Anatomically, the pancreas is 6 inches long and is situated at the back of the abdomen, behind the stomach. It has two kinds of tissues. While the endocrine tissues release insulin, somatostatin, and glucagon, the exocrine tissues release pancreatic juice. The hormones help regulate the blood glucose level.
Pancreas also acts as an exocrine gland, and secretes pancreatic juice and digestive enzymes to ensure proper digestion. Alpha, beta, and gamma cells make up the islets of Langerhans, which are scattered throughout the pancreas.
The insulin-producing beta cells make up around 65 to 80% of cells in the islets of Langerhans, while alpha cells that secrete glucagon make up 22% of the cells. The remaining gamma cells secrete somatostatin, which inhibits secretion of other pancreatic secretions. These hormones are crucial in the development of our body.
- The gland is located close to the stomach and has two main functions. Along with the production of hormones, it plays a vital role in the process of metabolism.
- The 2 main functions of this gland are to regulate blood sugar or glucose levels in the bloodstream with the hormones insulin and glucagon, and facilitate digestion by secreting digestive enzymes.
- The first function of regulating the blood glucose levels in the body is carried out with the help of the alpha and beta cells, which secrete the glucagon and insulin respectively. When the blood sugar rises, insulin does the job of converting the extra blood glucose into glycogen, which is used as an energy reservoir.
- When the blood glucose falls below normal, the alpha cells which synthesize glucagon, convert glycogen into glucose from the reserve in the liver, which is then released in the bloodstream. Therefore, diabetes and other health problems are regulated in this manner.
- The pancreas produces a digestive enzyme called the pancreatic juice. When the food is broken down into pieces by the digestive system, it reaches the duedonum. Here the pancreatic juices coming from the pancreatic duct mix with the food and break it down into fragments. These fragments are then absorbed by the small intestine and assimilated.
- Hormones are a very important part of our body and all the major functions of the body depend on the production of these hormones. When there is an imbalance in the production of these hormones due to some abnormalities within the gland, it affects the entire body.
- A few such problems observed due to such hormonal imbalance are pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes.
- Pancreatitis is a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the pancreas. This usually happens when there is malfunctioning of the digestive enzymes and they start digesting the gland itself.
- Pancreatic cancer is another dreaded disease. Organ contains many types of cells and each of them can get affected by different type of cancer. Since, it doesn't show any prominent symptoms, the cancer reaches advanced stage by the time it is discovered. If the cancer grows out of control, it can lead to death. Diabetics are more prone to this condition.
- Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that is characterized by the production of thick and sticky mucus which blocks the tubes of this gland, preventing them from functioning properly.
- Diabetes is also another disorder caused due to the malfunctioning of this gland.
The condition of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer can be treated with the help of surgery. Although there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, new treatment options have been developed, that have increased the life expectancy.