Comparatively, pancreas has long been a neglected body part and majority does not even know its whereabouts and functions in the metabolism. This gland is entrenched in the abdomen and has a flat, oblong shape to serve the digestive needs of your gut. The function and importance of pancreas is only appreciated in situations of illness. So, you may raise your awareness through this article about pancreas function as well as other important facts about it.
What Is Pancreas?
Pancreas is located anatomically in the upper abdominal region and plays a vital role in the digestion of food by secreting chemicals called as enzymes into the gut. The sugar levels in our body are also controlled by hormones secreted by pancreas. These are glucagon and insulin.
The pancreas contains 3 main parts, and they are:
- Head, the right side of the left edge of superior mesenteric vein.
- Body, between the left edge of superior mesenteric vein and left edge of aorta.
- Tail, between the left edge of aorta and hilum of spleen.
Where Is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is curtained by the stomach anteriorly and spine posteriorly, making it a deep abdominal organ. Duodenum cushions the other part of the pancreas in its curve. If you want to know where your pancreas is, join the little finger of your hand with your thumb and keep the rest of the digits together. Now place your hand just below your ribs in the middle of your tummy. Your fingers will be pointing towards your left and this is approximately where your pancreas is.
Pancreas helps in the digestion and maintaining certain body functions like controlling sugar levels by secreting some hormones. And this makes pancreas a double functioning organ—an exocrine as well as an endocrine gland. The following are 3 main pancreas functions.
The group of cells that perform endocrine functions of the pancreas is referred to as “the islets of Langerhans”. These cells are not easily stained with routine standard techniques and are thus categorized based on their secretions. Glucagon is released by α cells, insulin is released by β cells, and somatostatin is released by σ cells while PP cells secrete pancreatic polypeptide. The islets are embedded within a meshwork of capillaries and remain in contact with each other either through forming the lining of the vessel or by cytoplasmic processes.
Some cells of the pancreas manufacture digestive enzymes and an alkaline amalgam known as pancreatic juice. The pancreatic ducts pour these secretions into the lumen of your gut via a tube-like channel to answer the call made by intestinal hormones, secretin and cholecystokinin. These exocrine cells are acinar cells and produce chymotrypsin, pancreatic amylase, trypsin and pancreatic lipase. A mixture of bicarbonate and salts is also dispensed into the gut by centroacinar cells which coats the pancreatic ducts from the inside.
The overall production and release of pancreas are controlled by other hormones gushing in the vessels and by innervation from autonomic nervous system. The ANS has two axis of activity—sympathetic or adrenergic and parasympathetic or muscarinic. Adrenergic α2 receptors down regulates the activity of β cells and up regulates the activity of α cells, while muscarinic M3 receptors incite amplified α and β cells activity.
How Does Pancreas Work?
The chemicals and enzymes which help in digestion are secreted by the pancreas under the nervous or hormonal control. The nerves in our body carry signals towards the pancreas every time we consume food to stimulate the release of pancreatic secretions. The exocrine acinar cells mainly increases the hormone production in response to food consumption. These secretions and enzymes are transmitted to the gut. These tubes combine to form a main pancreatic duct which opens into the duodenum.The enzymes are secreted in an inactive form to prevent autolysis but become activated and functional as soon as they reach the stomach.
The cells in our body are constantly working, thus requiring uninterrupted supply of energy.This energy is supplied mainly in the form of glucose which is the most common type of sugar. When the glucose level in the circulation is increased or decreased, a signal is sent to the pancreas. If the glucose level is too high in the blood, endocrine part of the pancreas secretes insulin to sequester the glucose into the cells, thereby lowering the blood glucose levels. If the blood glucose level is low, conversely glucose is released from liver to mobilize stored nutrients. This helps in bringing the blood sugar levels back to normal or near normal.
This closely monitored system maintains the blood sugar levels within normal limits regardless if you are full or starving. When pancreas function is hampered by a diseased state, it can manifest as an inability to control blood sugar levels, now commonly known as diabetes, or as symptoms of an upset digestive tract.