doubt about where it is located or about its specific functions. If that is your case, this post will provide you with key information about this hugely important body part. The pancreas is located in the upper left side of the abdomen, behind the stomach. It is a spongy, flat, 6 inches long gland, with a pear-like shape. Around it, there are some other vital organs like the small intestine, the liver, and the spleen. 

Believe it or not, the pancreas has a head and a tail. And several other parts too, which are the head, neck, body, and tail. The head is the widest part of the entire organ and it is connected to one of the ends of the small intestine. This small connection is known as the duodenum. In this part, the stomach empties food which is partially digested, and the pancreas releases its enzymes on these contents.

The pancreas plays a huge role when we are digesting our food into fuel for our bodies and the cells inside it, but this is achieved through its two main functions, which are endocrine and exocrine. The endocrine function regulates the levels of sugar in our blood, and the exocrine function produces enzymes that allow our bodies to digest both carbohydrates and proteins, and also break down fat.

Is the pancreas more exocrine or more endocrine?

Even though it plays both roles, almost all of this organ (95% of it) is made by exocrine tissue, which main activity is to produce pancreatic enzymes to digest and break down food. The remaining 5% of the tissue is called islets of Langerhans, and these are grape-shaped endocrine cells that regulate pancreatic secretions and blood sugar levels.

Insulin is not the only hormone produced by it

Insulin is an essential hormone produced by the endocrine part of the pancreas, and it is fundamentally responsible for regulating the sugar in our blood. It also keeps our levels stable after each one of the meals we eat daily and transports the glucose from our food muscles, liver, and other body tissue. However, the pancreas also produces a hormone with the exact opposite functions of the insulin, known as glucagon. This complementary substance releases stored energy when your blood sugar levels are running too low.

Pancreatitis can make you digest your own pancreas

It may sound very weird, but it is a very complicated condition when it worsens. Pancreatitis usually refers to pancreas inflammation, but the real situation is that the digestive enzymes are deviating from their main function, and starting to digest the pancreas itself. Risk factors for this disease are alcoholism, cystic fibrosis, and gallstones. However, pancreatitis is often treatable and goes away in a short period of time.

The pancreas is filled with taste buds

Much like the ones on your tongue, the pancreas has a high number of taste receptors that can monitor your blood and its levels of blood. They can also tell when your sugar levels are rising, or the “sweetness” of it, and send enough insulin to balance so the levels can be normal again. These endocrine cells can also be triggered by other substances like fructose.  

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